Roger Ariew masterfully renders the oddities of seventeenth-century French vocabulary and syntax in this eloquent and philosophically astute translation -- the first complete English translation based on the Sellier edition of Pascal's manuscript, widely accepted as the version closest to what Pascal intended. Ariew provides a general Introduction that discusses the the life and times of Pascal, a select bibliography of primary and secondary sources, a chronology of Pascal's life and works, concordances between the Sellier and Lafuma editions of the original, and an index.


The Pensées: A Brief History of the Text

Several good biographies of Blaise Pascal have been published, starting with the one written by Gilberte Périer, his sister. They all describe the brilliant universal genius, details of whose life and times are sketched in the chronology on page xv. During Pascal's very brief life, he made significant advances in mathematics and physics and contributed several technological innovations. But he is best known for his religious and political polemics, the Provincial Letters, and the Pensées. Pascal above all was a subtle thinker and a master of the French language.

When Pascal died in 1662, he left behind the notes to the project (or projects) he had been working on, including the Apology for the Christ- ian Religion, which he had outlined at a meeting at Port-Royal. These notes became known as the Pensées, though neither Pensées nor Apolo- gie were Pascal's titles. Pascal's usual procedure while composing was to write down thoughts on large sheets of paper, separating them from one another with a short horizontal line, and then cutting the papers along that line and organizing the fragments into various bundles (liasses) sewn together. In 1658 (according to Philippe Sellier, or in 1660, according to Jean Mesnard), Pascal decided on a core twenty-seven bundles and put seven others aside. These two sets constitute Parts I and II of the present translation; fragments written afterward or of diverse origins make up Parts III through V. At Pascal's death, the whole collection was handed down to his sister Gilberte and her family.

The problem of what to do with Pascal's bundles of fragments, handwritten by Pascal or recopied by young assistants, then came to the forefront—a problem of significantly greater magnitude than if, at a given time, your relative decided to publish all of your computer files or everything on your desk. Here is how Pascal's nephew, Etienne Périer, expresses the difficulty in his preface to what was eventually published in 1670, known as the Port-Royal edition: Pensées de M. Pascal sur la re- ligion et sur quelques autres sujets, qui ont esté trouvées après sa mort parmy ses papiers:

Since we knew Pascal's intent to work on religion, we took great care after
his death to gather together all his writings on the subject. We found
them all sewn together into different bundles, but without any order or
sequence, because, as I have already noted, they were only the first ex-

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