The Cambridge Companion to Pascal

The Cambridge Companion to Pascal

The Cambridge Companion to Pascal

The Cambridge Companion to Pascal

Synopsis

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) occupies a position of pivotal importance in many domains: philosophy, mathematics, physics, religious polemics and apologetics. A team of leading scholars surveys the range of his achievement and intellectual background as well as the reception of his work. New readers and nonspecialists will find a convenient and accessible guide to Pascal and advanced students and specialists, a conspectus of recent developments in the interpretation of his works.

Excerpt

The principles of pleasure are not firm and steadfast.They are different for everyone, and vary in each particular, with such diversity that there is no one more unlike another than themselves at different periods.

(De l'esprit géométrique, OC II, 174)

Pascal is a name familiar to students and scholars in an astonishingly wide range of disciplines. Mathematicians recognise him through Pascal's Triangle or Pascal's calculating machine (which itself gave its name to a computer language).Physicists and historians of science (as well as those in technological fields) acknowledge his pioneering work on the vacuum. The word jesuitical owes its pejorative sense exclusively to Pascal's blistering satirical attack on the Society of Jesus in his Provincial Letters. Students of philosophy and theology know him through Pascal's famous Wager, which itself forms part of one of the most renowned pieces of religious apologetics, the Pensées. Even early forms of train-spotter (or, rather, coach-spotter) have cause to be grateful to him for helping to set up the first public transport system in Paris. It is a sobering thought that he achieved all this, having suffered from years of ill health, before the age of 39, when he died.

In our age of increasing specialisation, perhaps unsurprisingly, very few books have been able to reflect adequately the diversity of Pascal's achievements. Moreover, all too often studies of Pascal can be uncritical of his work, sometimes amounting simply to hagiographies of the man. It is hoped that this Companion to Pascal will go some way not only toward weaving together the many strands of his thought and influence, but also to offer a balanced view of his work.

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