The Religious Philosophy Of Pascal -- By: James Lindsay

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 075:297 (Jan 1918)
Article: The Religious Philosophy Of Pascal
Author: James Lindsay

The Religious Philosophy Of Pascal

James Lindsay

Pascal, one of the last great representatives of the mediaeval idealism, is marked by an elevation and purity all his own. As writer, mathematician, and physicist, the author of the “Pensees” and the “Lettres Provinciales” takes rank with Descartes. His thought was influenced by Cartesianism, by the Pyrrhonism of Montaigne, by the system of Epictetus, by Port Royal, and by Augustinianism. As a scientific thinker, he was mainly indebted to Descartes. From him Pascal learnt to make mathematics the training-ground of the spirit, and to regard thought as the specific worth or value of man. Philosophical speculation Pascal did not cultivate as an end in itself: he valued it as it could prove an aid in bringing men to religious belief. With no philosophical system of his own, Pascal’s influence on French thought was yet such as to render his name significant for the history of philosophy. His religious genius — his capacity for faith — led him to leave geometrical and physical researches, that he might pursue religious thought and inquiry. He made the psychological study of man the basis of the knowledge of God, more after the fashion of Augustine, than by the rationalistic mode of Descartes. He did not even pursue moral science in any technical philosophic sense.

The idea of the Infinite plays an important part in Pascal’s philosophy. He speaks, in express terms, of the universe as

an infinite sphere, whose center is everywhere, and whose circumference nowhere. He dwells not only on the immeasurable vastness of its dimensions, but on the innumerableness of its parts. The incomprehensibility of the infinite universe to man is, in his view, due to man’s place in Nature, which renders him incapable of comprehending things in the infinity of their beginning and their ending. Pascal thought we know that the Infinite exists, but do not know its nature. Man, as finite, has, in his view, no standard for the idea of the Infinite: mystery and incomprehensibleness are therefore, he thinks, the end for man; in other words, he declares we are a mean between everything and nothing. All this, however, would make an easier entrance to agnosticism than he thought. It is not correct, however, to say that Pascal denies the legitimacy of the metaphysical proofs of God: what he emphasizes is their difficulty and their inutility in certain forms of presentation. He says that “the metaphysical proofs of God are so remote from human reasoning, and so complicated, that they strike us but little,” and “this sort of proofs can only guide to a speculative knowledge of God.” The knowledge of God must not, in Pascal’s view, rest upon the mind alone, but also upon the sou...

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