Pascal's Pensées were published posthumous
After publishing this essay it became instantly very important and of great influence for the way of thinking of the western European people in the next few hundred years. And still the essay has not lost its importance in certain circles. (2)
translated by W. F. Trotter (2000)
THOUGHTS ON MIND AND ON STYLE
1. The difference between
the mathematical and the intuitive mind.- In the one, the principles are
palpable, but removed from ordinary use; so that for want of habit it
is difficult to turn one's mind in that direction: but if one turns it
thither ever so little, one sees the principles fully, and one must have
a quite inaccurate mind who reasons wrongly from principles so plain that
it is almost impossible they should escape notice. But in the intuitive
mind the principles are found in common use and are before the eyes of
everybody. One has only to look, and no effort is necessary; it is only
a question of good eyesight, but it must be good, for the principles are
so subtle and so numerous that it is almost impossible but that some escape
notice. Now the omission of one principle leads to error; thus one must
have very clear sight to see all the principles and, in the next place,
an accurate mind not to draw false deductions from known principles. All
mathematicians would then be intuitive if they had clear sight, for they
do not reason incorrectly from principles known to them; and intuitive
minds would be mathematical if they could turn their eyes to the principles
of mathematics to which they are unused. The reason, therefore, that some
intuitive minds are not mathematical is that they cannot at all turn their
attention to the principles of mathematics. But the reason that mathematicians
are not intuitive is that they do not see what is before them, and that,
accustomed to the exact and plain principles of mathematics, and not reasoning
till they have well inspected and arranged their principles, they are
lost in matters of intuition where the principles do not allow of such
arrangement. They are scarcely seen; they are felt rather than seen; there
is the greatest difficulty in making them felt by those who do not of
themselves perceive them. These principles are so fine and so numerous
that a very delicate and very clear sense is needed to perceive them,
and to judge rightly and justly when they are perceived, without for the
most part being able to demonstrate them in order as in mathematics, because
the principles are not known to us in the same way, and because it would
be an endless matter to undertake it. We must see the matter at once,
at one glance, and not by a process of reasoning, at least to a certain
degree. And thus it is rare that mathematicians are intuitive and that
men of intuition are mathematicians, because mathematicians wish to treat
matters of intuition mathematically and make themselves ridiculous, wishing
to begin with definitions and then with axioms, which is not the way to
proceed in this kind of reasoning. Not that the mind does not do so, but
it does it tacitly, naturally, and without technical rules; for the expression
of it is beyond all men, and only a few can feel it.
2. There are different kinds of right understanding;
some have right understanding in a certain order of things, and not in
others, where they go astray. Some draw conclusions well from a few premises,
and this displays an acute judgment.
3. Those who are accustomed to judge by feeling do not understand the process of reasoning, for they would understand at first sight and are not used to seek for principles. And others, on the contrary, who are accustomed to reason from principles, do not at all understand matters of feeling, seeking principles and being unable to see at a glance.
4. Mathematics, intuition.- True eloquence makes light of eloquence, true morality makes light of morality; that is to say, the morality of the judgement, which has no rules, makes light of the morality of the intellect. For it is to judgement that perception belongs, as science belongs to intellect. Intuition is the part of judgement, mathematics of intellect. To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher.
5. Those who judge of a work by rule are in regard to others as those who have a watch are in regard to others. One says, "It is two hours ago"; the other says, "It is only three-quarters of an hour." I look at my watch, and say to the one, "You are weary," and to the other, "Time gallops with you"; for it is only an hour and a half ago, and I laugh at those who tell me that time goes slowly with me and that I judge by imagination. They do not know that I judge by my watch.
The understanding and the feelings are moulded by intercourse; the understanding and feelings are corrupted by intercourse. Thus good or bad society improves or corrupts them. It is, then, all-important to know how to choose in order to improve and not to corrupt them; and we cannot make this choice, if they be not already improved and not corrupted. Thus a circle is formed, and those are fortunate who escape it.
9. When we wish to correct with advantage and to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions of our senses are always true.
11. All great amusements are dangerous to the Christian life; but among all those which the world has invented there is none more to be feared than the theatre. It is a representation of the passions so natural and so delicate that it excites them and gives birth to them in our hearts, and, above all, to that of love, principally when it is represented as very chaste and virtuous. For the more innocent it appears to innocent souls, the more they are likely to be touched by it. Its violence pleases our self-love, which immediately forms a desire to produce the same effects which are seen so well represented; and, at the same time, we make ourselves a conscience founded on the propriety of the feelings which we see there, by which the fear of pure souls is removed, since they imagine that it cannot hurt their purity to love with a love which seems to them so reasonable. So we depart from the theatre with our heart so filled with all the beauty and tenderness of love, the soul and the mind so persuaded of its innocence, that we are quite ready to receive its first impressions, or rather to seek an opportunity of awakening them in the heart of another, in order that we may receive the same pleasures and the same sacrifices which we have seen so well represented in the theatre.
