The manuscript referred to in this essay, was first published in 1669, seven years after death of its author, an accomplished physicist, mathematician, philosopher and acclaimed writer of the 17th century AD, Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662). In a certain sense, the paper which after his death and until publishing was neglected and almost forgotten, was a work of all Pascal’s life, since he as an ascetic had not married and had children. The editors were reluctant to publish the notes in aggregate entitled “Pensées de M. Pascal sur la réligion, et sur quelques autres sujets” ("Thoughts of M. Pascal on religion, and on other subjects") until 1669, as at the moment of his death, “Pensees”, as they are generally referred to nowadays, comprised a pile of detached scraps of paper containing isolated thoughts, however, collected in a tentative, but still telling order.
“Pensees” by Blaise Pascal by various authors is referred to as the most eloquent book in French prose and the finest pages in French language, and it is one of the most beautifully written and profound masterpieces the world history ever knew, however, the work wasn’t initially designed as a book or another sort of literary work, but nothing short of as a manifest in defense of Christianity. Especially this was related to Jansenism, a French theological movement that is claimed to borrow its propositions from the works of Saint Augustine (Clarke, 2007).
Pascal first encounter with the French theological movement was when he was 22 years of age, but the scientifically talented and ambitioned Blaise Pascal was seemingly far from accepting the movement’s ideals. Pascal’s intention to follow Jansen initially was rather a forced decision, as his sister and irreplaceable assistant Jaqueline Pascal after their father’s death entered Port-Royal convent, as a nun. For the first time Blaise was alone, his physical condition was far from good and he eventually started accepting spiritual supervision from his sister and then from one of the prominent Jansenists, Antoin Singlin.
On 23 November 1654, three years after his sister joined Port-Royal, Pascal underwent a powerful religious experience after which he devoted his life, at least the rest of it, to religious activities. Though being a mathematician and a philosopher, Pascal aims to persuade the atheist reader to refuse the rational approach to the issues of religion. He acclaims a disposition of an intuitive mind to experience faith without reasoning, and in this he insists on blissfulness of this sort of intellect.
Intuitive Versus Mathematician Mind
What is the intuitive mind Pascal praises over the rational mind of a mathematician, and why it is so acclaimed by the prominent scientist? Before answering the question, we should proceed from the fact, that Pascal was, probably, the most acclaimed person in the modern history who at the same time was a mathematician on the one hand, and a profound writer, on the other. The distinction between the two states of mind, or to put it otherwise, the two minds, was definitely something he could describe proceeding from the circumstances of his own life.
Intuitive mind is the mind of a mystic or a poet and is capable to see and comprehend the principles beyond the reasoning and analysis, which are claimed to be perceivable by artistic persons immediately. “These principles are so fine and so numerous that a very delicate and very clear sense is needed to perceive them, and to judge rightly and justly when they are perceived, without for the most part being able to demonstrate them in order as in mathematics; because the principles are not known to us in the same way, and because it would be an endless matter to undertake it. We must see the matter at once, at one glance, and not by a process of reasoning, at least to a certain degree". (Pascal, Fragment 1)
The passage set above is a part of first abstract outlined in the Pensees, and it is believed that it sets the beginning and introduction to the entire manuscript; it can be even suggested that the whole work emerges as the clarification and reasoning of the principles that the intuitive mind is able to see "at one glance". However, as for people having a “mathematician mind”, in the questions of faith they would have to settle with reasoning “waiting for God to give them spiritual insight, without which faith is only human, and useless for salvation” (Pascal, Fragment 282).
He claims that the principles of the universe (time, space, motion, etc.), or First Principles, as he calls them, as all excessive impact on the human senses, are too self-evident to be perceived by people "Too much sound deafens us; too much light dazzles us; too great distance or proximity hinders our view. Too great length and too great brevity of discourse tend to obscurity; too much truth is paralyzing" (Fragment 72). Pascal admits that the nature gave the humans too little chance to perceive the First Principles directly, and the rest of knowledge of this kind can be obtained only by reasoning.
Pascal’s Wager Targeted at Intuitive or Mathematician Mind
Pascal’s reasoning in the Pascal’s Wager often is criticized for its over-simplified approach to faith and acquiring of faith. Indeed, it seems that the Wager appeals to human's want of gaining eternal rewards, which makes doubtful sincerity of such faith and its very existence, with is immoral and dishonest. If the Wager appeals to the feeling of fear when assuming that God, if he exists, would punish an atheist with infinite suffering, if Pascal had initially (as shown above) aimed at reasoning and waiting for the “spiritual insight” rather than trying to entice with good and scare with eternal pain.
