Born on This Day: Blaise Pascal, born July 19, 1623
124 Thoughts of Blaise Pascal
1. A jester, a bad character.
2. Continued eloquence wearies.
3. True eloquence scorns eloquence.
4. In a great soul everything is great.
5. All our dignity lies in our thoughts.
6. The stream is always purer at its source.
7. Brave deeds are most estimable when hidden.
8. Your sayer of smart things has a bad heart.
9. The Eternal Being is forever if He is at all.
10. Earnestness is enthusiasm tempered by reason.
11. To scorn philosophy is truly to philosophize.
12. Noble deeds that are concealed are most esteemed.
13. Love has no age, as it is always renewing itself.
14. Mediocrity makes the most of its native possessions.
15. There are people who lie simply for the sake of lying.
16. It is the contest that delights us, and not the victory.
17. Those we call the ancients were really new in everything.
18. Little things console us, because little things afflict us.
19. I can approve of those only who seek in tears for happiness.
20. Orthodoxy on one side of the Pyrenees may be heresy on the other.
21. Do you wish men to speak well of you? Then never speak well of yourself.
22. Opinion is, as it were, the queen of the world, but force is its tyrant.
23. Do you wish people to speak well of you? Then do not speak at all yourself.
24. All the good maxims which are in the world fail when applied to one’s self.
25. The multitude which does not reduce itself to unity is confusion exemplified.
26. Power is the queen of the world, not opinion; but opinion makes use of power.
27. Experience makes us see a wonderful difference between devotion and goodness.
28. Nothing is thoroughly approved but mediocrity. The majority have established this.
29. The world is content with words; few think of searching into the nature of things.
30. The finite is annihilated in the presence of infinity, and becomes a simple nothing.
31. Human things must be known to be loved; but Divine things must be loved to be known.
32. Happiness is neither within us nor without us, it is the union of ourselves with God.
33. Voluptuousness, like justice, is blind, but that is the only resemblance between them.
34. Force and not opinion is the queen of the world; but it is opinion that uses the force.
35. Death is easier to bear without thinking of it, than the thought of death without peril.
36. The last thing that we discover in writing a book is to know what to put at the beginning.
37. The sweetness of glory is so great that, join it to what we will, even to death, we love it.
38. If man should commence by studying himself, he would see how impossible it is to go further.
39. We never do evil so effectually as when we are led to do it by a false principle of conscience.
40. Christian piety annihilates the egotism of the heart; worldly politeness veils and represses it.
41. Not the zeal alone of those who seek Him proves God, but the blindness of those who seek Him not.
42. There is no arena is which vanity displays itself under such a variety of forms as in conversation.
43. Amusement allures and deceives us, and leads us down imperceptibly in thoughtlessness to the grave.
44. It is not only old and early impressions that deceive us; the charms of novelty have the same power.
45. Is it courage in a dying man to go, in weakness and in agony, to affront an almighty and eternal God?
46. The weakness of human reason appears more evidently in those who know it not than in those who know it.
47. Men are so necessarily fools that it would be being a fool in a higher strain of folly, not to be a fool.
48. The virtue of a man ought to be measured not by his extraordinary exertions, but by his every-day conduct.
49. We are so little and vain that the esteem of five or six persons about us is enough to content and amuse us.
50. The sensibility of man to trifles, and his insensibility to great things, are the marks of a strange inversion.
51. The Church limits her sacramental services to the faithful. Christ gave Himself upon the cross a ransom for all.
52. Imagination disposes of everything; it creates beauty, justice, and happiness, which is everything in this world.
53. Two similar faces, neither of which alone causes laughter, use laughter when they are together, by their resemblance.
54. If we regulate our conduct according to our own convictions, we may safely disregard the praise or censure of others.
55. Extremes are for us as if they were not, and as if we were not in regard to them; they escape from us, or we from them.
56. The incredulous are the most credulous. They believe the miracles of Vespasian that they may not believe those of Moses.
57. The statements of atheists ought to be perfectly clear of doubt. Now it is not perfectly clear that the soul is material.
58. The main object of the gospel is to establish two principles—the corruption of nature, and the redemption by Jesus Christ.
59. The mind has its arrangement; it proceeds from principles to demonstrations. The heart has a different mode of proceeding.
