Blaise Pascal/Minor Works

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Epitaph of M. Pascal, Pere

HERE lies, etc.

Illustrious for his great knowledge which was recognized by the scholars of all Europe; more illustrious still for the great probity which he exercised in the offices and employments with which he was honored; but much more illustrious for his exemplary piety. He tasted good and bad fortune, that he might be known in every thing for what he was. He was seen temperate in prosperity and patient in adversity. He sought the aid of God in misfortune, and rendered him thanks in happiness. His heart was devoted to his God, his king, his family, and his friends. He had respect for the great and love for the small; it pleased God to crown all the graces of nature that he had bestowed on him with a divine grace which made his great love for God the foundation, the stay, and the consummation of all his other virtues.

Thou, who seest in this epitome the only thing that remains to us of so beautiful a life, admire the fragility of all present things, weep the loss that we have suffered; render thanks to God for having left for a time to earth the enjoyment of such a treasure; and pray his goodness to crown with his eternal glory him whom he crowned here below with more graces and virtues than the limits of an epitaph permit us to relate.

His grief-stricken children have placed this epitaph on this spot, which they have composed from the fulness of their hearts, in order to render homage to the truth and not to appear ingrates in the sight of God.


To Ask of God the Proper Use of Sickness

I. Lord, whose spirit is so good and so gentle in all things, and who art so merciful that not only the prosperity but the very disgrace that happens to thy elect is the effect of thy mercy, grant me the favor not to act towards me as towards a heathen in the condition to which thy justice has reduced me: that like a true Christian I may recognize thee for my Father and my God, in whatever condition I may find myself, since the change of my condition brings none to thine; as thou art always the same, however subject I may be to change, and as thou art none the less God when thou afflictest and punishest, than when thou comfortest and showest indulgence.

II. Thou gavest me health to serve thee, and I made a profane use of it. Thou sendest me sickness now to correct me; suffer not that I use it to irritate thee by my impatience. I made a bad use of my health, and thou hast justly punished me for it. Suffer not that I make a bad use of my punishment. And since the corruption of my nature is such that it renders thy favors pernicious to me, grant, O my God! that thy all-powerful grace may render thy chastisements salutary. If my heart was full of affection for the world while it retained its vigor, destroy this vigor for my salvation; and render me incapable of enjoying the world, either through weakness of body or through zeal of charity, that I may enjoy but thee alone.

III. O God, before whom I must render an exact account of all my actions at the end of my life and at the end of the world! O God, who lettest the world and all the things of the world subsist but to train thy elect or to punish sinners! O God, who allowest sinners hardened in the pleasurable and criminal use of the world! O God, who makest our bodies to die, and who at the hour of death separatest our soul from all that it loved in the world! O God, who wilt snatch me, at this last moment of my life, from all the things to which I am attached and on which I have set my heart! O God, who wilt consume at the last day the heavens and the earth with all the creatures they contain, to show to all mankind that nothing subsists save thee, and that thus nothing is worthy of love save thee, since nothing is durable save thee! O God, who wilt destroy all these vain idols and all these fatal objects of our passions! I praise thee, my God, and I will bless thee all the days of my life, that it has pleased thee to anticipate in my favor this terrible day, by destroying all things in respect to me through the weakness to which thou hast reduced me. I praise thee, my God, and I will bless thee all the days of my life, that it has pleased thee to reduce me to the incapacity of enjoying the sweets of health and the pleasures of the world, and that thou hast destroyed in some sort, for my advantage, the deceitful idols that thou wilt destroy effectively, for the confusion of the wicked, in the day of thy wrath. Grant, Lord, that I may judge myself, after the destruction that thou hast made with respect to me, that thou mayest not judge me thyself, after the entire destruction that thou wilt make of my life and of the world. For, Lord, as at the instant of my death I shall find myself separated from the world, stripped of all things, alone in thy presence, to answer to thy justice for all the emotions of my heart, grant that I may consider myself in this sickness as in a species of death, separated from the world, stripped of all the objects of my attachment, alone in thy presence, to implore of thy mercy the conversion of my heart; and that thus I may have extreme consolation in knowing that thou sendest me now a partial death in order to exercise thy mercy, before thou sendest me death effectively in order to exercise thy judgment. Grant then, O my God, that as thou hast anticipated my death, I may anticipate the rigor of thy sentence, and that I may examine myself before thy judgment, so that I may find mercy in thy presence.

IV. Grant, O my God! that I may adore in silence the order of thy adorable providence in the direction of my life; that this scourge may console me; and that, having lived during peace in the bitterness of my sins, I may taste the heavenly sweets of thy grace during the salutary evils with which thou afilictest me. But I perceive, my God, that my heart is so obdurate and full of the thoughts, the cares, the anxieties, and the attachments of the world, that sickness no more than health, nor discourses, nor books, nor thy sacred Scriptures, nor thy Gospel, nor thy most holy mysteries, nor alms, nor fasts, nor mortifications, nor miracles, nor the use of sacraments, nor the sacrifice of thy body, nor all my efforts, nor those of all the world together, can do any thing at all for the commencement of my conversion, if thou dost not accompany all these things with an extraordinary assistance of thy grace. It is for this that I address myself to thee, all-powerful God, to ask of thee a gift which all created things together cannot accord to me. I should not have the boldness to address to thee my cries, if any other had power to grant them. But, my God, as the conversion of my heart, which I ask of thee, is a work which surpasses all the efforts of nature, I can only address myself to the all-powerful Author and Master of nature and of my heart. To whom shall I cry, O Lord, to whom shall I have recourse, if not to thee?

Nothing that is less than God can fulfil my expectation. It is God himself that I ask and seek; and it is to thee alone, my God, that I address myself to obtain thee. Open my heart, O Lord; enter into the rebellious place which has been occupied by vices. They hold it subject. Enter into it as into the strong man's house; but first bind the strong and powerful enemy that has possession of it, and then take the treasures which are there. Lord, take my affections, which the world had stolen; take this treasure thyself, or rather retake it, since it belongs to thee as a tribute that I owe thee, since thy image is imprinted in it. Thou formedst it, O Lord, at the moment of my baptism, which was my second birth; but it is wholly effaced. The image of the world is so deeply engraven there that thine is no longer to be recognized. Thou alone couldst create my soul, thou alone canst create it anew; thou alone couldst form thy image, thou alone canst reform and reimprint thy effaced portrait, that is, my Saviour, Jesus Christ, who is thy image, and the expression of thy substance.

V. O my God! how happy is a heart that can love so charming an object, that does not dishonor it, and the attachment of which is so salutary to it! I feel that I cannot love the world without displeasing thee, and destroying and dishonoring myself; yet the world is still the object of my delight. O my God! how happy is the soul of which thou art the delight, since it can abandon itself to loving thee, not only without scruple, but also with merit! How firm and durable is its happiness, since its expectation will never be frustrated, because thou wilt never be destroyed, and neither life nor death will ever separate it from the object of its desires; and since the same moment that will plunge the wicked with their idols into a common ruin, will unite the just with thee in a common glory; and since, as the former will perish with the perishable objects to which they are attached, the latter will subsist eternally in the eternal and self-subsistent object to which they are closely bound! Oh! how happy are those who with an entire liberty, and irresistible inclination of their will, love perfectly and freely that which they are obliged to love necessarily!

VI. Perfect, O my God, the good impulses that thou givest me. Be their end as thou art their principle. Crown thy own gifts, for I recognize that they are from thee. Yes, my God, and far from pretending that my prayers may have some merit that forces thee to accord them of necessity, I humbly acknowledge that, having given to created things my heart, which thou hadst formed only for thyself, and not for the world, nor for myself, I can expect no grace except from thy mercy, since I have nothing in me that can oblige thee to it, and since all the natural impulses of my heart, whether tending towards created things, or towards myself, can only irritate thee. I, therefore, render thee thanks, my God, for the good impulses which thou givest me, and for the very one that thou hast given me to render thanks for them.

VII. Move my heart to repent of my faults, since, without this internal sorrow, the external ills with which thou affectest my body will be to me a new occasion of sin. Make me truly to know that the ills of the body are nothing else than the punishment and the symbol combined of the ills of the soul. But, Lord, grant also that they may be their remedy, by making me consider, in the pains which I feel, those that I did not feel in my soul, although wholly diseased, and covered with sores. For, Lord, the greatest of its diseases is this insensibility and extreme weakness, which had taken away from it all feeling of its own sufferings. Make me to feel them acutely, and grant that the portion of life that remains to me may be a continual penitence to wash away the offences that I have committed.

VIII. Lord, although my past life may have been exempt from great crimes, of which thou hast removed from me the occasions, it has nevertheless been most odious to thee by its continual negligence, by the bad use of thy most august sacraments, by the contempt of thy word and of thy inspirations, by the indolence and total uselessness of my actions and my thoughts, by the complete loss of the time which thou hadst given me only to adore thee, to seek in all my occupations the means of pleasing thee, and to repent of faults that are committed every day, and are even common to the most just; so that their life should be a continual penitence, without which they are in danger of falling from their justice. Thus, my God, I have always been opposed to thee.

IX. Yes, Lord, hitherto I have always been deaf to thy inspirations, I have despised thy oracles; I have judged the contrary of that which thou hast judged; I have contradicted the holy maxims which thou hast brought to the world from the bosom of thy eternal Father, and conformably to which thou wilt judge the world. Thou sayest: Blessed are those that mourn, and woe to those that are comforted! And I have said: Woe to those that mourn and blessed are those that are comforted! I have said: Blessed art those that enjoy an affluent fortune, a glorious reputation, and robust health! And why have I reputed them blessed, if not because all these advantages furnished them ample facility for enjoying created things, that is for offending thee! Yes, Lord, I confess that I have esteemed health a blessing, not because it is an easy means for serving thee with utility, for accomplishing more cares and vigils in thy service, and for the assistance of my neighbor; but because by its aid I could abandon myself with less restraint to the abundance of the delights of life, and better relish fatal pleasures. Grant me the favor, Lord, to reform my corrupt reason and to conform my sentiments to thine. Let me esteem myself happy in affliction, and, in the impotence of acting externally, purify my sentiments so that they may no longer be repugnant to thine; and let me thus find thee with in myself, since I cannot seek thee without because of my weakness. For, Lord, thy kingdom is within thy faithful; and I shall find it within myself, if I find there thy spirit and thy sentiments.

X. But, Lord, what shall I do to force thee to diffuse thy spirit over this miserable earth? All that I am is odious to thee, and I find nothing in myself that can be pleasing to thee. I see nothing therein. Lord, but my sufferings, which bear some resemblance to thine. Consider then the ills that I suffer and those that menace me. Look with an eye of mercy upon the wounds that thy hand has made, O my Saviour, who lovedst thy sufferings in death! O God, who wert made man only to suffer more than any other man for the salvation of mankind! O God, who wert not incarnated until after the sin of mankind, and who only tookest upon thyself a body in order to suffer therein all the ills which our sins had merited! O God, who lovedst so much these suffering bodies that thou hast chosen for thyself a body more oppressed with suffering than any that has ever appeared on earth! Look with favor upon my body, not for itself, nor for all that it contains, for everything therein deserving of thy anger, but for the ills that it endures, which alone can be worthy of thy love. Love my sufferings. Lord, and let my ills invite thee to visit me. But to finish the preparation for thy abode, grant, O my Saviour, that if my body has this in common with thine—that it suffers for my offences, my soul may also have this in common with thine—that it may be plunged in sorrow for the same offences; and that thus I may suffer with thee, and like thee, both in my body and in my soul, for the sins that I have committed.

XI. Grant me the favor, Lord, to join thy consolations to my sufferings, that I may suffer like a Christian. I ask not to be exempt from sorrow, for this is the recompense of the saints; but I ask that I may not be abandoned to the sorrows of nature without the consolations of thy spirit; for this is the curse of the Jews and the heathen. I ask not to have a fulness of consolation without any suffering; for this is the life of glory. Neither do I ask to be in the fulness of evils without consolation; for this is the state of Judaism. But I ask. Lord, to feel at the same time both the sorrows of nature for my sins, and the consolations of thy spirit through thy grace; for this is the true condition of Christianity. Let me not feel sorrow without consolation; but let me feel sorrow and consolation together, that I may come at last to feel thy consolation without any sorrow. For, Lord, thou lettest the world languish in natural suffering without consolation, before the coming of thy only Son: now thou consolest and assuagest the sufferings of thy faithful through the grace of thy only Son: and thou crownest thy saints with a pure beatitude in the glory of thy only Son. Such are the admirable degrees through which thou conductest thy work. Thou hast drawn me from the first: make me pass through the second, to arrive at the third. Lord, this is the favor that I ask of thee.

XII. Suffer me not to be so far removed from thee, that I can consider thy soul sorrowful unto death, and thy body a prey to death for my own sins, without rejoicing to suffer both in my body and in my soul. For what is there more shameful, and yet more common in Christians and in myself, than that, whilst thou sweatest blood for the expiation of our offences, we live in delights; and that those Christians who profess to belong to thee, that those who by baptism have renounced the world to follow thee, that those who have sworn solemnly in the presence of the Church to live and die for thee, that those who profess to believe that the world has persecuted and crucified thee, that those who believe that thou wert exposed to the wrath of God and the cruelty of men to ransom them from their crimes; that those, I say, who believe all these truths, who consider thy body as the victim that was yielded up for their salvation, who consider the pleasures and the sins of the world as the only cause of thy sufferings, and the world itself as thy executioner, seek to flatter their bodies by these very pleasures, in this very world; and that those who cannot, without shuddering with horror, see a man caress and cherish the murderer of his father, who would devote himself to give him life, can live as I have done, with full joy, in the world that I know to have been veritably the murderer of him whom I acknowledge for my God and my Father, who has delivered himself up for my own salvation, and who has borne in his person the penalty of my iniquities? It is just, Lord, that thou shouldst have interrupted a joy so criminal as that in which I was reposing in the shadow of death.

XIII. Remove from me then, Lord, the sadness that the love of self might give me for my own sufferings and for the things of the world that do not succeed to the satisfaction of the inclinations of my heart, and that do not regard thy glory; but create in me a sadness in conformity with thine. Let my sufferings serve to appease thy wrath. Make of them an occasion for my salvation and my conversion. Let me henceforth desire health and life only to employ them and end them for thee, with thee, and in thee. I ask of thee neither health, nor sickness, nor life, nor death; but that thou wilt dispose of my health and my sickness, my life and my death, for thy glory, for my salvation, and for the utility of the Church and of thy saints, of whom I hope by thy grace to form a part. Thou alone knowest what is most expedient for me : thou art the sovereign master do what thou wilt. Give to me, take from me; but conform my will to thine; and grant that in humble and perfect submission and in holy confidence, I may be disposed to receive the orders of thy eternal providence, and that I may adore alike all that comes to me from thee.

