Blaise Pascal - Philosophy, Ethics and Learning
Blaise Pascal (1623-62)
French mathematician (pictured right), physicist and philosopher.
Inventor of the:
Important contributor to:
- the study of fluids, vacuums and
The SI unit of pressure is named after him.
His most famous book
Pensées (Thoughts) , published in 1658.
What did he say about ethics and learning?
1. Think well
Morality and happiness depend on good thinking and quiet reflection,
because they help you make the right choices.
People are sinfully weak, but the right thinking (e.g. to love others) makes them good and
“Man is only a reed, the weakest to be found in nature; but he is a thinking reed”, he said.
Since you can’t know everything, it is “necessary to know a little about everything”.
2. God is great
After his religious conversion in 1654, Pascal realized the:
- limitations of scientific knowledge and reason.
- importance of faith in God.
- let God help you overcome them (see point 3).
God is all powerful, “an infinite sphere whose centre is everywhere and circumference is
3. Pascal’s wager
This wager emphasizes two possibilites:
- if God doesn’t exist, you have nothing to lose by believing in Him.
- if He does exist, you will gain eternal life by believing in Him.
So you should believe in God and Jesus (pictured right in Dirk Bouts'
painting from c 1470-75) .
Follow the love in your heart, not the intellectual reasoning of your brain.
“The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of”, he said.
Don’t use religion as an excuse for doing evil.
5. Scientific method
- make a hypothesis
- prove or disprove it by observation and experiments.
For example, he proved the principles and value of the barometer by carrying one up and
down a church tower.
Therefore, science is constantly progressing through:
- the discovery of new facts.
6. Single-minded hard work
He devoted himself to work and didn’t marry. He was brilliant and a child prodigy, educated by
his father, a judge.
But he worked incredibly hard to make the most of his ability.
An essay on mathematics, written when he was only 17, was envied by another great French mathematician and
philosopher, René Descartes (pictured
Have fun but control your desires.
“It is shameful to succumb to pleasure”, he said.
This is very important in learning, because it gives you “flexibility of thought”.
9. Stand up
for your principles
- always speak
up for what’s right
- never be silent about what’s wrong.
10. Love life and learning
Passion for life comes from thinking clearly about the
useful and worthwhile things you can do.
A great mind “sees distinctly what it loves”, he said.
Key quotes on learning and wisdom
Thought constitutes the greatness of man.
Man is only a reed, the weakest to be found in nature; but he is a thinking reed.
Key quote on the learning
You always admire what you really don’t understand.
Key quotes on
The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.
All our dignity consists in thought. Let us then
strive to think well; that is the basic principle of morality
It is shameful to succumb to
Key quote on corporate
People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find
Key quote on influencing
Kind words do not cost much. Yet they accomplish much.
Key quote on
I have made this [letter] longer than usual, only because I have not had the time
to make it shorter.
Key quotes on
Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.
It is heart which experiences God, and not the reason.