60. There should be in eloquence that which is pleasing and that which is real; but that which is pleasing should itself be real.
61. When we meet with a natural style, we are surprised and delighted, for we expected to find an author, and we have found a man.
62. Death itself is less painful when it comes upon us unawares than the bare contemplation of it, even when danger is far distant.
63. Nature has perfections, in order to show that she is the image of God; and defects, in order to show that she is only His image.
64. I have often said that all the misfortunes of men spring from their not knowing how to live quietly at home, in their own rooms.
65. Civil wars are the greatest of evils. They are inevitable, if we wish to reward merit, for all will say that they are meritorious.
66. It is a dangerous experiment to call in gratitude as an ally to love. Love is a debt which inclination always pays, obligation never.
67. However bright the comedy before, the last act is always stained with blood. The earth is laid upon our head, and there it lies forever.
68. Eloquence is a painting of thought; and thus, those who, after having painted it, still add to it, make a picture instead of a portrait.
69. There are vices which have no hold upon us, but in connection with others; and which, when you cut down the trunk, fall like the branches.
70. To doubt is a misfortune, but to seek when in doubt is an indispensable duty. So he who doubts and seeks not is at once unfortunate and unfair.
71. The present is never the mark of our designs. We use both past and present as our means and instruments, but the future only as our object and aim.
72. Faith affirms many things, respecting which the senses are silent, but nothing that they deny. It is superior, but never opposed to their testimony.
73. The mind naturally makes progress, and the will naturally clings to objects; so that for want of right objects, it will attach itself to wrong ones.
74. The authority of reason is far more imperious than that of a master; for he who disobeys the one is unhappy, but he who disobeys the other is a fool.
75. When we would think of God, how many things we find which turn us away from Him, and tempt us to think otherwise. All this is evil, yet it is innate.
76. All men naturally hate one another. I hold it a fact, that if men knew exactly what one says of the other, there would not be four friends in the world.
77. The more enlarged is our own mind, the greater number we discover of men of originality. Your commonplace people see no difference between one man and another.
78. Those who make antitheses by forcing the sense are like men who make false windows for the sake of symmetry. Their rule is not to speak justly, but to make accurate figures.
79. Necessity, that great refuge and excuse for human frailty, breaks through all law; and he is not to be accounted in fault whose crime is not the effect of choice, but force.
80. We have so exalted a notion of the human soul that we cannot bear to be despised by it, or even not to be esteemed by it. Man, in fact, places all his happiness in this esteem.
81. If we subject everything to reason, our religion will have nothing mysterious or supernatural. If we violate the principles of reason, our religion will be absurd and ridiculous.
82. Let it not be imagined that the life of a good Christian must necessarily be a life of melancholy and gloominess; for he only resigns some pleasures, to enjoy others infinitely greater.
83. Who confers reputation? who gives respect and veneration to persons, to books, to great men? Who but Opinion? How utterly insufficient are all the riches of the world without her approbation!
84. We sometimes learn more from the sight of evil than from an example of good; and it is well to accustom ourselves to profit by the evil which is so common, while that which is good is so rare.
85. I lay it down as a fact that, if all men knew what others say of them, there would not be four friends in the world. This appears from the quarrels to which indiscreet reports occasionally give rise.
86. Piety is different from superstition. To carry piety to the extent of superstition is to destroy it. The heretics reproach us with this superstitious submission. It is doing what they reproach us with.
87. We feel neither extreme heat nor extreme cold; qualities that are in excess are so much at variance with our feelings that they are impalpable; we do not feel them, though we suffer from their effects.
88. We are so presumptuous that we wish to be known to all the world, even to those who come after us; and we are so vain that the esteem of five or six persons immediately around us is enough to amuse and satisfy us.
89. The highest order of mind is accused of folly, as well as the lowest. Nothing is thoroughly approved but mediocrity. The majority has established this, and it fixes its fangs on whatever gets beyond it either way.
90. Fashion is a tyrant from which nothing frees us. We must suit ourselves to its fantastic tastes. But being compelled to live under its foolish laws, the wise man is never the first to follow, nor the last to keep it.
91. Reflect on death as in Jesus Christ, not as without Jesus Christ. Without Jesus Christ it is dreadful, it is alarming, it is the terror of nature. In Jesus Christ it is fair and lovely, it is good and holy, it is the joy of saints.