XIV. Grant, my God, that in a constantly equal uniformity of spirit I may receive all kinds of events, since we know not what we should ask, and since I cannot desire one more than another without presumption, and without rendering myself the judge of and responsible for the results that thy wisdom has rightly been pleased to hide from me. Lord, I know only that I know but one thing, that it is good to follow thee and that it is evil to offend thee. After this, I know not which is the better or worse of any thing; I know not which is more profitable to me, health or sickness, wealth or poverty, nor of all the things of the world. This is a discernment that exceeds the power of men or of angels, and that is hidden in the secrets of thy providence which I adore, and which I wish not to fathom.

XV. Grant then, Lord, that such as I am I may conform myself to thy will; and that being sick as I am, I may glorify thee in my sufferings. Without them I could not arrive at glory; and thou, too, my Saviour, hast only wished to attain it through them. It was by the tokens of thy sufferings that thou wert recognized by thy disciples; and it is by sufferings also that thou wilt recognize thy disciples. Acknowledge me then for thy disciple in the evils which I endure both in my body and my mind, for the offences that I have committed. And since nothing is pleasing to God if it be not offered through thee, unite my will to thine, and my sorrows to those which thou hast suffered. Grant that mine may become thine. Unite me to thee; fill me with thyself and with thy Holy Spirit. Enter into my heart and soul, to bear in them my sufferings, and to continue to endure in me what remains to thee to suffer of thy passion, that thou mayest complete in thy members even the perfect consummation of thy body, so that being full of thee, it may no longer be that I live and suffer, but that it may be thou that livest and sufferest in me, O my Saviour! And that thus having some small part in thy sufferings, thou wilt fill me entirely with the glory that they have acquired for thee, in which thou wilt live with the Father and the Holy Spirit through ages upon ages. So be it.


Of Early Times and Those of To-day

In early times. Christians were perfectly instructed in all the points necessary to salvation; whilst we see to-day so gross an ignorance of them, that it makes all those mourn who have sentiments of tenderness for the Church.

Men only entered then into the Church after great labors and long desires; they find their way into it now without any trouble, without care, and without labor.

They were only admitted to it after a strict examination. They are received into it now before they are in a condition to be examined. They were not received then until after having abjured their past life, until after having renounced the world, the flesh, and the devil. They enter it now before they are in a condition to do any of these things.

In short, it was necessary formerly to forsake the world in order to be received into the Church; whilst men enter now into the Church at the same time as into the world. By this process, an essential distinction was then known between the world and the Church. They were considered as two opposites, as two irreconcilable enemies, of which the one persecuted the other without cessation, and of which the weaker in appearance should one day triumph over the stronger; so that of these two antagonistic parties men quitted the one to enter the other; they abandoned the maxims of the one to embrace the maxims of the other; they put off the sentiments of the one to put on the sentiments of the other; in fine, they quitted, they renounced, they abjured this world in which they had received their first birth, to devote themselves entirely to the Church in which they received as it were their second birth and thus they conceived a terrible difference between the two; whilst they now find themselves almost at the same time in both; and the same moment that brings us forth into the world makes us acknowledged by the Church, so that the reason supervening, no longer makes a difference between these two opposite worlds. It is developed in both together.

Men frequent the Sacraments, and enjoy the pleasures of the world; and thus whilst formerly they saw an essential difference between the two, they see them now confounded and blended together, so that they can no longer discriminate between them. Hence it is that formerly none but well-instructed persons were to be seen among the Christians, whilst they are now in an ignorance that inspires one with horror; hence it is that those who had formerly been regenerated by baptism, and had forsaken the vices of the world to enter into the piety of the Church, fell back so rarely from the Church into the world; whilst nothing more common is to be seen at this time than the vices of the world in the hearts of Christians. The Church of the Saints is found defiled by the mingling of the wicked; and her children, whom she has conceived and nourished from childhood in her bosom, are the very ones who carry into her heart, that is to the participation in her most august mysteries, the most cruel of her enemies, the spirit of the world, the spirit of ambition, the spirit of vengeance, the spirit of impurity, the spirit of concupiscence and the love that she has for her children obliges her to admit into her very bowels the most cruel of her persecutors.

But it is not to the Church that should be imputed the misfortunes which have followed a change in such salutary discipline, for she has not changed in spirit, however she may have changed in conduct. Having therefore seen that the deferring of baptism left a great number of children in the curse of Adam, she wished to deliver them from this mass of perdition by hastening the aid which she could give them; and this good mother sees only with extreme regret that what she devised for the salvation of these children has become the occasion for the destruction of adults. Her true spirit is that those whom she withdraws at so tender an age from the contagion of the world, shall adopt sentiments wholly opposed to those of the world. She anticipates the use of reason to anticipate the vices into which corrupt reason will allure them; and before their mind has power to act, she fills them with her spirit, that they may live in ignorance of the world and in a condition so much the more remote from vice as they will never have known it. This appears from the ceremonies of baptism; for she does not accord baptism to children until after they have declared, by the mouth of sponsors, that they desire it, that they believe, that they renounce the world and Satan. And as she wishes that they should preserve these intentions throughout the whole course of their lives, she commands them expressly to keep them inviolate, and orders the sponsors, by an indispensable commandment, to instruct the children in all these things; for she does not wish that those whom she has nourished in her bosom should to-day be less instructed and less zealous than the adults whom she admitted in former times to the number of her own; she does not desire a less perfection in those whom she nourishes than in those whom she receives.

Yet men use it in a manner so contrary to the intention of the Church, that one cannot think of it without horror. They scarcely reflect any longer upon so great a benefit, because

they have never wished it, because they have never asked it, because they do not even remember having received it But as it is evident that the Church demands no less zeal
in those who have been brought up servants of the faith than in those who aspire to become such, it is necessary to place before their eyes the example of the catechumens, to consider their ardor, their devotion, their horror of the world, their generous renunciation of the world; and if they were not deemed worthy of receiving baptism without this disposition, those who do not find it in themselves    
They must therefore submit to receive the instruction that they would have had if they had begun to enter into the communion of the Church; they must moreover submit to a continual penitence, and have less aversion for the austerity or their mortification than pleasure in the use of delights poisoned by sin    
To dispose them to be instructed, they must be made to understand the difference of the customs that have been practised in the Church in conformity with the diversity of the times    

As in the infant Church they taught the catechumens, that is those who aspired to baptism, before conferring it upon them; and only admitted them to it after full instruction in the mysteries of religion, after a penitence for their past lives, after profound knowledge of the greatness and excellence of the profession of the faith and of the Christian maxims into which they desired to enter forever, after eminent tokens of a genuine conversion of the heart, and after an extreme desire of baptism. These things being known to all the Church, the sacrament of incorporation was conferred upon them by which they became members of the Church; whilst in these times, baptism having been accorded to children before the use of reason, through very important considerations, it happens that the negligence of parents suffers Christians to grow old without any knowledge of the greatness of our religion.

When instruction preceded baptism, all were instructed; but now that baptism precedes instruction, the instruction that was necessary has become voluntary, and then neglected and almost abolished. The true reason of this conduct is that men are persuaded of the necessity of baptism, and they are not persuaded of the necessity of instruction. So that when instruction preceded baptism, the necessity of the one caused men to have recourse to the other necessarily; whilst
baptism at the present time preceding instruction, as men have been made Christians without having been instructed, they believe that they can remain Christians without seeking instruction.…And whilst the early Christians testified so much gratitude towards the Church for the favor which she accorded only to their long prayers, they testify to-day so much ingratitude for this same favor, which she accords to them even before they are in a condition to ask it. And if she detested so strongly the lapses of the former, although so rare, how much must she hold in abomination the continual lapses and relapses of the latter, although they are much more indebted to her, since she has drawn them much sooner and much more unsparingly from the damnation to which they were bound by their first birth. She cannot, without mourning, see the greatest of her favors abused, and what she has done to secure their salvation becomes the almost certain occasion of their destruction    


On the Condition of the Great


In order to enter into a real knowledge of your condition, consider it in this image:

A man was cast by a tempest upon an unknown island, the inhabitants of which were in trouble to find their king, who was lost; and having a strong resemblance both in form and face to this king, he was taken for him, and acknowledged in this capacity by all the people. At first he knew not what course to take; but finally he resolved to give himself up to his good fortune. He received all the homage that they chose to render him, and suffered himself to be treated as a king.

But as he could not forget his real condition, he was conscious, at the same time that he was receiving this homage, that he was not the king whom this people had sought, and that this kingdom did not belong to him. Thus he had a double thought: the one by which he acted as king, the other by which he recognized his true state, and that it was accident alone that had placed him in his present condition. He concealed the latter thought, and revealed the other. It was by the former that he treated with the people, and by the latter that he treated with himself.

Do not imagine that it is less an accident by which you find yourself master of the wealth which you possess, than that by which this man found himself king. You have no right to it of yourself and by your own nature any more than he: and not only do you find yourself the son of a duke, but also do you find yourself in the world at all, only through an infinity of chances. Your birth depends on a marriage, or rather on the marriages of all those from whom you descend. But upon what do these marriages depend? A visit made by chance, an idle word, a thousand unforeseen occasions.

You hold, you say, your wealth from your ancestors; but was it not by a thousand accidents that your ancestors acquired it and that they reserved it? A thousand others, as capable as they, have either been unable to acquire it, or have lost it after having gained it. Do you imagine too, that it may have been by some natural way that this wealth has passed from your ancestors to you? This is not true. This order is founded only upon the mere will of legislators who may have had good reasons, but none of which was drawn from a natural right that you have over these things. If it had pleased them to order that this wealth, after having been possessed by fathers during their life, should return to the republic after their death, you would have no reason to complain of it.

Thus the whole title by which you possess your property, is not a title of nature but of a human institution. Another turn of imagination in those who made the laws would have rendered you poor; and it is only this concurrence of chance which caused your birth with the caprice of laws favorable in your behalf, that puts you in possession of all this property.

I will not say that it does not legitimately belong to you, and that it is permissible for another to wrest it from you; for God, who is its master, has permitted communities to make laws for its division, and when these laws are once established, it is unjust to violate them. This it is that distinguishes you somewhat from the man who possessed his kingdom only through the error of the people; because God did not authorize this possession, and required him to renounce it, whilst he authorizes yours. But what you have wholly in common with him is, that this right which you have, is not founded any more than his upon any quality or any merit in yourself which renders you worthy of it. Your soul and your body are, of themselves, indifferent to the state of boatman or that of duke; and there is no natural bond that attaches them to one condition rather than to another.

What follows from this? that you should have a double thought, like the man of whom we have spoken, and that, if you act externally with men in conformity with your rank, you should recognize, by a more secret but truer thought, that you have nothing naturally superior to them. If the public thought elevates you above the generality of men, let the other humble you, and hold you in a perfect equality with all mankind, for this is your natural condition.

The populace that admires you knows not, perhaps, this secret. It believes that nobility is real greatness, and it almost considers the great as being of a different nature from others. Do not discover to them this error, unless you choose; but do not abuse this elevation with insolence, and, above all, do not mistake yourself by believing that your being has something in it more exalted than that of others.

What would you say of that man who was made king by the error of the people, if he had so far forgotten his natural condition as to imagine that this kingdom was due to him, that he deserved it, and that it belonged to him of right? You would marvel at his stupidity and folly. But is there less in the people of rank who live in so strange a forgetfulness of their natural condition?

How important is this advice! For all the excesses, all the violence, and all the vanity of great men, come from the fact that they know not what they are: it being difficult for those who regard themselves at heart as equal with all men, and who are fully persuaded that they have nothing within themselves that merits these trifling advantages which God has given them over others, to treat them with insolence. For this it is necessary for one to forget himself, and to believe that he has some real excellence above them, in which consists this illusion that I am endeavoring to discover to you.


It is well, sir, that you should know what is due to you, that you may not pretend to exact from men that which is not due to you; for this is an obvious injustice; and nevertheless it is very common to those of your condition, because they are ignorant of the nature of it.

There is in the world two kinds of greatness: for there is greatness of institution, and natural greatness. Greatness of institution depends upon the will of men who have with reason thought it right to honor certain positions, and to attach to them certain marks of respect. Dignities and nobility are of this class. In one country the nobles are honored, in another the plebeians; in this the eldest, in the other the youngest. Why is this? because thus it has been pleasing to men. The thing was indifferent before the institution; since the institution it becomes just, because it is unjust to disturb it.

Natural greatness is that which is independent of the caprice of men, because it consists in the real and effective qualities of the soul or the body, which render the one or the other more estimable, as the sciences, the enlightenment of the mind, virtue, health, strength.

We owe something to both these kinds of greatness; but as they are of a different nature, we owe them likewise different respect. To the greatness of institution we owe the respect of institution, that is, certain external ceremonies which should be nevertheless accompanied, in conformity with reason, with an internal recognition of the justice of this order, but which do not make us conceive any real quality in those whom we honor after this manner. It is necessary to speak to kings on the bended knee, to remain standing in the presence-chamber of princes. It is a folly and baseness of spirit to refuse to them these duties.

But as for the natural homage which consists in esteem, we owe it only to natural greatness; and we owe, on the contrary, contempt and aversion to qualities contrary to this natural greatness. It is not necessary, because you are a duke, that I should esteem you; but it is necessary that I should salute you. If you are a duke and a gentleman, I shall render what I owe to both these qualities. I shall not refuse you the ceremonies that are merited by your quality of duke, nor the esteem that is merited by that of a gentleman. But if you were a duke without being a gentleman, I should still do you justice; for in rendering you the external homage which the order of men has attached to your birth, I should not fail to have for you the internal contempt that would be merited by your baseness of mind.

