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2.14 Pascal

Blaise Pascal (Clermont, France, 1623 – Paris 1662) was a critic of reason, since it does not allow us to know what is most exquisitely human. The “geometric spirit” does not allow to obtain true, perfect demonstrations, since for each demonstration it would be necessary in turn to demonstrate the bases, the terms on which it is based, and so on endlessly. Geometric knowledge must therefore have a measure of modesty, of humility. This does not mean that reason and science have no value: they retain, in their fields of investigation, all their importance, but for those who want to know man in depth, another type of thought is needed: rather than the “geometrical spirit”, we need the esprit de finesse, the “spirit of finesse”, something similar to what we call “intuition”. This critique of reason allows Pascal to state that “mocking philosophy is truly philosophizing”.
Knowing man, the human, however, leads to becoming aware of our limitations and our miseries. “We do not content ourselves with the life we have in ourselves and in our own being; we desire to live an imaginary life in the mind of others, and for this purpose we endeavour to shine. We labour unceasingly to adorn and preserve this imaginary existence, and neglect the real… We are so presumptuous that we would wish to be known by all the world, even by people who shall come after, when we shall be no more; and we are so vain that the esteem of five or six neighbors delights and contents us… We even lose our life with joy, provided people talk of it… We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in uncertainty, driven from end to end. When we think to attach ourselves to any point and to fasten to it, it wavers and leaves us; and if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips past us, and vanishes for ever. Nothing stays for us. This is our natural condition, and yet most contrary to our inclination; we burn with desire to find solid ground and an ultimate sure foundation whereon to build a tower reaching to the infinite. But our whole groundwork cracks, and the earth opens to abysses”. Man must not believe that he is a beast, but not even an angel; for this “if he exalt himself, I humble him; if he humble himself, I exalt him; and I always contradict him, till he understands that he is an incomprehensible monster…” alone he will not be able to create values that are worth and to find a stable and true sense of existence; “I can only approve of those who seek with lamentation”; actually, it is easy to realize that values change according to places and ages. Faced with this awareness the philosopher will find meaning through the bet of faith in Jesus Christ; the misery and contradictions of man “seemed to distance me more from the knowledge of religion, but instead led me to the true religion sooner”.
Instead superficial people prefer to change course following the divertissement, the fun, to be understood also in the etymological sense of the term, of change of direction, of way. The divertissement makes us avoid thinking of ourselves and falling into boredom. We always live busy or in fun for fear of staying with ourselves, of looking into ourselves, of discovering our own miseries. This is why men “love noise and bustle so much”, they look for play, superficial conversation, war, big offices: not to think of themselves.

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