14. When a natural discourse paints a passion or an effect, one feels within oneself the truth of what one reads, which was there before, although one did not know it. Hence one is inclined to love him who makes us feel it, for he has not shown us his own riches, but ours. And thus this benefit renders him pleasing to us, besides that such community of intellect as we have with him necessarily inclines the heart to love.
18. When we do not know the truth of a thing, it is of advantage that there should exist a common error which determines the mind of man, as, for example, the moon, to which is attributed the change of seasons, the progress of diseases, etc. For the chief malady of man is restless curiosity about things which he cannot understand; and it is not so bad for him to be in error as to be curious to no purpose. The manner in which Epictetus, Montaigne, and Salomon de Tultie wrote is the most usual, the most suggestive, the most remembered, and the oftenest quoted, because it is entirely composed of thoughts born from the common talk of life. As when we speak of the common error which exists among men that the moon is the cause of everything, we never fail to say that Salomon de Tultie says that, when we do not know the truth of a thing, it is of advantage that there should exist a common error, etc.; which is the thought above.
20. Order.- Why should I undertake to divide my virtues into four rather than into six? Why should I rather establish virtue in four, in two, in one? Why into Abstine et sustine* rather than into "Follow Nature," or, "Conduct your private affairs without injustice," as Plato, or anything else? But there, you will say, everything is contained in one word. Yes, but it is useless without explanation, and when we come to explain it, as soon as we unfold this maxim which contains all the rest, they emerge in that first confusion which you desired to avoid. So, when they are all included in one, they are hidden and useless, as in a chest, and never appear save in their natural confusion. Nature has established them all without including one in the other. -
* "Abstain and uphold." Stoic maxim. -
22. Let no one say that I have said nothing new; the arrangement of the subject is new. When we play tennis, we both play with the same ball, but one of us places it better. I had as soon it said that I used words employed before. And in the same way if the same thoughts in a different arrangement do not form a different discourse, no more do the same words in their different arrangement form different thoughts!
24. Language.- We should not turn the mind from one thing to another, except for relaxation, and that when it is necessary and the time suitable, and not otherwise. For he that relaxes out of season wearies, and he who wearies us out of season makes us languid, since we turn quite away. So much does our perverse lust like to do the contrary of what those wish to obtain from us without giving us pleasure, the coin for which we will do whatever is wanted.
28. Symmetry is what we see at a glance; based on the fact that there is no reason for any difference, and based also on the face of man; whence it happens that symmetry is only wanted in breadth, not in height or depth.
29. When we see a natural style, we are astonished and delighted; for we expected to see an author, and we find a man. Whereas those who have good taste, and who, seeing a book, expect to find a man, are quite surprised to find an author. Plus poetice quam humane locutus es.
* Those honour Nature well who teach that she can speak on everything, even on theology. - * Petronius, 90. "You have spoken more as a poet than as a man."
32. There is a certain standard of grace and beauty which consists in a certain relation between our nature, such as it is, weak or strong, and the thing which pleases us. Whatever is formed according to this standard pleases us, be it house, song, discourse, verse, prose, woman, birds, rivers, trees, rooms, dress, etc. Whatever is not made according to this standard displeases those who have good taste. And as there is a perfect relation between a song and a house which are made after a good model, because they are like this good model, though each after its kind; even so there is a perfect relation between things made after a bad model. Not that the bad model is unique, for there are many; but each bad sonnet, for example, on whatever false model it is formed, is just like a woman dressed after that model. Nothing makes us understand better the ridiculousness of a false sonnet than to consider nature and the standard and, then, to imagine a woman or a house made according to that standard.
33. Poetical beauty.- As we speak of poetical beauty, so ought we to speak of mathematical beauty and medical beauty. But we do not do so; and the reason is that we know well what is the object of mathematics, and that it consists in proofs, and what is the object of medicine, and that it consists in healing. But we do not know in what grace consists, which is the object of poetry. We do not know the natural model which we ought to imitate; and through lack of this knowledge, we have coined fantastic terms, "The golden age," "The wonder of our times," "Fatal," etc., and call this jargon poetical beauty. But whoever imagines a woman after this model, which consists in saying little things in big words, will see a pretty girl adorned with mirrors and chains, at whom he will smile; because we know better wherein consists the charm of woman than the charm of verse. But those who are ignorant would admire her in this dress, and there are many villages in which she would be taken for the queen; hence we call sonnets made after this model "Village Queens."