The reasoning set out in the Pascal’s Wager is directed at persuading the mathematician mind to try an experience of faith. In the Wager, Pascal offers to define by means of reasoning in what case would a person benefit more – in case God exists or in case God does not exist. Contrary to the critical views, Pascal Wager is argued to be an integral part of the first Chapter of Pensees, “Thoughts on Mind and on Style”. In case Pascal honestly attempted to persuade the rational mind to try experience of Christian faith, he was addressing the mind of a person, capable to believe in God without the need or willingness to search for evidences to support this faith, thus, again to the intuitive mind but pretending to be a mathematician mind of an atheist. Here Blaise Pascal comes close to the concept of an agnostic mind, i.e., the mind of a person who neither believes not disbelieves in the existence of God. According to one of the agnosticism theorists, Thomas Huxley (1889) “Positively the principle (of agnosticism) may be expressed: In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration. And negatively: In matters of the intellect do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable” (Huxley, 1889, p. 362). This contemplation seems to be quite closely reflecting the spirit of Pascal’s Wage and his reflections on knowledge that can be perceived by an intuitive mind as it is, from the first glance. An agnostic mind here represents something in between the mathematician and intuitive minds.
However, in the next fragment Pascal distinguishes the two minds leaving no conceptual area for agnosticism to thrive: "There are then two kinds of intellect: the one able to penetrate acutely and deeply into the conclusions of given premises, and this is the precise intellect; the other able to comprehend a great number of premises without confusing them, and this is the mathematical intellect" (Fragment 2).
What would be the benefit of the mind who accepts the preconditions of the Pascal’s Wager?
This mind, in compliance with the stated above principle of agnosticism, receives dual or uncertain knowledge of the world: “And what completes our incapability of knowing things, is the fact that they are simple, and that we are composed of two opposite natures, different in kind, soul and body. For it is impossible that our rational part should be other than spiritual; and if any one maintain that we are simply corporeal, this would far more exclude us from the knowledge of things, there being nothing so inconceivable as to say that matter knows itself. It is impossible to imagine how it should know itself” (Fragment 72). Scottish philosopher David Hume argued that all meaningful statements about every subject in the universe always feature a certain degree of doubt (Hume, D. (1748), An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding)
According to Pascal, exclusively material beings are unable to obtain and operate knowledge of something, and if people are composed of consciousness and mind altogether, they are unable to gain full knowledge of simple things attributable either to spirit or corporeal world. Pascal doubts that even a few philosophers thoroughly comprehend the ideas of things and were able to speak of corporeal things in spiritual terms, and vice versa. It happens as material bodies tend to be subject to the physics law, that they try to avoid destruction, and typically fear the void, and they are disposed to have inclinations, feel love and fear, and the rest are attributes only of mind. When people speak of minds, they consider them placed in a certain locality in the universe, can judge that they move from one place to another. And these are the qualities of bodies.
Pascal argues that people are unable to receive pure ideas of these things, but are forced to colour them with qualities of both body and mind, and there is no opportunity to escape marking all the simple things of which we think, with the stamp of beings having corporeal body and spiritual mind.
Understanding of the dual characteristic of all living creatures who are able to gather, collect and share information is an attribute of both theological and atheist minds. Let us reflect on the sentence of Tomas Huxley in his letter of September 23, 1860: “I neither affirm nor deny the immortality of man. I see no reason for believing it, but, on the other hand, I have no means of disproving it. … No man who has to deal daily and hourly with nature can trouble himself about a priori difficulties. Give me such evidence as would justify me in believing in anything else, and I will believe that. Why should I not? It is not half so wonderful as the conservation of force or the indestructibility of matter... ” (Huxley, Thomas, 1860)
Reflecting on composite nature of humans, Pascal is amused with the intelligence of this, on the first sight, odd mixture of spiritual and corporeal substances. A human being embodies a principle that human beings cannot thoroughly understand by themselves, and emerges as an object of eternal interest due to the complexity of his knowledge about both elements of his entity and of his civilization, perception, culture, genetic information, information of the nature of electrons and viruses. A human mind is eternally delved into the riddle of what mind is, how psycho really works, where it is located and how the body is united to a mind. Pascal sees this duality and uncertainty of all information people possess of the universe and of themselves, as the consummation of all human’s difficulties, and this is his very being.