Therein consists the justice of these duties. And the injustice consists in attaching natural respect to greatness of condition, or in exacting respect of condition for natural greatness. M. N.…is a greater geometrician than I; in this quality, he wishes to take precedence of me: I will tell him that he understands nothing of the matter. Geometry is a natural greatness; it demands a preference of esteem; but men have not attached to it any external preference. I shall, therefore, take precedence of him, and shall esteem him greater than I in the quality of geometrician. In the same manner, if, being duke and peer, you would not be contented with my standing uncovered before you, but should also wish that I should esteem you, I should ask you to show me the qualities that merit my esteem. If you did this, you would gain it, and I could not refuse it to you with justice; but if you did not do it, you would be unjust to demand it of me; and assuredly you would not succeed, were you the greatest prince in the world.


I wish, sir, to make known to you your true condition; for this is the thing of all others of which persons of your class are the most ignorant. What is it, in your opinion, to be a great nobleman? It is to be master of several objects that men covet, and thus to be able to satisfy the wants and the desires of many. It is these wants and these desires that attract them towards you, and that make them submit to you: were it not for these, they would not even look at you; but they hope, by these services, and this deference which they render you, to obtain from you some part of the good which they desire, and of which they see that you have the disposal.

God is surrounded with people full of love who demand of him the benefits of love which are in his power: thus he is properly the king of love. You are in the same manner surrounded with a small circle of persons, over whom you reign in your way. These men are full of desire. They demand of you the benefits of desire; it is desire that binds them to you. You are therefore properly the king of desire. Your kingdom is of small extent; but you are equal in this to the greatest kings of the earth: they are like you the sovereigns of desire. It is desire that constitutes their power; that is the possession of things that men covet.

But while knowing your natural condition, avail yourself of the means that it gives you, and do not pretend to rule by a different power than by that which makes you king. It is not your strength and your natural power that subjects all these people to you. Do not pretend then to rule them by force or to treat them with harshness. Satisfy their reasonable desires; alleviate their necessities; let your pleasure consist in being beneficent; advance them as much as you can, and you will act like the true king of desire.

What I tell you does not go very far; and if you stop there you will not save yourself from being lost; but at least you will be lost like an honest man. There are some men who expose themselves to damnation so foolishly by avarice, by brutality, by debauches, by violence, by excesses, by blasphemies! The way which I open to you is doubtless the most honorable; but in truth it is always a great folly for a man to expose himself to damnation; and therefore he must not stop at this. He must despise desire and its kingdom, and aspire to that kingdom of love in which all the subjects breathe nothing but love, and desire nothing but the benefits of love. Others than I will show you the way to this; it is sufficient for me to have turned you from those gross ways into which I see many persons of your condition suffer themselves to be led, for want of knowing the true state of this condition.


The first thing with which God inspires the soul that he deigns to touch truly is a knowledge and most extraordinary insight by which the soul considers things and herself in a manner wholly new.

This new light gives her fear, and brings her a trouble that penetrates the repose which she found in the things that made her delights. She can no longer relish with tranquillity the things that charmed her. A continual scruple opposes her in this enjoyment, and this internal sight causes her to find no longer this accustomed sweetness among the things to which she abandoned herself with a full effusion of heart.

But she finds still more bitterness in the exercises of piety than in the vanities of the world. On one side, the vanity of the visible objects interests her more than the hope of the invisible, and on the other the solidity of the invisible interests her more than the vanity of the visible. And thus the presence of the one and the solidity of the other dispute her affection, and the vanity of the one and the absence of the other excite her aversion; so that a disorder and confusion spring up in her, that    

She considers perishable things as perishable and even already perished; and in the certain prospect of the annihilation of every thing that she loves, she is terrified by this consideration, in seeing that each moment snatches from her the enjoyment of her good, and that what is most dear to her glides away at every moment, and that finally a certain day will come in which she will find herself stripped of all the things in which she had placed her hope. So that she comprehends perfectly that her heart being attached only to vain and fragile things, her soul must be left alone and forsaken on quitting this life, since she has not taken care to unite herself to a true and self-subsisting good which could sustain her both during and after this life.

Thence it comes that she begins to consider as nothingness all that must return to nothingness,—the heavens, the earth, her spirit, her body, her relatives, her friends, her enemies, wealth, poverty, disgrace, prosperity, honor, ignominy, esteem, contempt, authority, indigence, health, sickness, life itself. In fine, all that is less durable than her soul is incapable of satisfying the desire of this soul, which seeks earnestly to establish itself in a felicity as durable as herself.

She begins to be astonished at the blindness in which she has lived, and when she considers, on the one hand, the long time that she has lived without making these reflections, and the great number of people who live in the same way, and, on the other hand, how certain it is that the soul, being immortal as she is, cannot find her felicity among perishable things which will be taken away from her, at all events, by death, she enters into a holy confusion and an astonishment that brings to her a most salutary trouble.

For she considers that, however great may be the number of those who grow old in the maxims of the world, and whatever may be the authority of this multitude of examples of those who place their felicity in this world, it is nevertheless certain that, even though the things of the world should have some solid pleasure, which is recognized as false by an infinite number of fearful and continual examples, it is inevitable that we shall lose these things, or that death at last will deprive us of them; so that the soul having amassed treasures of temporal goods, of whatever nature they may be, whether gold, or science, or reputation, it is an indispensable necessity that she shall find herself stripped of all these objects of her felicity; and that thus, if they have had wherewith to satisfy her, they will not always have wherewith to satisfy her; and that, if it is to procure herself a real happiness, it is not to promise herself a very durable happiness, since it must be limited to the course of this life.

So that, by a holy humility which God exalts above pride, she begins to exalt herself above the generality of mankind: she condemns their conduct, she detests their maxims, she bewails their blindness; she devotes herself to the search for the true good; she comprehends that it is necessary that it should have the two following qualities: the one that it shall last as long as herself, and that it cannot be taken away from her except by her consent, and the other that there shall be nothing more lovely.

She sees that in the love she has had for the world, she found in it this second quality in her blindness; for she perceived nothing more lovely. But as she does not see the first in it, she knows that it is not the sovereign good. She seeks it, therefore, elsewhere, and knowing by a pure light that it is not in the things that are within her, or without her, or before her (in nothing, therefore, within or around her), she begins to seek it above her.

This elevation is so eminent and so transcendent that she does not stop at the heavens,—they have not wherewith to satisfy her,—nor above the heavens, nor at the angels, nor at the most perfect beings. She passes through all created things, and cannot stop her heart until she has rendered herself up at the throne of God, in which she begins to find her repose and that good which is such that there is nothing more lovely, and which cannot be taken away from her except by her own consent.

For although she does not feel those charms with which God recompenses continuance in piety, she comprehends, nevertheless, that created things cannot be more lovely than their Creator; and her reason, aided by the light of grace, makes her understand that there is nothing more lovely than God, and that he can only be taken away from those who reject him, since to possess him is only to desire him, and to refuse him is to lose him.

Thus she rejoices at having found a good which cannot be wrested from her so long as she shall desire it, and which has nothing above it. And in these new reflections she enters into sight of the grandeur of her Creator, and into humiliations and profound adorations. She becomes, in consequence, reduced to nothing and being unable to form a base enough idea of herself, or to conceive an exalted enough idea of this
sovereign good, she makes new efforts to abase herself to the lowest abysses of nothingness, in considering God in the immensities which she multiplies without ceasing. In fine, in this conception, which exhausts her strength, she adores him in silence, she considers herself as his vile and useless creature, and by her reiterated homage adores and blesses him, and wishes to bless and to adore him forever. Then she acknowledges the grace which he has granted her in manifesting his infinite majesty to so vile a worm; and after a firm resolution to be eternally grateful for it, she becomes confused for having preferred so many vanities to this divine master; and in a spirit of compunction and penitence she has recourse to his pity to arrest his anger, the effect of which appears terrible to her. In the sight of these immensities    
She makes ardent prayers to God to obtain of his mercy that, as it has pleased him to discover himself to her, it may please him to conduct her to him, and to show her the means of arriving there. For as it is to God that she aspires, she aspires also only to reach him by means that come from God himself, because she wishes that he himself should be her path, her object, and her final end. After these prayers, she begins to act, and seeks among these    
She begins to know God, and to desire to reach him; but as she is ignorant of the means of attaining this, if her desire is sincere and true, she does the same as a person who, desiring to reach some place, having lost his way, and knowing his aberration, would have recourse to those who knew this way perfectly, and    
She resolves to conform to his will during the remainder of her life; but as her natural weakness, with the habit that she has of the sins in which she has lived, have reduced her to the impotence of attaining this felicity, she implores of his mercy the means of reaching him, of attaching herself to him, of adhering to him eternally    

Thus she perceives that she should adore God as a creature, render thanks to him as a debtor, satisfy him as a criminal and pray to him as one poor and needy.


with m. de saci

On Epictetus and Montaigne

"M. Pascal came, too, at this time, to live at Port-Royal des Champs. I do not stop to tell who this man was, whom not only all France, but all Europe admired; his mind always acute, always active, was of an extent, an elevation, a firmness, a penetration, and a clearness exceeding any thing that can be believed.…This admirable man, being finally moved by God, submitted this lofty mind to the yoke of Jesus Christ, and this great and noble heart embraced penitence with humility. He came to Paris to throw himself into the arms of M. Singlin, resolved to do all that he should order him. M. Singlin thought, on seeing this great genius, that he should do well to send him to Port-Royal des Champs, where M. Arnauld would cope with him in the sciences, and where M. de Saci would teach him to despise them. He came therefore to live at Port-Royal. M. de Saci could not courteously avoid seeing him, especially having been urged to it by M. Singlin; but the holy enlightenment which he found in the Scripture and in the Fathers made him hope that he would not be dazzled by all the brilliancy of M. Pascal, which nevertheless charmed and carried away all the world. He found in fact all that he said very just. He acknowledged with pleasure the strength of his mind and conversation. All that M. Pascal said to him that was remarkable he had seen before in St. Augustine, and doing justice to every one, he said: 'M. Pascal is extremely estimable in that, not having read the Fathers of the Church, he has of himself, by the penetration of his mind, found the same truths that they had found. He finds them surprising, he says, because he has not found them in any place; but for us, we are accustomed to see them on every side in our books.' Thus, this wise ecclesiastic, finding that the ancients had not less light than the moderns, held to them, and esteemed M. Pascal greatly because he agreed in all things with St. Augustine.

"The usual way of M. De Saci, in conversing with people, was to adapt his conversation to those with whom he was talking. If he met, for example, M. Champagne, he talked with him of painting. If he met M. Hamon, he talked with him of medicine. If he met the surgeon of the place, he questioned him on surgery. Those who cultivated the vine, or trees, or grain, told him all that was remarkable about them. Every thing served to lead him speedily to God and to lead others there with him. He thought it his duty therefore to put M. Pascal in his province, and to talk with him of the philosophical readings with which he had been most occupied. He led him to this subject in the first conversations that they had together. M. Pascal told him that his two most familiar books had been Epictetus and Montaigne, and highly eulogized these two minds. M. de Saci, who had always thought it a duty to read but little of these two authors, entreated M. Pascal to speak of them to him at length."

"Epictetus," says he, "is among the philosophers of the world who have best understood the duties of man. He requires, before all things, that he should regard God as his principal object; that he should be persuaded that he governs every thing with justice; that he should submit to him cheerfully, and that he should follow him voluntarily in every thing, as doing nothing except with the utmost wisdom: as thus this disposition will check all complaints and murmurs, and will prepare his mind to suffer tranquilly the most vexatious events. Never say, says he, I have lost this; say rather, I have restored it. My son is dead, I have restored him. My wife is dead, I have restored her. So with property and with every thing else. But he who has deprived me of it is a wicked man, you say. Why does it trouble you by whom the one who has lent it to you demands it of you again? While he permits you the use of it, take care of it as property belonging to another, as a man who is travelling would do in an inn. You ought not, says he, to desire that things should be done as you wish, but you ought to wish that they should be done as they are done. Remember, says he elsewhere, that you are here as an actor, and that you play the part in a drama that it pleases the manager to give you. If he gives you a short one, play a short one; if he gives you a long one, play a long one; if he wishes you to feign the beggar, you should do it with all the simplicity possible to you; and so with the rest. It is your business to play well the part that is given you; but to choose it is the business of another. Have every day before your eyes death and the evils which seem the most intolerable; and you will never think of any thing lower and will desire nothing with excess.

"He shows, too, in a thousand ways what man should do. He requires that he should be humble, that he should conceal his good resolutions, especially in the beginning, and that he should accomplish them in secret: nothing destroys them more than to reveal them. He never tires of repeating that the whole study and desire of man should be to perceive the will of God and to pursue it.

"Such sir, said M. Pascal to M. de Saci, was the enlightenment of this great mind that so well understood the duties of man. I dare say that he would have merited to be adored if he had also known his impotence as well, since it is necessary to be a god to teach both to men. Thus as he was clay and ashes, after having so well comprehended what was due, behold how he destroys himself in the presumption of what can be done. He says that God has given to every man the means of acquitting himself of all his obligations; that these means are always in our power; that we must seek felicity through the things that are in our power, since God has given them to us for this end: we must see what there is in us that is free; that wealth, life, esteem, are not in our power, and therefore do not lead to God; but that the mind cannot be forced to believe what it knows to be false, nor the will to love what it knows will render it unhappy; that these two powers are therefore free, and and that it is through them that we can render ourselves perfect; that man can by these powers perfectly know God, love him, obey him, please him, cure himself of all his vices, acquire all the virtues, render himself holy, and thus the companion of God. These principles of a diabolic pride lead him to other errors, as that the soul is a portion of the divine substance; that sorrow and death are not evils; that one may kill himself when he is persecuted to such a degree that he has reason to believe that God calls him, and others.

"As for Montaigne, of whom you wish too, sir, that I should speak to you, being born in a Christian State, he made profession of the Catholic religion, and in this there was nothing peculiar. But as he wished to discover what morals reason would dictate without the light of faith, he based his principles upon this supposition; and thus, considering man as destitute of all revelation, he discourses in this wise. He puts all things in a universal doubt, so general that this doubt bears away itself, that is whether he doubts, and even doubting this latter proposition, his uncertainty revolves upon itself in a perpetual and restless circle, alike opposed to those who affirm that every thing is uncertain and to those who affirm that every thing is not so, because he will affirm nothing. It is in this doubt which doubts itself, and in this ignorance which is ignorant of itself, and which he calls his master-form, that lies the essence of his opinion, which he was unable to express by any positive term. For if he says that he doubts, he betrays himself in affirming at least that he doubts; which being formally against his intention, he could only explain it by interrogation; so that, not wishing to say: " I do not know," he says: "What do I know?" Of this he makes his device, placing it under the scales which, weighing contradictories, are found in perfect equilibrium: that is, it is pure Pyrrhonism. Upon this principle revolve all his discourses and all his essays; and it is the only thing that he pretends really to establish, although he does not always point out his intention. He destroys in them insensibly all that passes for the most certain among men, not indeed to establish the contrary with a certainty to which alone he is the enemy, but merely to show that, appearances being equal on both sides, one knows not where to fix his belief.