34. No one passes in the world as skilled in verse unless he has put up the sign of a poet, a mathematician, etc. But educated people do not want a sign and draw little distinction between the trade of a poet and that of an embroiderer. People of education are not called poets or mathematicians, etc.; but they are all these and judges of all these. No one guesses what they are. When they come into society, they talk on matters about which the rest are talking. We do not observe in them one quality rather than another, save when they have to make use of it. But then we remember it, for it is characteristic of such persons that we do not say of them that they are fine speakers, when it is not a question of oratory, and that we say of them that they are fine speakers, when it is such a question. It is therefore false praise to give a man when we say of him, on his entry, that he is a very clever poet; and it is a bad sign when a man is not asked to give his judgement on some verses.
35. We should not be able to say of a man, "He is a mathematician," or "a preacher," or "eloquent"; but that he is "a gentleman." That universal quality alone pleases me. It is a bad sign when, on seeing a person, you remember his book. I would prefer you to see no quality till you meet it and have occasion to use it (Ne quid minis),* for fear some one quality prevail and designate the man. Let none think him a fine speaker, unless oratory be in question, and then let them think it. - * "Nothing in excess."
36. Man is full of wants: he loves only those who can satisfy them all. "This one is a good mathematician," one will say. But I have nothing to do with mathematics; he would take me for a proposition. "That one is a good soldier." He would take me for a besieged town. I need, then, an upright man who can accommodate himself generally to all my wants.
37. Since we cannot be universal and know all that is to be known of everything, we ought to know a little about everything. For it is far better to know something about everything than to know all about one thing. This universality is the best. If we can have both, still better; but if we must choose, we ought to choose the former. And the world feels this and does so; for the world is often a good judge.
40. If we wished to prove the examples which we take to prove other things, we should have to take those other things to be examples; for, as we always believe the difficulty is in what we wish to prove, we find the examples clearer and a help to demonstration. Thus, when we wish to demonstrate a general theorem, we must give the rule as applied to a particular case; but if we wish to demonstrate a particular case, we must begin with the general rule. For we always find the thing obscure which we wish to prove and that clear which we use for the proof; for, when a thing is put forward to be proved, we first fill ourselves with the imagination that it is, therefore, obscure and, on the contrary, that what is to prove it is clear, and so we understand it easily.
41. Epigrams of Martial.- Man loves malice, but not against one-eyed men nor the unfortunate, but against the fortunate and proud. People are mistaken in thinking otherwise. For lust is the source of all our actions, and humanity, etc. We must please those who have humane and tender feelings. That epigram about two one-eyed people is worthless, for it does not console them and only gives a point to the author's glory. All that is only for the sake of the author is worthless. Ambitiosa recident ornamenta.
* Horace, Epistle to the pisos, 447. "They curtailed pretentious ornaments." -
43. Certain authors, speaking of their works, say: "My book," "My commentary," "My history," etc. They resemble middle-class people who have a house of their own and always have "My house" on their tongue. They would do better to say: "Our book," "Our commentary," "Our history," etc., because there is in them usually more of other people's than their own.
48. When we find words repeated in a discourse and, in trying to correct them, discover that they are so appropriate that we would spoil the discourse, we must leave them alone. This is the test; and our attempt is the work of envy, which is blind, and does not see that repetition is not in this place a fault; for there is no general rule.
49. To mask nature and disguise her. No more king, pope, bishop- but august monarch, etc.; not Paris- the capital of the kingdom. There are places in which we ought to call Paris, "Paris," others in which we ought to call it the capital of the kingdom.
52. No one calls another a Cartesian but he who is one himself, a pedant but a pedant, a provincial but a provincial; and I would wager it was the printer who put it on the title of Letters to a Provincial.
57. I always feel uncomfortable under such compliments as these: "I have given you a great deal of trouble," "I am afraid I am boring you," "I fear this is too long." We either carry our audience with us, or irritate them.
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Footnotes & References
|1||Electronically Enhanced Text (c) Copyright 1996, World library(R) DAK Upgraded Edition, Copyright 2000, DAK Industries 2000, Inc(R)|
|2||Because of the religious content of some parts of this essay the foundation explicitly expresses that she is neutral in that aspect and the fact that the foundation republishes this essay does not mean that either the foundation or one of her editors acknowledges or support the views expressed herein. But the time of publishing and the later influence this essay had on the development of sciences and thus on the development towards computers this piece is regarded as belonging to the history of computing heritage|
|3||reworked for the web by THOCP 2005|