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Blaise Pascal's Pensées

The Pensées (literally "thoughts") represented a defense of the Christian religion by Blaise Pascal, the renowned 17th-century philosopher and mathematician. Pascal's religious conversion led him into a life of asceticism and the Pensées was in many ways his life's work. The concept (but not the term) of "Pascal's Wager" stems from a portion of this work. The Pensées is in fact a name given posthumously to his fragments, which he had been preparing for an Apology for the Christian Religion which was never completed.

Although the Pensées appears to consist of ideas and jottings, some of which are incomplete, it is believed that Pascal had, prior to his death in 1662, already planned out the order of the book and had begun the task of cutting and pasting his draft notes into a coherent form. His task incomplete, subsequent editors have disagreed on the order, if any, in which his writings should be read.[1] Those responsible for his effects, failing to recognize the basic structure of the work, handed them over to be edited and they were published in 1669.[2] The first English translation was made in 1688 by John Walker.[3] Another English translation by W. F. Trotter was published in 1958.[4] It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that scholars began to understand Pascal's intention.[citation needed] In the 1990s, decisive philological achievements were made and the edition by Philippe Sellier of the book contains Pascal's "thoughts" in more or less the order he left them.

Several attempts have been made to arrange the notes systematically; notable editions include those of Léon Brunschvicg, Jacques Chevalier, Louis Lafuma, and (more recently) Philippe Sellier. (See, also, the monumental edition of his Oeuvres complètes (1964–1991), which is known as the Tercentenary Edition and was realized by Jean Mesnard;[citation needed] this edition reviews the dating, history, and critical bibliography of each of Pascal's texts.) Although Brunschvicg tried to classify the posthumous fragments according to themes, recent research has prompted Sellier to choose entirely different classifications, as Pascal often examined the same event or example through many different lenses.[5]


  1. ^ Blaise Pascal, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (accessed 2010-03-11)
  2. ^ First edition on Gallica (accessed 2010-10-06)
  3. ^ Daston, Lorraine. Classical Probability in the Enlightenment. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988.
  4. ^ The Project Gutenberg EBook of Pascal's Pensées, by Blaise Pascal (accessed 2014-10-06)
  5. ^ See in particular various works by Laurent Thirouin, for example “Les premières liasses des Pensées : architecture et signification”, XVIIe siècle, n°177 (spécial Pascal), oct./déc. 1992, pp. 451-468 or “Le cycle du divertissement, dans les liasses classées”, Giornata di Studi Francesi, “Les Pensées de Pascal : du dessein à l’édition”, Rome, Université LUMSA, 11-12 October 2002.

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