"In this spirit he jests at all affirmations; for example, he combats those who have thought to establish in France a great remedy against lawsuits by the multitude and the pretended justice of the laws: as if one could cut off the root of the doubts whence arise these lawsuits, and as if there were dikes that could arrest the torrent of uncertainty and take conjectures captive! Thus it is that, when he says that he would as soon submit his cause to the first passer-by as to judges armed with such a number of ordinances, he does not pretend that we should change the order of the State,—he has not so much ambition; nor that his advice may be better,—he believes none good. It is only to prove the vanity of the most received opinions; showing that the exclusion of all laws would rather diminish the number of disputants whilst the multiplicity of laws serves only to increase them, since difficulties grow in proportion as they are weighed; since obscurities are multiplied by commentaries; and since the surest way to understand the meaning of a discourse is not to examine it, and to take it on the first appearance: as soon as it is scrutinized, all its clearness becomes dissipated. In the like manner he judges by chance of all the acts of men and the points of history, sometimes in one way, sometimes in another, freely following his first impression, and, without constraining his thought by the rules of reason, which has only false measures, he delights to show, by his example, the contrarieties of the same mind. In this free genius, it is alike equal to him to get the better or not in the dispute, having always, by either example, a means of showing the weakness of opinions; being sustained with so much advantage in this universal doubt, that he is strengthened in it alike by his triumph and his defeat.

"It is from this position, floating and wavering as it is, that he combats with an invincible firmness the heretics of his times in respect to their affirmation of alone knowing the true sense of the Scripture; and it is also from this that he thunders forth most vigorously against the horrible impiety of those who dare to affirm that God is not. He attacks them especially in the apology of Raimond de Sebonde; and finding them voluntarily destitute of all revelation, and abandoned to their natural intelligence, all faith set aside, he demands of them upon what authority they undertake to judge of this sovereign Being who is infinite by his own definition, they who know truly none of the things of nature! He asks them upon what principles they rest; he presses them to show them. He examines all that they can produce; and penetrates them so deeply, by the talent in which he excels, that he demonstrates the vanity of all those that pass for the firmest and the most natural. He asks whether the soul knows any thing; whether she knows herself; whether she is substance or accident, body or spirit, what is each of these things, and whether there is any thing that does not belong to one of these orders; whether she knows her own body, what is matter and whether she can discern among the innumerable variety of bodies from which it is produced; how she can reason if she is material; and how she can be united to a particular body and feel its passions if she is spiritual: when she commenced to be? with the body or before? and whether she will end with it or not; whether she is never mistaken; whether she knows when she errs, seeing that the essence of contempt consists in not knowing it; whether in her obscurity she does not believe as firmly that two and three make six as she knows afterwards that they make five; whether animals reason, think, talk; and who can determine what is time, what is space or extent, what is motion, what is unity, what are all the things that surround us and are wholly inexplicable to us; what is health, sickness, life, death, good, evil, justice, sin, of which we constantly speak; whether we have within us the principles of truth, and whether those which we believe, and which are called axioms or common notions, because they are common to all men, are in conformity with the essential truth. And since we know but by faith alone that an all-good Being has given them to us truly in creating us to know the truth, who can know without this light whether, being formed by chance, they are not uncertain, or whether, being formed by a lying and malicious being, he has not given them to us falsely in order to lead us astray? Showing by this that God and truth are inseparable, and that if the one is or is not, if it is certain or uncertain, the other is necessarily the same. Who knows then whether the common-sense, that we take for the judge of truth, can be the judge of that which has created it? Besides, who knows what truth is, and how can we be sure of having it without understanding it? Who knows even what is being which it is impossible to define, since there is nothing more general, and since it would be necessary at first, to explain it, to use the word itself: It is being…? And since we know not what is soul, body, time, space, motion, truth, good, nor even being, nor how to explain the idea that we form within ourselves, how can we assure ourselves that it is the same in all men, seeing that we have no other token than the uniformity of consequences, which is not always a sign of that of principles; for they may indeed be very different, and lead nevertheless to the same conclusions, every one knowing that the true is often inferred from the false.

"Lastly, he examines thus profoundly the sciences, both geometry, of which he shows the uncertainty in the axioms and the terms that she does not define, as centre, motion, etc., physics in many more ways, and medicine in an infinity of methods; history, politics, ethics, jurisprudence, and the rest. So that we remain convinced that we think no better at present that in a dream from which we shall wake only at death, and during which we have the principles of truth as little as during natural sleep. It is thus that he reproaches reason divested of faith so strongly and so cruelly that, making her doubt whether she is rational, and whether animals are so or not, or in a greater or less degree, he makes her descend from the excellence which she has attributed to herself, and places her through grace on a level with the brutes, without permitting her to quit this order until she shall have been instructed by her Creator himself in respect to her rank, of which she is ignorant; threatening, if she grumbles, to place her beneath every thing, which is as easy as the opposite, and nevertheless giving her power to act only in order to remark her weakness with sincere humility, instead of exalting herself by a foolish insolence."

"M. de Saci, fancying himself living in a new country, and listening to a new language, repeated to himself the words of St. Augustine: O God of truth! are those who know these subtleties of reasoning therefore more pleasing to thee? He pitied this philosopher who pricked and tore himself on every side with the thorns that he formed, as St. Augustine said of himself when he was in this state. After some meditation, he said to M. Pascal:

"I thank you, sir; I am sure that if I had read Montaigne a long time, I should not know him so well as I do, since the conversation that I have just had with you. This man should wish that he might never be known, except by the recitals that you make of his writings; and he might say with St. Augustine: Ibi me vide, attende. I believe assuredly that this man had talent; but I know not whether you do not lend to him a little more than he had, by the logical chain that you make of his principles. You can judge that having passed my life as I have done, I have had little counsel to read this author, the works of whom had nothing of that which we ought chiefly to seek in our reading, according to the rule of St. Augustine, because his works do not appear to proceed from a solid basis of humility and piety. We should forgive those philosophers of former times who styled themselves academicians, for putting every thing in doubt. But what need had Montaigne to divert the mind by reviving a doctrine which passes now in the eyes of Christians for the folly? This is the judgment that St. Augustine passes on these persons. For we can say after him of Montaigne: He sets faith aside in every thing that he says; therefore we, who have faith, should set aside every thing that he says. I do not blame the talent of this author, which was a great gift from God; but he might have used it better, and made a sacrifice of it to God rather than to the devil. What avails a blessing when one uses it so ill? Quid proderat, etc., said this holy doctor of him before his conversion. You are fortunate, sir, in having raised yourself above these people, who are called doctors, who are plunged in drunkenness, but whose hearts are void of truth. God has poured out into your heart other sweets and other attractions than those which you find in Montaigne. He has recalled you from that dangerous pleasure, a jucunditate pestifera, says St. Augustine, who renders thanks to God that he has forgiven him the sins which he had committed in delighting too much in vanity. St. Augustine is so much the more credible in this that he held formerly the same sentiments; and as you say of Montaigne that it is through universal doubt that he combats the heretics of his times, so through this same doubt of the academicians, St. Augustine forsook the heresy of the Manicheans. As soon as he belonged to God, he renounced these vanities, which he calls sacrileges. He perceived with what wisdom St. Paul warned us not to suffer ourselves to be seduced by these discourses. For he acknowledges that there is in them a certain harmony which fascinates: we sometimes believe things true only because they are narrated eloquently. Those are dangerous viands, says he, that are served up in fine dishes; but these viands, instead of nourishing the heart, starve it. We then resemble men who sleep, and who fancy that they eat while sleeping: these imaginary viands leave them as empty as they were before.

"M. de Saci made several similar remarks to M. Pascal; whereupon M. Pascal said to him, that if he complimented him on thoroughly possessing Montaigne, and of knowing how to construe him well, he could tell him without flattery that he understood St. Augustine much better, and that he knew how to construe him much better, though little to the advantage of poor Montaigne. He expressed himself as being extremely edified by the solidity of all that he had just represented to him; nevertheless, being full of his author, he could not contain himself, and thus continued:

"I acknowledge, sir, that I cannot see without joy in this author proud reason so irresistibly baffled by its own weapons, and that fierce contention of man with man, which, from the companionship with God, to which he had exalted himself by maxims, hurls him down to the nature of brutes; and I should have loved with all my heart the minister of so great a vengeance, if, being a disciple of the Church by faith, he had followed the rules of ethics, in bringing men whom he had so usefully humiliated, not to irritate by new crimes him who alone can draw them from the crimes which he has convicted them of not being able even to know.

"But he acts on the contrary like a heathen in this wise. On this principle, says he, outside of faith every thing is in uncertainty, and considering how much men seek the true and the good without making any progress towards tranquillity, he concludes that one should leave the care of them to others; and remain nevertheless in repose, skimming lightly over subjects for fear of going beyond one's depth in them; and take the true and the good on first appearances, without dwelling on them, for they are so far from being solid that if one grasps them ever so lightly, they will slip through his fingers and leave them empty. For this reason he follows the evidence of the senses and common-sense, because he would be obliged to do violence to himself to contradict them, and because he knows not whether he would gain by it, ignorant as to where the truth is. So he shuns pain and death, because his instinct impels him to it, and because he will not resist for the same reason, but without concluding thence that these may be the real evils, not confiding too much in these natural emotions of fear, seeing that we feel others of pleasure which are accused of being wrong, although nature speaks to the contrary. Thus there is nothing extravagant in his conduct; he acts like the rest of mankind, and all that they do in the foolish idea that they are pursuing the true good, he does from another principle, which is that probabilities being equal on either side, example and convenience are the counterpoises that decide him.

"He mounts his horse like a man that is not a philosopher, because he suffers it, but without believing that this is his right, not knowing whether this animal has not, on the contrary, the right to make use of him. He also does some violence to himself to avoid certain vices; and he even preserves fidelity to marriage on account of the penalty that follows irregularities; but if the trouble that he takes exceeds that which he avoids, It does not disturb him, the rule of this action being convenience and tranquillity. He utterly rejects therefore that stoical virtue which is depicted with a severe mien, fierce glance, bristling locks, and wrinkled and moist brow, In a painful and distorted posture, far from men. In a gloomy silence, alone upon the summit of a rock: a phantom, he says, fit to frighten children, and which does nothing else with continual effort than to seek the repose which it never attains. His own is simple, familiar, pleasant, playful, and as we may say sportive: she follows whatever charms her, and toys negligently with good and bad accidents, reclining effeminately in the bosom of a tranquil indolence, from which she shows to those who seek felicity with so much toil that it is only there where she is reposing, and that ignorance and incuriosity are soft pillows for a well-balanced head, as he himself has said.

"I cannot conceal from you, sir, that in reading this author and comparing him with Epictetus, I have found that they are assuredly the two greatest defenders of the two most celebrated sects of the world, and the only ones conformable to reason, since we can only follow one of these two roads, namely: either that there is a God, and then we place in him the sovereign good; or that he is uncertain, and that then the true good is also uncertain, since he is incapable of it. I have taken extreme pleasure in remarking in these different reasonings wherein both have reached some conformity with the true wisdom which they have essayed to understand. For if it is pleasing to observe in nature her desire to paint God in all his works, in which we see some traces of him because they are his images, how much more just is it to consider in the productions of minds the efforts which they make to imitate the essential truth, even in shunning it, and to remark wherein they attain it and wherein they wander from it, as I have endeavored to do in this study.

"It is true, sir, that you have just shown me, in an admirable manner, the little utility that Christians can draw from these philosophic studies. I shall not refrain however, with your permission, from telling you still further my thoughts on the subject, ready, however, to renounce all light that does not come from you, in which I shall have the advantage either of having encountered truth by good fortune or of receiving it from you with certainty. It appears to me that the source of the errors of these two sects, is in not having known that the state of man at the present time differs from that of his creation; so that the one, remarking some traces of his first greatness and being ignorant of his corruption, has treated nature as sound and without need of redemption, which leads him to the height of pride; whilst the other, feeling the present wretchedness and being ignorant of the original dignity, treats nature as necessarily infirm and irreparable, which precipitates it into despair of arriving at real good, and thence into extreme laxity. Thus these two states which it is necessary to know together in order to see the whole truth, being known separately, lead necessarily to one of these two vices, pride or indolence, in which all men are invariably before grace, since if they do not remain in their disorders through laxity, they forsake them through vanity, so true is that which you have just repeated to me from St. Augustine, and which I find to a great extent; for in fact homage is rendered to them in many ways.

"It is therefore from this imperfect enlightenment that it happens that the one, knowing the duties of man and being ignorant of his impotence, is lost in presumption, and that the other, knowing the impotence and being ignorant of the duty, falls into laxity; whence it seems that since the one leads to truth, the other to error, there would be formed from their alliance a perfect system of morals. But instead of this peace, nothing but war and a general ruin would result from their union; for the one establishing certainty, the other doubt, the one the greatness of man, the other his weakness, they would destroy the truths as well as the falsehoods of each other. So that they cannot subsist alone because of their defects, nor unite because of their opposition, and thus they break and destroy each other to give place to the truth of the Gospel. This it is that harmonizes the contrarieties by a wholly divine act, and uniting all that is true and expelling all that is false, thus makes of them a truly celestial wisdom in which those opposites accord that were incompatible in human doctrines. And the reason of this is, that these philosophers of the world place contrarieties in the same subject; for the one attributed greatness to nature and the other weakness to this same nature, which could not subsist; whilst faith teaches us to place them in different subjects: all that is infirm belonging to nature, all that is powerful belonging to grace. Such is the marvellous and novel union which God alone could teach, and which he alone could make, and which is only a type and an effect of the ineffable union of two natures in the single person of a Man-God.

"I ask your pardon, sir, said M. Pascal to M. de Saci, for being thus carried away in your presence into theology, instead of remaining in philosophy, which alone was my subject; but I was led to it insensibly; and it is difficult not to enter upon it whatever truth may be discussed, because it is the centre of all the truths; which appears here perfectly, since it so obviously includes all those that are found in these opinions. Thus I do not see how any of them could refuse to follow it. For if they are full of the idea of the greatness of man, what have they imagined that does not yield to the promises of the Gospel, which are nothing else than the worthy price of the death of a God? And if they delighted in viewing the infirmities of nature, their ideas do not equal those of the real weakness of sin, of which the same death has been the remedy. Thus all find in it more than they have desired; and what is marvellous, they who could not harmonize in an infinitely inferior degree, then find themselves in unison!"

