A Collection of Wisdom

Blaise Pascal

Frenchman Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) is one of history’s most widely accomplished people. He was a major figure in science, mathematics, writing, philosophy, and theology.

Early Life

Born and raised in Clermont-Ferrand and later in Paris, Blaise Pascal was noted early on as being highly brilliant and prodigious. As a teenager, he made several discoveries in the field of geometry, and around the age of twenty, he invented an early version of the digital calculator (which consisted of a wooden box with dials that could quickly add and subtract figures.) [1]

Early Notable Works

Blaise continued to make many strides in various fields of science and math. Among them, he discovered the principle in fluid mechanics that is now known as Pascal’s law, he invented the hydraulic press and syringe, he did groundbreaking work in the mathematical subject of probability, and he helped develop a mathematical discovery now known as Pascal’s triangle.

Blaise was also a notable writer, and was well known for a series of essays he wrote in defense of a persecuted friend. Those essays, known as Les Provinciales, were widely read throughout Europe, and had a tremendous impact on the literary style of many writers.

Later Life

In his later life, Blaise was heavily involved in philosophical and religious subjects, and also helped the poor. He struggled with health problems and lived in pain for most of his life, and he died of a stomach ulcer at age 39 in 1662. In 1670, his various writings on religion and philosophy were published in a work titled Pensees.


Blaise was often described by others as being tremendously gifted yet sometimes embarrassed of his talents; high strung and overbearing yet also sometimes trying to be the opposite; and highly intellectual, persevering, and curious.


People are generally better persuaded by the reasons that they have themselves discovered than by those that have come into the mind of others. (10)

No one speaks of us in our presence as he does of us in our absence. Human society is founded on mutual deceit; few friendships would endure if each knew what his friend said of him in his absence, although he then spoke in sincerity and without passion. (100)

I set it down as a fact that if all men knew what each said of the other, there would not be four friends in the world. This is apparent from the quarrels that arise from the indiscreet tales told from time to time. (101)

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 endeavor to shine. (147)

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. (148)

Vanity is so anchored in the heart of man that a soldier, a soldier’s servant, a cook, a porter brags and wishes to have his admirers. Even philosophers wish for them. Those who write against it want to have the glory of having written well; and those who read it desire the glory of having read it. I who write this have perhaps this desire, and perhaps those who will read it... (15)

We do not rest satisfied with the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if in order to hasten its course; or we recall the past, to stop its too rapid flight. So imprudent are we that we wander in the times which are not ours and do not think of the only one which belongs to us; and so idle are we that we dream of those times which are no more and thoughtlessly overlook that which alone exists.

For the present is generally painful to us. We conceal it from our sight, because it troubles us; and, if it be delightful to us, we regret to see it pass away. We try to sustain it by the future and think of arranging matters which are not in our power, for a time which we have no certainty of reaching.

Let each one examine his thoughts, and he will find them all occupied with the past and the future. We scarcely ever think of the present; and if we think of it, it is only to take light from it to arrange the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means; the future alone is our end.

So we never live, but we hope to live; and, as we are always preparing to be happy, it is inevitable we should never be so. (172)

When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and after, the little space which I fill and even can see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am ignorant and which know me not, I am frightened and am astonished at being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather than there, why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose order and direction have this place and time been allotted to me? “The remembrance of a guest that tarries but a day.” [Wisdom of Solomon 5:15.] (205)

Are you less a slave by being loved and favored by your master? You are indeed well off, slave. Your master favors you; he will soon beat you. (209)

The last act is tragic, however happy all the rest of the play is; at the last a little earth is thrown upon our head, and that is the end forever. (210)

It is incomprehensible that God should exist, and it is incomprehensible that He should not exist; that the soul should be joined to the body, and that we should have no soul; that the world should be created, and that it should not be created, etc.; that original sin should be, and that it should not be. (230)

Two extremes: to exclude reason, to admit reason only. (253)

The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things. (277)

It is the heart that experiences God, and not the reason. (278)

The most unreasonable things in the world become most reasonable, because of the unruliness of men. What is less reasonable than to choose the eldest son of a queen to rule a State? We do not choose as captain of a ship the passenger who is of the best family.

This law would be absurd and unjust; but, because men are so themselves and always will be so, it becomes reasonable and just. For whom will men choose, as the most virtuous and able? We at once come to blows, as each claims to be the most virtuous and able. Let us then attach this quality to something indisputable. This is the king’s eldest son. That is clear, and there is no dispute. Reason can do no better, for civil war is the greatest of evils. (320)

It is not good to have too much liberty. It is not good to have all one wants. (379)

Contradiction is a bad sign of truth; several things that are certain are contradicted; several things that are false pass without contradiction.

Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor the want of contradiction a sign of truth. (384)

The greatness of man is great in that he knows himself to be miserable. A tree does not know itself to be miserable. … (397)


After having shown the vileness and the greatness of man

Let man now know his value. Let him love himself, for there is in him a nature capable of good; but let him not for this reason love the vileness that is in him. Let him despise himself, for this capacity is barren; but let him not therefore despise this natural capacity. Let him hate himself, let him love himself; he has within him the capacity of knowing the truth and of being happy, but he possesses no truth, either constant or satisfactory. (423)

What a chimera, then, is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe! (434)

‘Tis a perverted judgment that makes every one place himself above the rest of the world, and prefer his own good, and the continuance of his own good fortune and life, to that of the rest of the world! (456)

We are all something, but none of us are everything

Nature is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.

Kind words do not cost much; yet they accomplish much.

It is not certain that everything is uncertain.

I have made this letter longer because I did not have the time to make it shorter.

[1](About twenty years earlier, a similar calculating device was built by German mathematician and scientist Wilhelm Schickard, although it was not widely used, and it remained in obscurity. Leonardo Da Vinci also sketched a design for a calculator device in the 1500s. Nevertheless, Blaise is often accredited as the inventor of the early-form calculator)