92. To find recreation in amusements is not happiness; for this joy springs from alien and extrinsic sources, and is therefore dependent upon and subject to interruption by a thousand accidents, which may minister inevitable affliction.
93. I take it as a matter not to be disputed, that if all knew what each said of the other, there would not be four friends in the world. This seems proved by the quarrels and disputes caused by the disclosures which are occasionally made.
94. I can readily conceive of a man without hands or feet; and I could conceive of him without a head, if experience had not taught me that by this he thinks. Thought, then, is the essence of man, and without this we cannot conceive of him.
95. Curiosity is but vanity. Oftenest one wishes to know but to talk of it. Otherwise one would not go to sea it he were never to say anything about it, and for the sole pleasure of seeing, without hope of ever communicating what he has seen.
96. To go beyond the bounds of moderation is to outrage humanity. The greatness of the human soul is shown by knowing how to keep within proper bounds. So far from greatness consisting in going beyond its limits, it really consists in keeping within it.
97. When malice has reason on its side, it looks forth bravely, and displays that reason in all its luster. When austerity and self-denial have not realized true happiness, and the soul returns to the dictates of nature, the reaction is fearfully extravagant.
98. Our senses will not admit anything extreme. Too much noise confuses us, too much light dazzles us, too great distance or nearness prevents vision, too great prolixity or brevity weakens an argument, too much pleasure gives pain, too much accordance annoys.
99. Nature imitates herself. A grain thrown into good ground brings forth fruit; a principle thrown into a good mind brings forth fruit. Everything is created and conducted by the same Master; the root, the branch, the fruits,—the principles, the consequences.
100. From whence comes it that a cripple in body does not irritate us, and that a crippled mind enrages us? It is because a cripple sees that we go right, and a distorted mind says that it is we who go astray. But for that we should have more pity and less rage.
101. It is certain that the soul is either mortal or immortal. The decision of this question must make a total difference in the principles of morals. Yet philosophers have arranged their moral system entirely independent of this. What an extraordinary blindness!
102. Kind words produce their own image in men’s souls, and a beautiful image it is. They soothe and quiet and comfort the hearer. They shame him out of his sour, morose, unkind feelings. We have not yet begun to use kind words in such abundance as they ought to be used.
103. What a chimera is man! what a confused chaos! what a subject of contradiction! a professed judge of all things, and yet a feeble worm of the earth! the great depositary and guardian of truth, and yet a mere huddle of uncertainty! the glory and the scandal of the universe!
104. Man is nothing but insincerity, falsehood, and hypocrisy, both in regard to himself and in regard to others. He does not wish that he should be told the truth, he shuns saying it to others; and all these moods, so inconsistent with justice and reason, have their roots in his heart.
105. Parents fear the destruction of natural affection in their children. What is this natural principle so liable to decay? Habit is a second nature, which destroys the first. Why is not custom nature? I suspect that this nature itself is but a first custom, as custom is a second nature.
106. Pride counterbalances all our miseries, for it either hides them, or, if it discloses them, boasts of that disclosure. Pride has such a thorough possession of us, even in the midst of our miseries and faults, that we are prepared to sacrifice life with joy, if it may but be talked of.
107. If a man loves a woman for her beauty, does he love her? No; for the smallpox, which destroys her beauty without killing her, causes his love to cease. And if any one loves me for my judgment or my memory, does he really love me? No; for I can lose these qualities without ceasing to be.
108. St. Augustine teaches us that there is in each man a Serpent, an Eve, and an Adam. Our senses and natural propensities are the Serpent; the excitable desire is the Eve; and reason is the Adam. Our nature tempts us perpetually; criminal desire is often excited; but sin is not completed till reason consents.
109. Evil is easily discovered; there is an infinite variety; good is almost unique. But some kinds of evil are almost as difficult to discover as that which we call good; and often particular evil of this class passes for good. It needs even a certain greatness of soul to attain to this, as to that which is good.
110. There is nothing so insupportable to man as to be in entire repose, without passion, occupation, amusement, or application. Then it is that he feels his own nothingness, isolation, insignificance, dependent nature, powerlessness, emptiness. Immediately there issue from his soul ennui, sadness, chagrin, vexation, despair.