"M. de Saci could not refrain from testifying to M. Pascal that he was surprised to see how well he knew how to interpret things; but he acknowledged at the same time that every one had not the secret of making on these readings such wise and elevated reflections. He told him that he was like those skilful physicians, who by an adroit method of preparing the most deadly poisons knew how to extract from them the most efficacious remedies. He added, that though he saw clearly, from what he had just said, that these readings were useful to him, he could not believe however that they would be advantageous to many people of slow intellect, who would not have elevation of mind enough to read these authors and judge of them, and to know how to draw pearls from the midst of the dunghill, aurum ex stercore, as said one of the Fathers. This could be much better said of these philosophers, the dunghill of whom, by its black fumes, might obscure the wavering faith of those who read them. For this reason he would always counsel such persons not to expose themselves lightly to these readings, for fear of being destroyed with these philosophers, and of becoming the prey of demons and the food of worms, according to the language of the Scripture, as these philosophers have been."

"As to the utility of these readings, said M. Pascal, I will tell you simply my thought. I find in Epictetus an incomparable art for troubling the repose of those who seek it in external things, and for forcing them to acknowledge that they are veritable slaves and miserable blind men; that it is impossible that they should find any thing else than the error and pain which they fly, unless they give themselves without reserve to God alone. Montaigne is incomparable for confounding the pride of those who, outside of faith, pique themselves in a genuine justice; for disabusing those who cling to their opinions, and who think to find in the sciences impregnable truths; and for so effectually convicting reason of its want of light and its aberrations, that it is difficult, when one makes a good use of its principles, to be tempted to find repugnance in mysteries, for the mind is so overwhelmed by him, that it is far from wishing to judge whether the Incarnation or the mystery of the Eucharist are possible; which the generality of mankind discuss but too often.

"But if Epictetus combats indolence, he leads to pride, so that he may be very injurious to those who are not persuaded of the corruption of the most perfect justice which is not from faith. And Montaigne is absolutely pernicious to those who have any leaning to impiety or vice. For this reason these readings should be regulated with much care, discretion, and regard to the condition and disposition of those to whom they are counselled. It seems to me only that by joining them together they would not succeed ill, since the one is opposed to the evil of the other: not that they could bestow virtue but only disturb vice; the soul finding itself combated by contrarieties, the one of which expels pride and the other indolence, and being unable to be tranquil in any of these vices by their reasonings, or to shun them all."

"It was thus that these two persons of so fine an intellect agreed at last upon the subject of the reading of these philosophers, and met at the same goal, which they reached however by a somewhat different method; M. de Saci arriving there at once through the dear views of Christianity, and M. Pascal reaching it only after many turns by clinging to the principles of these philosophers."


The art of persuasion has a necessary relation to the manner in which men are led to consent to that which is proposed to them, and to the conditions of things which it is sought to make them believe.

No one is ignorant that there are two avenues by which opinions are received into the soul, which are its two principal powers: the understanding and the will. The more natural is that of the understanding, for we should never consent to any but demonstrated truths; but the more common, though the one contrary to nature, is that of the will; for all men are almost led to believe not of proof, but by attraction. This way is base, ignoble, and irrelevant: every one therefore disavows it. Each one professes to believe and even to love nothing but what he knows to be worthy of belief and love.

I do not speak here of divine truths, which I shall take care not to comprise under the art of persuasion, because they are infinitely superior to nature: God alone can place them in the soul and in such a way as it pleases him. I know that he has desired that they should enter from the heart into the mind, and not from the mind into the heart, to humiliate that proud power of reasoning that pretends to the right to be the judge of the things that the will chooses; and to cure this infirm will which is wholly corrupted by its filthy attachments. And thence it comes that whilst in speaking of human things, we say that it is necessary to know them before we can love them, which has passed into a proverb,[2] the saints on the contrary say in speaking of divine things that it is necessary to love them in order to know them, and that we only enter truth through charity, from which they have made one of their most useful maxims.

From which it appears that God has established this natural order, which is directly contrary to the order that should be natural to men in natural things. They have nevertheless corrupted this order by making of profane things what they should make of holy things, because in fact we believe scarcely any thing except that which pleases us. And thence comes the aversion which we have to consenting to the truths of the Christian religion that are opposed to our pleasures. "Tell us of pleasant things and we will hearken to you," said the Jews to Moses; as if the agreeableness of a thing should regulate belief! And it is to punish this disorder by an order which is conformed to him, that God only pours out his light into the mind after having subdued the rebellion of the will by an altogether heavenly gentleness which charms and wins it.

I speak therefore only of the truths within our reach; and it is of them that I say that the mind and the heart are as doors by which they are received into the soul, but that very few enter by the mind, whilst they are brought in in crowds by the rash caprices of the will, without the counsel of the reason.

These powers have each their principles and their mainsprings of action.

Those of the mind are truths which are natural and known to all the world, as that the whole is greater than its part, besides several particular maxims that are received by some and not by others, but which as soon as they are admitted are as powerful, although false, in carrying away belief, as those the most true.

Those of the will are certain desires natural and common to all mankind, as the desire of being happy, which no one can avoid having, besides several particular objects which each one follows in order to attain, and which having the power to please us are as powerful, although pernicious in fact, in causing the will to act, as though they made its veritable happiness.

So much for that which regards the powers that lead us to consent.

But as for the qualities of things which should persuade us, they are very different.

Some are drawn, by a necessary consequence, from common principles and admitted truths. These may be infallibly persuasive; for in showing the harmony which they have with acknowledged principles there is an inevitable necessity of conviction, and it is impossible that they shall not be received into the soul as soon as it has been enabled to class them among the principles which it has already admitted.

There are some which have a close connection with the objects of our satisfaction; and these again are received with certainty, for as soon as the soul has been made to perceive that a thing can conduct it to that which it loves supremely, it must inevitably embrace it with joy.

But those which have this double union both with admitted truths and with the desires of the heart, are so sure of their effect that there is nothing that can be more so in nature. As, on the contrary, that which does not accord either with our belief or with our pleasures is importunate, false, and absolutely alien to us.

In all these positions, there is no room for doubt. But there are some wherein the things which it is sought to make us believe are well established upon truths which are known, but which are at the same time contrary to the pleasures that interest us most. And these are in great danger of showing, by an experience which is only too common, what I said at the beginning—that this imperious soul, which boasted of acting only by reason, follows by a rash and shameful choice the desires of a corrupt will, whatever resistance may be opposed to it by the too enlightened mind.

Then it is that a doubtful balance is made between truth and pleasure, and that the knowledge of the one and the feeling of the other stir up a combat the success of which is very uncertain, since, in order to judge of it, it would be necessary to know all that passes in the innermost spirit of the man, of which the man himself is scarcely ever conscious.

It appears from this, that whatever it may be of which we wish to persuade men, it is necessary to have regard to the person whom we wish to persuade, of whom we must know the mind and the heart, what principles he acknowledges, what things he loves; and then observe in the thing in question what affinity it has with the acknowledged principles, or with the objects so delightful by the pleasure which they give him.

So that the art of persuasion consists as much in that of pleasing as in that of convincing, so much more are men governed by caprice than by reason! Now, of these two methods, the one of convincing, the other of pleasing, I shall only give here the rules of the first; and this in case we have granted the principles, and remain firm in avowing them: otherwise I do not know whether there could be an art for adapting proofs to the inconstancy of our caprices.

But the manner of pleasing is incomparably more difficult, more subtle, more useful, and more admirable; therefore, if I do not treat of it, it is because I am not capable of it; and I feel myself so far disproportionate to the task, that I believe the thing absolutely impossible.

Not that I do not believe that there may be as sure rules for pleasing as for demonstrating, and that he who knows perfectly how to comprehend and to practice them will as surely succeed in making himself beloved by princes and by people of all conditions, as in demonstrating the elements of geometry to those who have enough imagination to comprehend its hypotheses. But I consider, and it is, perhaps, my weakness that makes me believe it, that it is impossible to reach this. At least I know that if any are capable of it, they are certain persons whom I know, and that no others have such clear and such abundant light on this matter.

The reason of this extreme difficulty comes from the fact that the principles of pleasure are not firm and stable. They are different in all mankind, and variable in every particular with such a diversity that there is no man more different from another than from himself at different times. A man has other pleasures than a woman; a rich man and a poor man have different enjoyments; a prince, a warrior, a merchant, a citizen, a peasant, the old, the young, the well, the sick, all vary; the least accidents change them.

Now there is an art, and it is that which I give, for showing the connection of truths with their principles, whether of truth or of pleasure, provided that the principles which have once been avowed remain firm, and without being ever contradicted.

But as there are few principles of this kind, and as, apart from geometry, which deals only with very simple figures, there are hardly any truths upon which we always remain agreed, and still fewer objects of pleasure which we do not change every hour, I do not know whether there is a means of giving fixed rules for adapting discourse to the inconstancy of our caprices.

This art, which I call the art of persuading, and which, properly speaking, is simply the process of perfect methodical proofs, consists of three essential parts: of defining the terms of which we should avail ourselves by clear definitions; of proposing principles or evident axioms to prove the thing in question; and of always mentally substituting in the demonstrations the definition in the place of the thing defined.

The reason of this method is evident, since it would be useless to propose what it is sought to prove, and to undertake the demonstration of it, if all the terms which are not intelligible had not first been clearly defined; and since it is necessary in the same manner that the demonstration should be preceded by the demand for the evident principles that are necessary to it, for if we do not secure the foundation we cannot secure the edifice; and since, in fine, it is necessary in demonstrating mentally, to substitute the definitions in the place of the things defined, as otherwise there might be an abuse of the different meanings that are encountered in the terms. It is easy to see that, by observing this method, we are sure of convincing, since the terms all being understood, and perfectly exempt from ambiguity by the definitions, and the principles being granted, if in the demonstration we always mentally substitute the definitions for the things defined, the invincible force of the conclusions cannot fail of having its whole effect.

Thus, never can a demonstration in which these conditions have been observed be subject to the slightest doubt; and never can those have force in which they are wanting.

It is, therefore, of great importance to comprehend and to possess them; and hence, to render the thing easier and more practicable, I shall give them all in a few rules which include all that is necessary for the perfection of the definitions, the axioms, and the demonstrations, and consequently of the entire method of the geometrical proofs of the art of persuading.

Rules for Definitions

I. Not to undertake to define any of the things so well known of themselves that clearer terms cannot be had to explain them.

II. Not to leave any terms that are at all obscure or ambiguous without definition.

III. Not to employ in the definition of terms any words but such as are perfectly known or already explained.

Rules for Axioms

I. Not to omit any necessary principle without asking whether it is admitted, however clear and evident it may be.

II. Not to demand, in axioms, any but things that are perfectly evident of themselves.

Rules for Demonstrations

I. Not to undertake to demonstrate any thing that is so evident of itself that nothing can be given that is clearer to prove it.

II. To prove all propositions at all obscure, and to employ in their proof only very evident maxims or propositions already admitted or demonstrated.

III. To always mentally substitute definitions in the place of things defined, in order not to be misled by the ambiguity of terms which have been restricted by definitions.

These eight rules contain all the precepts for solid and immutable proofs, three of which are not absolutely necessary and may be neglected without error; while it is difficult and almost impossible to observe them always exactly, although it is more accurate to do so as far as possible; these are the three first of each of the divisions.

For definitions. Not to define any terms that are perfectly known.

For axioms. Not to omit to require any axioms perfectly evident and simple.

For demonstrations. Not to demonstrate any things well-known of themselves.

For it is unquestionable that it is no great error to define and clearly explain things, although very clear of themselves, nor to omit to require in advance axioms which cannot be refused in the place where they are necessary; nor lastly to prove propositions that would be admitted without proof.

But the five other rules are of absolute necessity, and cannot be dispensed with without essential defect and often without error; and for this reason I shall recapitulate them here in detail.

Rules necessary for definitions. Not to leave any terms at all obscure or ambiguous without definition;

Not to employ in definitions any but terms perfectly known or already explained.

Rule necessary for axioms. Not to demand in axioms any but things perfectly evident.

Rules necessary for demonstrations. To prove all propositions, and to employ nothing for their proof but axioms fully evident of themselves, or propositions already demonstrated or admitted;

Never to take advantage of the ambiguity of terms by failing mentally to substitute definitions that restrict and explain them.

These five rules form all that is necessary to render proofs convincing, immutable, and to say all, geometrical; and the eight rules together render them still more perfect.

I pass now to that of the order in which the propositions should be arranged, to be in a complete geometrical series.

After having established[3]    

This is in what consists the art of persuading, which is comprised in these two principles: to define all the terms of which we make use; to prove them all by mentally substituting definitions in the place of things defined.

And here it seems to me proper to anticipate three principal objections which may be made:

1st, that this method has nothing new; 2d, that it is very easy to learn, it being unnecessary for this to study the elements of geometry, since it consists in these two words that are known at the first reading; and, 3d, that it is of little utility, since its use is almost confined to geometrical subjects alone.

It is necessary therefore to show that there is nothing so little known, nothing more difficult to practise, and nothing more useful or more universal.

As to the first objection, that these rules are common in the world, that it is necessary to define every thing and to prove every thing, and that logicians themselves have placed them among the principles of their art, I would that the thing were true and that it were so well known that I should not have the trouble of tracing with so much care the source of all the defects of reasonings which are truly so common. But so little is this the case, that, geometricians alone excepted, who are so few in number that they are single in a whole nation and long periods of time, we see no others who know it. It will be easy to make this understood by those who have perfectly comprehended the little that I have said; but if they have not fully comprehended this, I confess that they will learn nothing from it.

But if they have entered into the spirit of these rules, and if the rules have made sufficient impression on them to become rooted and established in their minds, they will feel how much difference there is between what is said here and what a few logicians may perhaps have written by chance approximating to it in a few passages of their works.

