Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal (blĕz päskäl´), 1623–62, French scientist and religious philosopher. Studying under the direction of his father, a civil servant, Pascal showed great precocity, especially in mathematics and science. Before he was 16 he wrote a paper on conic sections which won the respect of the mathematicians of Paris; at 19 he invented a calculating machine. Credited with founding the modern theory of probability, Pascal also discovered the properties of the cycloid and contributed to the advance of differential calculus. In physics his experiments increased knowledge of atmospheric pressure through barometric measurements and of the equilibrium of fluids (see Pascal's law). As a young man, Pascal came under the influence of Jansenism, and in 1651 his sister Jacqueline, who had also embraced Jansenist beliefs, entered the convent at Port-Royal, the center of the movement. As a result of the death of his father and of his own narrow escape from death, Pascal in 1654 experienced what he called a "conversion" and thereafter turned much of his attention to religion. When Antoine Arnauld, a noted Jansenist, was attacked by the Jesuits, Pascal championed him in his Lettre escrite à un provincial (1656). Those Provincial Letters, rendered into Latin, quickly circulated throughout Europe, and they still hold a leading place in the literature of polite irony. Pascal's religious writings were posthumously published as Pensées de M. Pascal sur la religion et sur quelques autres sujets (1670). For a modern edition see Thoughts: An Apology for Christianity (tr. 1955). In the Pensées, famous both as a religious and philosophical classic, Pascal states his belief in the inadequacy of reason to solve man's difficulties or to satisfy his hopes. He preached instead the final necessity of mystic faith for true understanding of the universe and its meaning to man.

See biographies by A. J. Krailsheimer (1980), H. H. Davidson (1983); studies by E. Cailliet (1944, repr. 1973), R. Hazelton (1974), S. E. Melzer (1986), and G. Hunter (2013).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Blaise Pascal: Selected full-text books and articles

The Cambridge Companion to Pascal
Nicholas Hammond.
Cambridge University Press, 2003
Pensees
Roger Ariew.
Hackett, 2005
Pascal: The Emergence of Genius
Emile Cailliet.
Harper Torchbooks, 1961 (2nd edition)
Pascal: Genius in the Light of Scripture
Emile Cailliet.
Westminster Press, 1945
Infini Rien: Pascal's Wager and the Human Paradox
Leslie Armour.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1993
Pascal's Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God
Jeff Jordan.
Oxford University Press, 2006
Studies in Self-Interest: From Descartes to La Bruyere
A. J. Krailsheimer.
Clarendon Press, 1962
Librarian’s tip: Chap. VI "Pascal: Lettres Provinciales," Chap. VII "Pascal: Method," and Chap. VIII "Pascal: Pensees"
The History of Scepticism: From Savonarola to Bayle
Richard H. Popkin.
Oxford University Press, 2003 (Revised edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 11 "Some Spiritual and Religious Answers to Scepticism and Descartes: Henry More, Blaise Pascal, and Quietists"
Fiction Refracts Science: Modernist Writers from Proust to Borges
Allen Thiher.
University of Missouri Press, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Chap. One "What the Modernists Knew about the History of Science from Pascal to Heisenberg"
Moments of Discovery
George Schwartz; Philip W. Bishop.
Basic Books, vol.1, 1958
Librarian’s tip: "Blaise Pascal: 1623-1662: The Facts of Air Pressure Are Demonstrated by Experiment" begins on p. 351
Literature & Religion: Pascal, Gryphius, Lessing, Holderlin, Novalis, Kierkegaard, Dostoyevsky, Kafka
Walter Jens; Hans Küng; Peter Heinegg.
Paragon House, 1991
FREE! Portraits of the Seventeenth Century, Historic and Literary
Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve.
Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1904
Librarian’s tip: Chap. VI "Pascal"
The Columbia History of Western Philosophy
Richard H. Popkin.
Columbia University Press, 1999
Librarian’s tip: "Blaise Pascal" begins on p. 352
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