Blaise Pascal

French mathematician, physicist, philosopher of religion, and master of prose Blaise Pascal was born on June 19, 1623, in Clermont-Ferrand and passed away on August 19, 1662, in Paris. He developed what is now known as Pascal’s principle of pressure, laid the groundwork for the modern theory of probabilities, and spread a religious philosophy that stressed the importance of having an emotional rather than a rational understanding of God. Henri Bergson and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, as well as the Existentialists, were influenced by the development of his intuitionist principle.

blaise pascal
blaise pascal

The Port-Royal years of Pascal’s life

Étienne Pascal, Pascal’s father, presided over the Clermont-Ferrand tax court. His mother passed away in 1626, and the family moved to Paris in 1631. Étienne, a renowned mathematician, committed himself going forward to his children’s education. Blaise proved himself to be just as gifted in mathematics as his sister Jacqueline, who was born in 1625 and was considered a child prodigy in the literary world. Essai pour les coniques, an essay he wrote in 1640 on conic sections, was based on his research of Girard Desargues’ now-classic work on synthetic projective geometry. The young man’s work, which achieved great success in the field of mathematics, sparked the enmity of none other than René Descartes, a famous French rationalist and mathematician.


Pascal created the Pascaline between 1642 and 1644 to aid his father, who had been appointed intendant (local administrator) at Rouen in 1639, in the computation of his taxes. The device was regarded by Pascal’s contemporaries as his main claim to fame, and for good reason—since it worked by counting integers, it could be considered the first digital calculator. The significance of this contribution helps to explain the boyish glee with which he dedicated the machine to Pierre Seguier, the chancellor of France, in 1644.

The Blaise Pascal novel Les Provinciales

In his 18 Lettres écrites par Louis de Montalte à un provincial, Pascal discusses divine grace and the Jesuit code of ethics in defense of Antoine Arnauld, a Jansenist and opponent of the Jesuits who was being tried in Paris before the faculty of theology for his contentious religious writings. They are more popularly referred to as Les Provinciales (“The Provincial Letters”). They included a jab at the allegedly lax morality the Jesuits taught, which was the weak point in their dispute with Port-Royal; Pascal freely quotes Jesuit dialogues and discrediting passages from their own works, sometimes in jest and other times out of outrage. Pascal offered a compromising stance in his two final letters, which dealt with the issue of grace. This position later allowed Port-Royal to support the “Peace of the Church,” which was a temporary truce in the Jansenism controversy, in 1668.


As a result of his reflections on miracles and other evidence for Christianity, Pascal ultimately made the decision to write his work of Christian apologetics, Apologie de la religion chrétienne. At the time of his passing, the project was still unfinished. He assembled the majority of the notes and snatches that editors have published under the incorrect title Pensées (“Thoughts”) between the summers of 1657 and 1658. Pascal depicts the man without grace as a perplexing amalgam of greatness and squalor in the Apologie, unable to grasp the ultimate good that his nature nevertheless yearns for or to speak the truth. He asserted that it is precisely for this reason that religion is “to be venerated and loved,” as philosophy and worldliness fail to reconcile these contradictions. Pascal wrote that the “wager” is a way to get past the skeptic’s lack of interest in religion: if God doesn’t exist, the skeptic loses nothing by believing in him, but if he does, the skeptic gains eternal life by doing so. Pascal is adamant that only Jesus Christ can bring people to God because without His suffering and death on the cross, no creature could ever know the infinite.

In the second part of the essay, the rabbinical texts are examined, the persistence of true religion is discussed, and the Augustinian theory of allegorical interpretation is applied to the biblical types (figuratifs). Moses’ work; provides evidence for Jesus Christ’s deity; and, finally, paints a picture of the early church and the fulfillment of the prophecies. The Apologie (Pensées) is a guide to spirituality. If they weren’t going to become saints, Pascal had no interest in winning them over.

Pascal’s legacies are left behind

As a physicist, mathematician, persuasive publicist in the Provinciales, and inspired artist in the Apologie and his private notes, Pascal was ashamed of the breadth of his abilities. It has been argued that his overly concrete mindset kept him from understanding the infinitesimal calculus and, in some of the Provinciales, the puzzling human relationships. and God are treated as though they were a geometrical puzzle. His religious writings are rigorous because of his scientific training, and his love of the concrete is evident not only from the stream of quotations in the Provinciales but also from his determination to reject the aggressive method of attack that he had used so successfully in his Apologie. However, these considerations pale in comparison to the benefit that he drew from the variety of his gifts.

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