Those who have the spirit of discernment know how much difference there is between two similar words, according to their position, and the circumstances that accompany them. Will it be maintained, indeed, that two persons who have read the same book, and learned it by heart, have a like acquaintance with it, if the one comprehends it in such a manner that he knows all its principles, the force of its conclusions, the answers to the objections that may be made to it, and the whole economy of the work; while to the other these are but dead letters and seeds, which, although like those which have produced such fruitful trees, remain dry and unproductive in the sterile mind that has received them in vain.

All who say the same things do not possess them in the same manner; and hence the incomparable author of the Art of Conversation[4] pauses with so much care to make it understood that we must not judge of the capacity of a man by the excellence of a happy remark that we have heard him make; but instead of extending our admiration of a good speech to the speaker, let us penetrate, says he, the mind from which it proceeds; let us try whether he owes it to his memory, or to a happy chance; let us receive it with coldness and contempt, in order to see whether he will feel that we do not give to what he says the esteem which its value deserves: it will oftenest be seen that he will be made to disavow it on the spot, and will be drawn very far from this better thought in which he does not believe, to plunge himself into another quite base and ridiculous. We must, therefore, sound in what manner this thought is lodged in its author;[5] how, whence, to what extent he possesses it; otherwise, the hasty judgment will be a rash judge.

I would inquire of reasonable persons whether this principle: Matter is naturally wholly incapable of thought, and this other: I think, therefore I am, are in fact the same in the mind of Descartes, and in that of St. Augustine, who said the same thing twelve hundred years before.[6]

In truth, I am far from affirming that Descartes is not the real author of it, even though he may have learned it only in reading this distinguished saint; for I know how much difference there is between writing a word by chance without making a longer and more extended reflection on it, and perceiving in this word an admirable series of conclusions, which prove the distinction between material and spiritual natures, and making of it a firm and sustained principle of a complete metaphysical system, as Descartes has pretended to do. For without examining whether he has effectively succeeded in his pretension, I assume that he has done so, and it is on this supposition that I say that this expression is as different in his writings from the same saying in others who have said it by chance, as is a man full of life and strength from a corpse.

One man will say a thing of himself without comprehending its excellence, in which another will discern a marvellous series of conclusions, which make us affirm boldly that it is no longer the same expression, and that he is no more indebted for it to the one from whom he has learned it, than a beautiful tree belongs to the one who cast the seed, without thinking of it, or knowing it, into the fruitful soil which caused its growth by its own fertility.

The same thoughts sometimes put forth quite differently in the mind of another than in that of their author: unfruitful in their natural soil, abundant when transplanted. But it much oftener happens that a good mind itself makes its own thoughts produce all the fruit of which they are capable, and that afterwards others, having heard them admired, borrow them, and adorn themselves with them, but without knowing their excellence; and it is then that the difference of the same word in different mouths is the most apparent.

It is in this manner that logic has borrowed, perhaps, the rules of geometry, without comprehending their force; and thus, in placing them by chance among those that belong to it, it does not thence follow that they[7] have entered into the spirit of geometry, and I should be greatly averse if they gave no other evidence of it than that of having mentioned it by chance, to placing them on a level with that science that teaches the true method of directing the reason.

But I should be, on the contrary, strongly disposed to exclude them from it, and almost irrevocably. For to have said it by chance, without having taken care that every thing was included within it, and instead of following this light to wander blindly in useless researches, pursuing what they promise but never can give, is truly showing that they are not very clear-sighted, and much more than if they had failed to follow the light, because they had not perceived it.

The method of not erring is sought by all the world. The logicians profess to guide to it, the geometricians alone attain it, and apart from their science, and the imitations of it, there are no true demonstrations. The whole art is included in the simple precepts that we have given; they alone are sufficient, they alone afford proofs; all other rules are useless or injurious. This I know by long experience of all kinds of books and persons.

And on this point I pass the same judgment as those who say that geometricians give them nothing new by these rules, because they possessed them in reality, but confounded with a multitude of others, either useless or false, from which they could not discriminate them, as those who seeking a diamond of great price amidst a number of false ones, but from which they know not how to distinguish it, should boast, in holding them all together, of possessing the true one equally with him who without pausing at this mass of rubbish lays his hand upon the costly stone which they are seeking and for which they do not throw away the rest.

The defect of false reasoning is a malady which is cured by these two remedies. Another has been compounded of an infinity of useless herbs in which the good are enveloped and in which they remain without effect through the ill qualities of the compound.

To discover all the sophistries and equivocations of captious reasonings, they have invented barbarous names that astonish those who hear them; and whilst we can only unravel all the tangles of this perplexing knot by drawing out one of the ends in the way proposed by geometricians, they have indicated a strange number of others in which the former are found included without knowing which is the best.

And thus, in showing us a number of paths which they say conduct us whither we tend, although there are but two that lead to it, it is necessary to know how to mark them in particular. It will be pretended that geometry which indicates them with certainty gives only what had already been given by others, because they gave in fact the same thing and more, without heeding that this boon lost its value by abundance, and was diminished by adding to it.

Nothing is more common than good things: the point in question is only to discriminate them; and it is certain that they are all natural and within our reach and even known to all mankind. But they know not how to distinguish them. This is universal. It is not among extraordinary and fantastic things that excellence is to be found, of whatever kind it may be. We rise to attain it and become removed from it: it is oftenest necessary to stoop for it. The best books are those, which those who read them believe they themselves could have written. Nature, which alone is good, is wholly familiar and common.

I make no doubt therefore that these rules, being the true ones, are simple, artless, and natural, as in fact they are. It is not Barbara and Baralipton that constitute reasoning. The mind must not be forced; artificial and constrained manners fill it with foolish presumption, through unnatural elevation and vain and ridiculous inflation, instead of solid and vigorous nutriment. And one of the principal reasons that diverts those who are entering upon this knowledge so much from the true path which they should follow, is the fancy that they take at the outset that good things are inaccessible, giving them the name of great, lofty, elevated, sublime. This destroys every thing. I would call them low, common, familiar: these names suit them better; I hate such inflated expressions.


On the Passion of Love[8]

Man is born for thought; therefore he is not a moment without it; but the pure thoughts that would render him happy, if he could always maintain them, weary and oppress him. They make a uniform life to which he cannot adapt himself; he must have excitement and action, that is, it is necessary that he should sometimes be agitated by those passions the deep and vivid sources of which he feels within his heart.

The passions which are the best suited to man and include many others, are love and ambition: they have little connection with each other; nevertheless they are often allied; but they mutually weaken, not to say destroy, each other.

Whatever compass of mind one may have, he is capable of only one great passion; hence, when love and ambition are found together, they are only half as great as they would be if only one of them existed. The time of life determines neither the beginning nor the end of these two passions; they spring up in the earliest years and subsist very often unto the tomb. Nevertheless, as they require much warmth, young persons are best fitted for them, and it seems that they abate with years: this however is very rare.

The life of man is miserably brief. It is usually computed from his first entrance into the world; for my part, I would only compute it from the birth of reason and from the time that man begins to be influenced by it, which does not ordinarily happen before twenty years of age. Before this time, we are children, and a child is not a man

How happy is a life that begins with love and ends with ambition! If I had to choose, this is the one I should take. So long as we have ardor we are amiable; but this ardor dies out, is lost; then what a fine and noble place is left for ambition! A tumultuous life is pleasing to great minds, but those who are mediocre have no pleasure in it; they are machines everywhere. Hence when love and ambition begin and end life, we are in the happiest condition of which human nature is capable.

The more mind we have the greater the passions are, since the passions being only sentiments and thoughts that belong purely to the mind although they are occasioned by the body, it is obvious that they are no longer any thing but the mind itself, and that thus they fill up its entire capacity. I speak here only of the ardent passions, for the others are often mingled together and cause a very annoying confusion; but this is never the case in those who have mind.

In a great soul everything is great.

It is asked whether it is necessary to love? This should not be asked, it should be felt. We do not deliberate upon it, we are forced to it, and take pleasure in deceiving ourselves when we discuss it.

Definiteness of mind causes definiteness of passion; this is why a great and definite mind loves with ardor, and sees distinctly what it loves.

There are two kinds of mind: the one geometrical, and the other what may be called the imaginative (de finesse).

The former is slow, rigid, and inflexible in its views, but the latter has a suppleness of thought which fastens at once upon the various pleasing qualities of what it loves. From the eyes it goes to the heart itself, and from the expression without it knows what is passing within.

When we have both kinds of mind combined, how much pleasure is given by love! For we possess at the same time the strength and the flexibility of mind essentially necessary for the eloquence of two persons.

We are born with a disposition to love in our hearts, which is developed in proportion as the mind is perfected, and impels us to love what appears to us beautiful without ever having been told what this is. Who can doubt after this whether we are in the world for anything else than to love? In fact, we conceal in vain, we always love. In the very things from which love seems to have been separated, it is found secretly and under seal, and man could not live a moment without this.

Man does not like to dwell with himself; nevertheless he loves; it is necessary then that he seek elsewhere something to love. He can find it only in beauty; but as he is himself the most beautiful creature that God has ever formed, he must find in himself the model of this beauty which he seeks without. Every one can perceive in himself the first glimmerings of it; and according as we observe that what is without agrees or disagrees with these, we form our ideas of beauty or deformity in all things. Nevertheless, although man seeks wherewith to fill up the great void he makes in going out of himself, he cannot however be satisfied with every kind of object. His heart is too large; it is necessary at least that it should be something that resembles him and approaches him as near as may be. Hence the beauty that can satisfy man consists not only in fitness, but also in resemblance; it is restricted and confined to the difference of sex.

Nature has so well impressed this truth on our souls, that we find a predisposition to all this; neither art nor study is required; it even seems that we have a place to fill in our hearts which is thus filled effectively. But we feel this better than we can express it. It is only those who know how to confuse and contemn their ideas who do not see it.

Although this general idea of beauty may be engraven in the innermost part of our souls with ineffaceable characters, it does not prevent us from being susceptible of great differences in its individual application; but this is only in the manner of regarding what pleases us. For we do not wish for beauty alone, but desire in connection with it a thousand circumstances that depend on the disposition in which it is found, and it is in this sense that it may be said that each one possesses the original of his beauty, the copy of which he is seeking externally. Nevertheless, women often determine this original. As they have an absolute empire over the minds of men, they paint on them either the qualities of the beauties which they possess or those which they esteem, and by this means add what pleases them to this radical beauty. Hence there is one epoch for blondes, another for brunettes, and the division there is among women in respect to esteem for the one or the other makes at the same time the difference among men in this regard.

Fashion even and country often regulate what is called beauty. It is a strange thing that custom should mingle so strongly with our passions. This does not hinder each one from having his idea of beauty by which he judges others and with which he compares them; it is on this principle that a lover finds his mistress the most beautiful and proposes her as a model.

Beauty is divided in a thousand different ways. The most proper object to sustain it is a woman. When she has intellect, she enlivens it and sets it off marvellously. If a woman wishes to please, and possess the advantages of beauty or a portion of them at least, she will succeed; and even though men take ever so little heed of it, although she does not strive for it, she will make herself loved. There is an accessible point in their hearts; she will take up her abode there.

Man is born for pleasure; he feels it; no other proof of it is needed. He therefore follows his reason in giving himself to pleasure. But very often he feels passion in his heart without knowing in what it originated.

A true or false pleasure can equally fill the mind. For what matters it that this pleasure is false, if we are persuaded that it is true?

By force of speaking of love we become enamored. There is nothing so easy. It is the passion most natural to man.

Love has no age; it is always young. So the poets tell us; it is for this that they represent it to us under the figure of a child. But without asking any thing of it, we feel it.

Love gives intellect and is sustained by intellect. Address is needed in order to love. We daily exhaust the methods of pleasing; nevertheless it is necessary to please and we please.

We have a fountain of self-love which represents us to ourselves as being able to fill several places outside of ourselves; this is what makes us happy to be loved. As we desire it with ardor, we quickly remark it and perceive it in the eyes of the person who loves. For the eyes are the interpreters of the heart; but he alone who is interested in them can understand their language.

Man by himself is something imperfect; he must find a second in order to be happy. He oftenest seeks it in equality of condition, because in that the liberty and the opportunity of manifesting his wishes are most easily found. Yet he sometimes rises above this, and feels the kindling flame although he dares not tell it to the one who has caused it.

When we love a woman of unequal condition, ambition may accompany the beginning of the love; but in a little time the latter becomes master. It is a tyrant that will suffer no companion; it wishes to be alone; all the other passions must bend to it and obey it.

An elevated attachment fills the heart of man much better than a common and equal one; and little things float in his capacity; none but great ones lodge and dwell therein.

We often write things which we only prove by obliging every one to reflect upon himself, and find the truth of which we are speaking. In this consists the force of the proofs of what I assert.

When a man is fastidious in any quality of his mind, he is so in love. For as he must be moved by every object that is outside of himself, if there is any thing that is repugnant to his ideas, he perceives and shuns it; the rule of this fastidiousness depends on a pure, noble, and sublime reason. Thus we can believe ourselves fastidious without actually being so, and others have the right to condemn us; whilst for beauty each one has his rule, sovereign and independent of that of others. Yet between being fastidious and not being so at all, it must be granted that when one desires to be fastidious he is not far from actually being so. Women like to perceive fastidiousness in men, and this is, it seems to me, the most vulnerable point whereby to gain them: we are pleased to see that a thousand others are contemned and that we alone are esteemed.

Qualities of mind are not acquired by habit; they are only perfected. Whence it is easy to see that fastidiousness is a gift of nature and not an acquisition of art.

In proportion as we have more intellect, we find more original beauties; but this is not necessary in order to be in love; for when we love, we find but one.

Does it not seem that as often as a woman goes out of herself to impress the hearts of others, she makes a place void for others in her own? Yet, I know some who affirm that this is not true. Dare we call this injustice? It is natural to give back as much as we have taken.

Attachment to the same thought wearies and destroys the mind of man. Hence for the solidity and permanence of the pleasure of love, it is sometimes necessary not to know that we love; and this is not to be guilty of an infidelity, for we do not therefore love another; it is to regain strength in order to love the better. This happens without our thinking of it; the mind is borne hither of itself; nature wills it, commands it. It must however be confessed that this is a miserable consequence of human weakness, and that we should be happier if we were not forced to change of thought; but there is no remedy.

The pleasure of loving without daring to tell it, has its pains, but it has its joys also. What transport do we not feel in moulding all our actions in view of pleasing the person whom we infinitely esteem! We study each day to find the means of revealing ourselves, and thus employ as much time as if we were holding converse with the one whom we love. The eyes kindle and grow dim at the same moment, and although we do not see plainly that the one who causes this disorder takes heed of it, we still have the satisfaction of feeling all these emotions for a person who deserves them so well. We would gladly have a hundred tongues to make it known; for as we cannot make use of words, we are obliged to confine ourselves to the eloquence of action.