111. It is of dangerous consequence to represent to man how near he is to the level of beasts, without showing him at the same time his greatness. It is likewise dangerous to let him see his greatness without his meanness. It is more dangerous yet to leave him ignorant of either; but very beneficial that he should be made sensible of both.
112. Our imagination so magnifies this present existence, by the power of continual reflection on it, and so attenuates eternity, by not thinking of it at all, that we reduce an eternity to nothingness, and expand a mere nothing to an eternity; and this habit is so inveterately rooted in us that all the force of reason cannot induce us to lay it aside.
113. When we would show any one that he is mistaken, our best course is to observe on what side he considers the subject,—for his view of it is generally right on this side,—and admit to him that he is right so far. He will be satisfied with this acknowledgment, that he was not wrong in his judgment, but only inadvertent in not looking at the whole case.
114. There is a virtuous fear which is the effect of faith; and there is a vicious fear, which is the product of doubt. The former leads to hope, as relying on God, in wham we believe; the latter inclines to despair, as not relying on God, in whom we do not believe. Persons of the one character fear to lose God; persons of the other character fear to find Him.
115. Man is so great that his greatness appears even in the consciousness of his misery. A tree does not know itself to be miserable. It is true that it is misery indeed to know one’s self to be miserable; but then it is greatness also. In this way, all man’s miseries go to prove his greatness. They are the miseries of a mighty potentate, of a dethroned monarch.
116. That queen of error, whom we call fancy and opinion, is the more deceitful because she does not always deceive. She would be the infallible rule of truth if she were the infallible rule of falsehood; but being only most frequently in error, she gives no evidence of her real quality, for she marks with the same character both that which is true and that which is false.
117. Let any man examine his thoughts, and he will find them ever occupied with the past or the future. We scarcely think at all of the present; or if we do, it is only to borrow the light which it gives, for regulating the future. The present is never our object; the past and the present we use as means; the future only is our end. Thus, we never live, we only hope to live!
118. Generally we are occupied either with the miseries which now we feel, or with those which threaten; and even when we see ourselves sufficiently secure from the approach of either, still fretfulness, though unwarranted by either present or expected affliction, fails not to spring up from the deep recesses of the heart, where its roots naturally grow, and to fill the soul with its poison.
119. The mind of the greatest man on earth is not so independent of circumstances as not to feel inconvenienced by the merest buzzing noise about him; it does not need the report of a cannon to disturb his thoughts. The creaking of a vane or a pully is quite enough. Do not wonder that he reasons ill just now; a fly is buzzing by his ear; it is quite enough to unfit him for giving good counsel.
120. There are three means of believing—by inspiration, by reason, and by custom. Christianity, which is the only rational institution, does yet admit none for its sons who do not believe by inspiration. Nor does it injure reason or custom, or debar them of their proper force; on the contrary, it directs us to open our minds by the proofs of the former, and to confirm our minds by the authority of the latter.
121. By a peculiar prerogative, not only each individual is making daily advances in the sciences, and may make advances in morality (which is the science, by way of eminence, of living well and being happy), but all mankind together are making a continual progress in proportion as the universe grows older; so that the whole human race, during the course of so many ages, may be considered as one man, who never ceases to live and learn.
122. One-half of life is admitted by us to be passed in sleep, in which, however, it may appear otherwise, we have no perception of truth, and all our feelings are delusions; who knows but the other half of life, in which we think we are awake, is a sleep also, but in some respects different from the other, and from which we wake when we, as we call it, sleep. As a man dreams often that he is dreaming, crowding one dreamy delusion on another.
123. Let a man choose what condition he will, and let him accumulate around him all the goods and all the gratifications seemingly calculated to make him happy in it—if that man is left at any time without occupation or amusement, and reflects on what he is, the meager, languid felicity of his present lot will not bear him up. He will turn necessarily to gloomy anticipations of the future; and except, therefore, his occupation calls him out of himself, he is inevitably wretched.
124. I have spent much time in the study of the abstract sciences; but the paucity of persons with whom you can communicate on such subjects disgusted me with them. When I began to study man, I saw that these abstract sciences are not suited to him, and that in diving into them, I wandered farther from my real object than those who knew them not, and I forgave them for not having attended to these things. I expected then, however, that I should find some companions in the study of man, since it was so specifically a duty. I was in error. There are fewer students of man than of geometry.