A Dose Of Pascal


Flipping through my Pascal today, after taking a break from the editing of On Duties.  There is a good deal of satisfaction that comes with seeing a grand project come to fruition.  I like to relax with Pascal every now and then, and let his spiritual intensity swirl about me, just as steam hisses and curls off the glowing stones of the sauna.

Here are a few morsels taken at random, if you want them.

Vanity:  gaming, hunting, visits, theater, false perpetuity of name.

There is nothing that cannot be made natural.  There is nothing natural that cannot be lost.

It is good to be tired and weary from the useless search after the true good, so that we may stretch out our arms to the Redeemer.

Despite the sight of all our miseries pressing upon us and taking us by the throat, we have an instinct we cannot suppress that lifts us up.

The most important thing in all of life is the choice of vocation:  chance decides it.  Custom makes men masons, soldiers, roofers.  He is an excellent roofer, someone says.  But others, on the contrary:  There is nothing great but war, the rest are rascals.  As we hear these vocations praised in our childhood and all others disdained, we make our choice.  For we naturally love virtue and hate folly.  These very words move us; we only fail in applying them.  So great is the force of custom that, where nature has created only men, we create all conditions of men.

Our nature consists in motion; complete rest is death.

Probability:  anyone can add to it; no one can take it away.

When writing down my thought, it sometimes escapes me, but this makes me remember my weakness, which I am constantly forgetting.  This is as instructive to me as my forgotten thought, for I care only to know my nothingness.

Not only do we look at things from different sides, but with different eyes. We are far from finding them alike.

He no longer loves the person he loved ten years ago.  I quite believe it:  she is no longer the same, nor is she.  He was young and so was she; she is not quite different.  He would perhaps still love her as she was then.

We do not keep ourselves virtuous by our own strength, but by the counterbalancing of two opposed vices, just as we remain upright between two contrary gusts.  Remove one of the vices, we fall into the other.

Man is neither angel nor beast, and unfortunately whoever wants to act the angel acts the beast.

Let no one say I have said something new:  the arrangement of the material is new.  When we play handball, we both play with the same ball, but one of us places it better.

All of the quotes above were taken from pp. 161-172 of Roger Ariew’s excellent translation (2005) of Pascal’s Pensées.  I like the third one down from the top:  the one about how good is the hopeless quest.  I find that reaffirming, somehow.  We should remember that our quests are what make us men, are what make us great.  It doesn’t matter whether we reach all of them.  The journey itself brings us closer to the One.

Just coming into contact with Pascal almost makes one want to learn French, just for the chance to read him in the original.  Alas, maybe someday.

If you enjoyed the spirit of these quotes, you might want to check out my book Stoic Paradoxes, which is the most complete and comprehensive English translation of this Ciceronian classic available.