Blaise Pascal was a French physicist, mathematician, and philosopher. Author of the famous phrase : «  The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know  ».

Blaise Pascal

Educated by his father

Son of Etienne Pascal, president of the Court of Aids of Clermont, Blaise Pascal was born in this city on June 19, 1623. He was not three years old when his mother died, exhausted by her maternity wards and the nights spent with him. to watch over him. He has, in fact, convulsions which keep the whole family on alert. In 1630, Etienne Pascal came to live in Paris with his children. He takes care of the education of his son, whose budding genius he seems to have guessed. He has unorthodox views, and he forbids his son to learn mathematics before he is 15 years old. But legend has it that Blaise, piqued by curiosity, was surprised by his father demonstrating alone, at the age of 12, that the sum of the angles of a triangle is 180°. As a result, he was allowed (and encouraged) to read Euclid’s Elements. From the age of 14, Blaise Pascal accompanies his father to meetings at the Academy of the Minimal Marin Mersenne, where various scientists debate all kinds of questions.

Blaise Pascal invented the first calculating machine

At 16, he made his first presentation there, where he demonstrated several theorems of projective geometry, including the famous property of the mystical hexagon inscribed in a conic. So much so that in 1640, at the age of 17, he published Essay for conics on elementary geometry. Work that will meet with great success, until attracting the attention of the great mathematician René Descartes. To help his father, promoted by Richelieu, tax collector in Rouen, he then designed the Pascaline, a device for performing additions and subtractions. It was, in a way, the first calculating machine in history, now kept at the Conservatoire des Arts et Métiers in Paris. Blaise Pascal meets the Jansenists there, a Catholic faction inspired by Saint-Augustin. These reject the concept of free will, and accept predestination. They teach that the key to salvation is divine grace rather than good deeds.

A mystical experience

In 1654, after almost dying in a car accident and having had a mystical experience, Pascal decided to devote himself to God and religion. He chose the Jansenist priest Singlin as spiritual guide and in 1665, he retired to the abbey of Port-Royal des Champs, center of Jansenism. According to Blaise Pascal, it is only in God that man can find spiritual anchorage. Pascal’s God is not that of the philosophers (Voltaire’s watchmaker, the creator God allowing us to understand intellectually that the world exists) but that of the Bible before whom the anxious fisherman trembles about his eternal salvation. The dogma of original sin makes it possible to understand the imperfections of man as well as his dignity. Man has lost his nature but retains traces of his original state. The famous argument of the bet is in no way a proof of the existence of God. It is mainly inspired by the calculation of probabilities (and in particular the notion of mathematical expectation) of which we know that Pascal was the founder. If I bet on the existence of God and that God exists, I gain eternal bliss while committing only a finite existence. If I bet on the existence of God and God does not exist, I have only lost a finite life. In total, therefore, I have the possibility of gaining infinite bliss and only risks losing a miserable reality. Conversely if I bet that God does not exist and that he does exist, I lose eternal bliss, ie my salvation. If finally I bet that God does not exist and that indeed he does not exist, I have won only a finite reality. In total, therefore, I risk losing a great deal while seeking to gain very little. It is therefore in my interest to bet that God exists. Failure to do so is suicidal, contrary to common sense.

The Provinciales » and the « Thoughts

Certainly no one can acquire faith at will (Pascal knows this well, in his eyes it comes from divine grace) but we must at least remove the obstacles between us and God to allow the action of grace. This supposes the moderation of the passions, to live with piety, which is the only remedy for the contradictions of existence. He wrote during this period the « Provinciales » and the « Thoughts« , the latter being published only after his death which occurred two months after his 39th birthday, when he had been ill for a long time (subject to violent migraines in particular). Blaise Pascal was buried in the church of Saint-Etienne-du-Mont near a pillar of the chapel of the Virgin. In July 2017, Pope Francis mentioned a possible procedure for the beatification of Blaise Pascal.

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