Up to this point we have constant delight and sufficient occupation. Thus we are happy; for the secret of keeping a passion constantly alive is to suffer no void to spring up in the mind, by obliging it to apply itself without ceasing to what moves it so agreeably. But when it is in the state that I have just described, it cannot last long, because being sole actor in a passion in which there must necessarily be two, it is difficult to hinder it from soon exhausting all the emotions by which it is agitated.

Although the passion may be the same, novelty is needed; the mind takes delight in it, and he who knows how to procure it, knows how to make himself loved.

After having gone thus far, this plenitude sometimes diminishes, and receiving no assistance from the side of its source, we decline miserably, and hostile passions take possession of a heart which they rend into a thousand pieces. Yet a ray of hope, however faint it may be, exalts us as high as we were before. This is sometimes a play in which women delight; but sometimes in feigning to have compassion, they have it in reality. How happy we are when this is the case!

A firm and solid love always begins with the eloquence of action; the eyes have the best share in it. Nevertheless it is necessary to conjecture, but to conjecture rightly.

When two persons are of the same sentiments, they do not conjecture, or at least one conjectures what the other means to say without the other understanding it or daring to understand.

When we love, we appear to ourselves quite different from what we were before. Thus we imagine that every one perceives it; yet nothing is more false. But because the perception of reason is bounded by passion, we cannot assure ourselves and are always suspicious.

When we love, we are persuaded that we shall discover the passion of another: thus we are afraid.

The longer the way is in love, the greater is the pleasure that a sensitive mind feels in it.

There are certain minds to which hopes must long be given, and these are minds of refinement. There are others which cannot long resist difficulties, and these are the grossest. The former love longer and with more enjoyment; the latter love quicker, with more freedom, and sooner end.

The first effect of love is to inspire a profound respect; we have veneration for what we love. It is very just; we see nothing in the world so great as this.

Authors cannot tell us much of the love of their heroes; it is necessary that they should have been the heroes themselves.

Wandering in love is as monstrous as injustice in the mind.

In love, silence is of more avail than speech. It is good to be abashed; there is an eloquence in silence that penetrates more deeply than language can. How well a lover persuades his mistress when he is abashed before her, who elsewhere has so much presence of mind! Whatever vivacity we may have, it is well that in certain junctures it should be extinguished. All this takes place without rule or reflection, and when the mind acts, it is without thinking of it beforehand. This happens through necessity.

We often adore one that is unconscious of it, and do not fail to preserve an inviolable fidelity, although its object knows nothing of it. But this love must be very refined or very pure.

We know the minds of men, and consequently their passions, by the comparison that we make between ourselves and others.

I am of the opinion of him who said that in love one forgets his fortune, his relatives, and his friends; the most elevated attachments go as far as this. What causes us to go so far in love is that we do not think we have need of anything else than the object of our love: the mind is full; there is no longer any room for care or solicitude. Passion cannot exist without excess: thence it comes that we care no longer for what the world says, as we know already that our conduct ought not to be condemned, since it comes from reason. There is fulness of passion, and can be no beginning of reflection.

It is not an effect of custom, it is an obligation of nature, that men make the advances to gain the attachment of women.

This forgetfulness that is caused by love, and this attachment to the object of our love, make qualities spring up that we had not before. We become magnificent, without ever having been so.

The miser himself who loves becomes liberal, and does not remember ever to have had a contrary disposition; we see the reason of this in considering that there are some passions which contract the soul and render it stagnant, and that there are others which expand it and cause it to overflow.

We have unaptly taken away the name of reason from love and have opposed them to each other without good foundation, for love and reason are but the same thing. It is a precipitation of thought which is impelled to a side before fully examining every thing, but it is still a reason, and we should not and cannot wish that it were otherwise, for we would then be very disagreeable machines. Let us not therefore exclude reason from love, since they are inseparable. The poets were not right in painting Love blind; we must take off his bandage and restore to him henceforth the enjoyment of his eyes.

Souls fitted for love demand a life of action which becomes brilliant in new events. The external excitement must correspond with the internal, and this manner of living is a marvellous road to passion. Thence it is that courtiers are more successful in love than citizens, since the former are all fire and the latter lead a life in the uniformity of which there is nothing striking: a tempestuous life surprises, strikes, and penetrates.

It seems as though we had quite another soul when we love than when we do not love; we are exalted by this passion and become all greatness; the rest therefore must have proportion, otherwise this does not harmonize and is consequently disagreeable.

The pleasing and the beautiful are only the same thing; every one has his idea of it. It is of a moral beauty that I mean to speak, which consists in external words and actions. We have a rule indeed for becoming agreeable; yet the disposition of the body is necessary to it, but this cannot be acquired.

Men have taken pleasure in forming for themselves so elevated a standard of the pleasing that no one can attain it. Let us judge of it better, and say that this is simply nature with surprising facility and vivacity of mind. In love these two qualities are necessary. There must be nothing of force, and yet there must be nothing of slowness: habit gives the rest.

Respect and love should be so well proportioned as to sustain each other without love being stifled by respect.

Great souls are not those that love oftenest; it is a violent love of which I speak; an inundation of passion is needed to move them and fill them. But when they begin to love, they love much more strongly.

It is said that there are some nations more amorous than others; this is not speaking rightly, or at least it is not true in every sense.

Love consisting only in an attachment of thought, it is certain that it must be the same over all the earth. It is true that, considering it otherwise than in the thought, the climate may add something, but this is only in the body.

It is with love as with good sense; as one man believes himself to have as much mind as another, he also believes that he loves the same. Yet, they who have the most perception, love even to the most trifling things, which is not possible for others. It is necessary to be very subtle to remark this difference.

One cannot feign to love unless he is very near being a lover, or at least unless he loves in some direction; for the mind and the thoughts of love are requisite for this seeming, and how shall we find means of speaking well without this? The truth of passion is not so easily disguised as serious truth.

We must have ardor, activity, and prompt and natural warmth of mind for the former; the latter we conceal by slowness and pliancy, which it is easier to do.

When we are at a distance from the object of our love, we resolve to do or to say many things; but when we are near, we are irresolute. Whence comes this? It is because when we are at a distance reason is not so much perturbed, but is strangely so in the presence of the object: now for resolution, firmness is needed, which is destroyed by perturbation.

In love we dare not hazard, because we fear to lose every thing; it is necessary, however, to advance, but who can say how far? We tremble constantly until we have found this point. Prudence does nothing towards maintaining it when it is found.

There is nothing so embarrassing as to be a lover, and to see something in our favor without daring to believe it; we are alike opposed by hope and fear. But finally the latter becomes victorious over the other.

When we love ardently, it is always a novelty to see the person beloved. After a moment's absence, he finds a void in his heart. What happiness is it to find her again! he feels at once a cessation of anxiety.

It is necessary, however, that this love should be already far advanced; for when it is budding, and has made no progress, we feel indeed a cessation of anxiety, but others supervene.

Although troubles thus succeed each other, one is not hindered from desiring the presence of his mistress by the hope of suffering less; yet, when he sees her, he fancies that he suffers more than before. Past troubles no longer move him, the present touch him, and it is of those that touch him that he judges.

Is not a lover in this state worthy of compassion?


We may have three principal objects in the study of truth: one to discover it when it is sought; another to demonstrate it when it is possessed; and a third, to discriminate it from the false when it is examined.

I do not speak of the first; I treat particularly of the second, and it includes the third. For if we know the method of proving the truth, we shall have, at the same time, that of discriminating it, since, in examining whether the proof that is given of it is in conformity with the rules that are understood, we shall know whether it is exactly demonstrated.

Geometry, which excels in these three methods, has explained the art of discovering unknown truths; this it is which is called analysis, and of which it would be useless to discourse after the many excellent works that have been written on it.

That of demonstrating truths already found, and of elucidating them in such a manner that the proof of them shall be irresistible, is the only one that I wish to give; and for this I have only to explain the method which geometry observes in it; for she teaches it perfectly by her examples, although she may produce no discourse on it. And since this art consists in two principal things, the one in proving each proposition by itself, the other in disposing all the propositions in the best order, I shall make of it two sections, of which the one will contain the rules for the conduct of geometrical, that is, methodical and perfect demonstrations; and the second will comprehend that of geometrical, that is, methodical and complete order: so that the two together will include all that will be necessary to direct reasoning, in proving and discriminating truths, which I design to give entire.

Section First—Of the method of geometrical, that is, of methodical and perfect demonstrations.

I cannot better explain the method that should be preserved to render demonstrations convincing, than by explaining that which is observed by geometry.

But it is first necessary that I should give the idea of a method still more eminent and more complete, but which mankind could never attain; for what exceeds geometry surpasses us; and, nevertheless, something must be said of it, although it is impossible to practise it.[9]

This true method, which would form demonstrations in the highest excellence, if it were possible to arrive at it, would consist in two principal things: the one, in employing no term the meaning of which had not first been clearly explained; the other, in never advancing any proposition which could not be demonstrated by truths already known; that is, in a word, in defining every term, and in proving every proposition. But to follow the same order that I am explaining, it is necessary that I should state what I mean by definition.

The only definitions recognized in geometry are what the logicians call definitions of name, that is, the arbitrary application of names to things which are clearly designated by terms perfectly known; and it is of these alone that I speak.

Their utility and use is to elucidate and abbreviate discourse, in expressing by the single name that has been imposed what could otherwise be only expressed by several terms; so that nevertheless the name imposed remains divested of all other meaning, if it has any, having no longer any than that for which it is alone designed. Here is an example:

If we are under the necessity of discriminating numbers that are divisible equally by two from those which are not, in order to avoid the frequent repetition of this condition, a name is given to it in this manner: I call every number divisible equally by two, an even number.

This is a geometrical definition; because after having clearly designated a thing, namely, every member divisible equally by two, we give it a name divested of every other meaning, if it has any, in order to give it that of the thing designated.

Hence it appears that definitions are very arbitrary, and that they are never subject to contradiction; for nothing is more permissible than to give to a thing which has been clearly designated, whatever name we choose. It is only necessary to take care not to abuse the liberty that we possess of imposing names, by giving the same to two different things.

Not that this may not be permissible, provided we do not confound the consequences, and do not extend them from the one to the other.

But if we fall into this error, we can oppose to it a sure and infallible remedy: that of mentally substituting the definition in the place of the thing defined, and of having the definition always so present, that every time we speak, for example, of an even number, we mean precisely that which is divisible into two equal parts, and that these two things should be in such a degree joined and inseparable in thought, that as soon as the discourse expresses the one, the mind attaches it immediately to the other. For geometricians, and all those who proceed methodically, only impose names on things to abbreviate discourse, and not to diminish or change the idea of the things of which they are discoursing. And they pretend that the mind always supplies the full definition to the concise terms, which they only employ to avoid the confusion occasioned by the multitude of words.

Nothing more promptly and more effectually removes the captious cavils of sophists than this method, which it is necessary to have always present, and which alone suffices to banish all kinds of difficulties and equivocations.

These things being well understood, I return to the explanation of the true order, which consists, as I have said, in defining every thing and in proving every thing.

This method would certainly be beautiful, but it is absolutely impossible; for it is evident that the first terms that we wished to define would imply precedents to serve for their explanation, and that in the same manner, the first propositions that we wished to prove would imply others which had preceded them; and thus it is clear that we should never reach the first.

Thus, in pushing our researches further and further, we arrive necessarily at primitive words which can no longer be defined, and at principles so clear that we can find no others that can serve as a proof of them.

Hence it appears that men are naturally and immutably impotent to treat of any science so that it may be in an absolutely complete order.

But it does not thence follow that we should abandon every kind of order.

For there is one, and it is that of geometry, which is in truth inferior in that it is less convincing, but not in that it is less certain. It does not define every thing and does not prove every thing, and it is in this that it is inferior; but it assumes nothing but things clear and constant by natural enlightenment, and this is why it is perfectly true, nature sustaining it in default of discourse.

This order, the most perfect of any among men, consists not at all in defining every thing or in demonstrating every thing, nor in defining nothing or in demonstrating nothing, but in adhering to this middle course of not defining things clear and understood by all mankind, and of defining the rest; of not proving all the things known to mankind, and of proving all the rest. Against this order those sin alike who undertake to define everything and to prove every thing, and who neglect to do it in those things which are not evident of themselves.

This is what is perfectly taught by geometry. She does not define any of these things, space, time, motion, number, equality, and similar things which exist in great number, because these terms so naturally designate the things that they mean, to those who understand the language, that their elucidation would afford more obscurity than instruction.

For there is nothing more feeble than the discourse of those who wish to define these primitive words. What necessity is there, for example, of explaining what is understood by the word man? Do we not know well enough what the thing is that we wish to designate by this term? And what advantage did Plato think to procure us in saying that he was a two-legged animal without feathers? As though the idea that I have of him naturally, and which I cannot express, were not clearer and surer than that which he gives me by his useless and even ridiculous explanation; since a man does not lose humanity by losing the two legs, nor does a capon acquire it by losing his feathers.

There are those who are absurd enough to explain a word by the word itself. I know some who have defined light in this wise: Light is a luminary movement of luminous bodies, as though we could understand the words luminary and luminous without the word light.[10]

We cannot undertake to define being without falling into the same absurdity: for we cannot define a word without beginning with the word it is, either expressed or understood. To define being therefore, it is necessary to say it is, and thus to employ the word defined in the definition.

We see clearly enough from this that there are some words incapable of being defined; and, if nature had not supplied this defect by a corresponding idea which she has given to all mankind, all our expressions would be confused; whilst we use them with the same assurance and the same certainty as though they were explained in a manner perfectly exempt from ambiguities; because nature herself has given us, without words, a clearer knowledge of them than art could acquire by our explanations.

It is not because all men have the same idea of the essence of the things that I say that it is impossible and useless to define.

For, for example, time is of this sort. Who can define it? And why undertake it, since all men conceive what is meant in speaking of time, without any further definition? Nevertheless there are many different opinions touching the essence of time. Some say that it is the movement of a created thing; others, the measure of the movement, etc. Thus it is not the nature of these things that I say is known to all; it is simply the relation between the name and the thing; so that at the expression time, all direct their thoughts towards the same object; which suffices to cause this term to have no need of being defined, though afterwards, in examining what time is, we come to differ in sentiment after having been led to think of it; for definitions are only made to designate the things that are named, and not to show the nature of them.

It is not because it is not permissible to call by the name of time the movement of a created thing; for, as I have just said, nothing is more arbitrary than definitions.

But after this definition there will be two things that will be called by the name of time: the one is what the whole world understands naturally by this word and what all those who speak our language call by this term; the other will be the movement of a created thing, for this will also be called by this name, according to this new definition.

It is necessary therefore to shun ambiguities and not to confound consequences. For it will not follow from this that the thing that is naturally understood by the word time is in fact the movement of a created thing. It has been allowable to name these two things the same; but it will not be to make them agree in nature as well as in name.

Thus, if we advance this proposition—time is the movement of a created thing, it is necessary to ask what is meant by this word time, that is, whether the usual and generally received meaning is left to it, or whether it is divested of this meaning in order to give to it on this occasion that of the movement of a created thing. For if it be stripped of all other meaning, it cannot be contradicted, and it will become an arbitrary definition, in consequence of which, as I have said, there will be two things that will have the same name. But if its ordinary meaning be left to it, and it be pretended nevertheless that what is meant by this word is the movement of a created thing, it can be contradicted. It is no longer an arbitrary definition, but a proposition that must be proved, if it is not evident of itself; and this will then be a principle or an axiom, but never a definition, since in this enunciation it is not understood that the word time signifies the same thing as the movement of a created thing, but it is understood that what is conceived by the term time is this supposed movement.

If I did not know how necessary it is to understand this perfectly, and how continually occasions like this, of which I give the example, happen both in familiar and scientific discourses, I should not dwell upon it. But it seems to me, by the experience that I have had from the confusion of controversies, that we cannot too fully enter into this spirit of precision, for the sake of which I write this treatise rather than the subject of which I treat in it.

For how many persons are there who fancy that they have defined time, when they have said that it is the measure of movement, leaving it, however, its ordinary meaning! And nevertheless they have made a proposition and not a definition. How many are there, in the like manner, who fancy that they have defined movement, when they have said: Motus nec simpliciter motus, non mera potentia est, sed actus entis in potentia! And nevertheless, if they leave to the word movement its ordinary meaning as they do, it is not a definition but a proposition; and confounding thus the definitions which they call definitions of name, which are the true arbitrary definitions permissible and geometrical, with those which they call definitions of thing, which, properly speaking, are not at all arbitrary definitions, but are subject to contradiction, they hold themselves at liberty to make these as well as others: and each defining the same things in his own way, by a liberty which is as unjustifiable in this kind of definitions as it is permissible in the former, they perplex every thing, and losing all order and all light, become lost themselves and wander into inextricable embarrassments.

We shall never fall Into such In following the order of geometry. This judicious science Is far from defining such primitive words as space, time, motion, equality, majority, diminution, whole, and others which every one understands.

But apart from these, the rest of the terms that this science employs are to such a degree elucidated and defined that we have no need of a dictionary to understand any of them; so that in a word all these terms are perfectly intelligible, either by natural enlightenment or by the definitions that it gives of them.

This is the manner in which it avoids all the errors that may be encountered upon the first point, which consists in defining only the things that have need of it. It makes use of it in the same manner in respect to the other point, which consists in proving the propositions that are not evident.

For, when it has arrived at the first known truths, it pauses there and asks whether they are admitted, having nothing clearer whereby to prove them; so that all that is proposed by geometry is perfectly demonstrated, either by natural enlightenment or by proofs.

Hence it comes that if this science does not define and demonstrate every thing, it is for the simple reason that this is impossible.[11]

It will perhaps be found strange that geometry does not define any of the things that it has for its principal objects: for it can neither define motion, numbers, nor space; and nevertheless these three things are those of which it treats in particular, and according to the investigation of which it takes the three different names of mechanics, arithmetic, and geometry, this last name belonging to the genus and species.

But this will not surprise us if we remark that, this admirable science only attaching itself to the simplest things, this same quality which renders them worthy of being its objects renders them incapable of being defined; so that the lack of definition is a perfection rather than a defect, since it does not come from their obscurity, but on the contrary from their extreme obviousness, which is such that though it may not have the conviction of demonstrations, it has all their certainty. It supposes therefore that we know what is the thing that is understood by the words motion, number, space; and without stopping to define them to no purpose, it penetrates their nature and discovers their marvellous properties.

These three things which comprehend the whole universe, according to the words: Deus fecit omnia in pondere, in numero, et mensura,[12] have a reciprocal and necessary connection. For we cannot imagine motion without something that moves; and this thing being one, this unity is the origin of all numbers; and lastly, motion not being able to exist without space, we see these three things included within the first.

Time even is also comprehended in it; for motion and time are relative to each other; speed and slowness, which are the differences of motion, having a necessary relation to time.

Thus there are properties common to all these things, the knowledge of which opens the mind to the greatest marvels of nature.

The chief of these comprehends the two infinitudes which are combined in every thing: the one of greatness the other of littleness.

For however quick a movement may be, we can conceive of one still more so; and so on ad infinitum, without ever reaching one that would be swift to such a degree that nothing more could be added to it. And, on the contrary, however slow a movement may be, it can be retarded still more; and thus ad infinitum, without ever reaching such a degree of slowness that we could not thence descend into an infinite number of others, without falling into rest.

In the same manner, however great a number may be, we can conceive of a greater; and thus ad infinitum, without ever reaching one that can no longer be increased. And on the contrary, however small a number may be, as the hundredth or ten thousandth part, we can still conceive of a less; and so on ad infinitum, without ever arriving at zero or nothingness.

However great a space may be, we can conceive of a greater; and thus ad infinitum, without ever arriving at one which can no longer be increased. And, on the contrary, however small a space may be, we can still imagine a smaller; and so on ad infinitum, without ever arriving at one indivisible, which has no longer any extent.

It is the same with time. We can always conceive of a greater without an ultimate, and of a less without arriving at a point and a pure nothingness of duration.

That is, in a word, whatever movement, whatever number, whatever space, whatever time there may be, there is always a greater and a less than these: so that they all stand betwixt nothingness and the infinite, being always infinitely distant from these extremes.

All these truths cannot be demonstrated; and yet they are the foundations and principles of geometry. But as the cause that renders them incapable of demonstration is not their obscurity, but on the contrary their extreme obviousness, this lack of proof is not a defect, but rather a perfection.

From which we see that geometry can neither define objects nor prove principles; but for this single and advantageous reason that both are in an extreme natural clearness, which convinces reason more powerfully than discourse.

For what is more evident than this truth, that a number whatever it may be, can be increased—can be doubled? Again, may not the speed of a movement be doubled, and may not a space be doubled in the same manner?

And who too can doubt that a number, whatever it may be, may not be divided into a half, and its half again into another half? For would this half be a nothingness? And would these two halves, which would be two zeros, compose a number?

In the same manner, may not a movement, however slow it may be, be reduced in speed by a half, so that it will pass over the same space in double the time, and this last movement again? For would this be a perfect rest? And would these two halves of velocity, which would be two rests, compose again the first velocity?

Lastly, may not a space, however small it may be, be divided into two, and these halves again? And how could these two halves become indivisible without extent, which joined together made the former extent?

There is no natural knowledge in mankind that precedes this, and surpasses it in clearness. Nevertheless, in order that there may be examples for every thing, we find minds, excellent in all things else, that are shocked by these infinities and can in no wise assent to them.

I have never known any person who thought that a space could not be increased. But I have seen some, very capable in other respects, who affirmed that a space could be divided into two indivisible parts, however absurd the idea may seem.

I have applied myself to investigating what could be the cause of this obscurity, and have found that it chiefly consisted in this, that they could not conceive of a continuity divisible ad infinitum, whence they concluded that it was not divisible.

It is an infirmity natural to man to believe that he possesses truth directly; and thence it comes that he is always disposed to deny every thing that is incomprehensible to him; whilst in fact he knows naturally nothing but falsehood, and whilst he ought to receive as true only those things the contrary of which appear to him as false.

And hence, whenever a proposition is inconceivable, it is necessary to suspend the judgment on it and not to deny it from this indication, but to examine its opposite; and if this is found to be manifestly false, we can boldly affirm the former, however incomprehensible it may be. Let us apply this rule to our subject.

There is no geometrician that does not believe space divisible ad infinitum. He can no more be such without this principle than man can exist without a soul. And nevertheless there is none who comprehends an infinite division; and he only assures himself of this truth by this one, but certainly sufficient reason, that he perfectly comprehends that it is false that by dividing a space we can reach an indivisible part, that, is, one that has no extent.

For what is there more absurd than to pretend that by continually dividing a space, we shall finally arrive at such a division that on dividing it into two, each of the halves shall remain indivisible and without any extent, and that thus the two negations of extensions will together compose an extent? For I would ask those who hold this idea, whether they conceive clearly two indivisibles being brought into contact; if this is throughout, they are only the same thing, and consequently the two together are indivisible; and if it is not throughout, it is then but in a part; then they have parts, therefore they are not indivisible.

If they confess, as in fact they admit when pressed, that their proposition is as inconceivable as the other, they acknowledge that it is not by our capacity for conceiving these things that we should judge of their truth, since these two contraries being both inconceivable, it is nevertheless necessarily certain that one of the two is true.

But as to these chimerical difficulties, which have relation only to our weakness, they oppose this natural clearness and these solid truths: if it were true that space was composed of a certain finite number of indivisibles, it would follow that two spaces, each of which should be square, that is, equal and similar on every side, being the one the double of the other, the one would contain a number of these indivisibles double the number of the indivisibles of the other. Let them bear this consequence well in mind, and let them then apply themselves to ranging points in squares until they shall have formed two, the one of which shall have double the points of the other; and then I will make every geometrician in the world yield to them. But if the thing is naturally impossible, that is, if it is an insuperable impossibility to range squares of points, the one of which shall have double the number of the other, as I would demonstrate on the spot did the thing merit that we should dwell on it, let them draw therefrom the consequence.

And to console them for the trouble they would have in certain junctures, as in conceiving that a space may have an infinity of divisibles, seeing that these are run over in so little time during which this infinity of divisibles would be run over, we must admonish them that they should not compare things so disproportionate as is the infinity of divisibles with the little time in which they are run over: but let them compare the entire space with the entire time, and the infinite divisibles of the space with the infinite moments of the time; and thus they will find that we pass over an infinity of divisibles in an infinity of moments, and a little space in a little time; in which there is no longer the disproportion that astonished them.

Lastly, if they find it surprising that a small space has as many parts as a great one, let them understand also that they are smaller in measure, and let them look at the firmament through a diminishing glass, to familiarize themselves with this knowledge, by seeing every part of the sky in every part of the glass.

But if they cannot comprehend that parts so small that to us they are imperceptible, can be divided as often as the firmament, there is no better remedy than to make them look through glasses that magnify this delicate point to a prodigious mass; whence they will easily conceive that by the aid of another glass still more artistically cut, they could be magnified so as to equal that firmament the extent of which they admire. And thus these objects appearing to them now easily divisible, let them remember that nature can do infinitely more than art.

For, in fine, who has assured them that these glasses change the natural magnitude of these objects, instead of re-establishing, on the contrary, the true magnitude which the shape of our eye may change and contract like glasses that diminish?

It is annoying to dwell upon such trifles; but there are times for trifling.

It suffices to say to minds clear on this matter that two negations of extension cannot make an extension. But as there are some who pretend to elude this light by this marvellous answer, that two negations of extension can as well make an extension as two units, neither of which is a number, can make a number by their combination; it is necessary to reply to them that they might in the same manner deny that twenty thousand men make an army, although no single one of them is an army; that a thousand houses make a town, although no single one is a town; or that the parts make the whole, although no single one is the whole; or, to remain in the comparison of numbers, that two binaries make a quaternary, and ten tens a hundred, although no single one is such.

But it is not to have an accurate mind to confound by such unequal comparisons the immutable nature of things with their arbitrary and voluntary names, names dependent upon the caprice of the men who invented them. For it is clear that to facilitate discourse the name of army has been given to twenty thousand men, that of town to several houses, that of ten to ten units; and that from this liberty spring the names of unity, binary, quaternary, ten, hundred, different through our caprices, although these things may be in fact of the same kind by their unchangeable nature, and are all proportionate to each other and differ only in being greater or less, and although, as a result of these names, binary may not be a quaternary, nor the house a town, any more than the town is a house. But again, although a house is not a town, it is not however a negation of a town; there is a great difference between not being a thing, and being a negation of it.

For, in order to understand the thing to the bottom, it is necessary to know that the only reason why unity is not in the ranks of numbers, is that Euclid and the earliest authors who treated of arithmetic, having several properties to give that were applicable to all the numbers except unity, in order to avoid often repeating that in all numbers except unity this condition is found, have excluded unity from the signification of the word number, by the liberty which we have already said can be taken at will with definitions. Thus, if they had wished, they could in the same manner have excluded the binary and ternary, and all else that it pleased them; for we are master of these terms, provided we give notice of it; as on the contrary we may place unity when we like in the rank of numbers, and fractions in the same manner. And, in fact, we are obliged to do it in general propositions, to avoid saying constantly, that in all numbers, as well as in unity and in fractions, such a property is found; and it is in this indefinite sense that I have taken it in all that I have written on it.

But the same Euclid who has taken away from unity the name of number, which it was permissible for him to do, in order to make it understood nevertheless that it is not a negation, but is on the contrary of the same species, thus defines homogeneous magnitudes: Magnitudes are said to be of the same kind, when one being multiplied several times may exceed the other; and consequently, since unity can, being multiplied several times, exceed any number whatsoever, it is precisely of the same kind with numbers through its essence and its immutable nature, in the meaning of the same Euclid who would not have it called a number.

It is not the same thing with an indivisible in respect to an extension. For it not only differs in name, which is voluntary, but it differs in kind, by the same definition; since an indivisible, multiplied as many times as we like, is so far from being able to exceed an extension, that it can never form any thing else than a single and exclusive indivisible; which is natural and necessary, as has been already shown. And as this last proof is founded upon the definition of these two things, indivisible and extension, we will proceed to finish and perfect the demonstration.

An indivisible is that which has no part, and extension is that which has divers separate parts.

According to these definitions, I affirm that two indivisibles united do not make an extension.

For when they are united, they touch each other in some part; and thus the parts whereby they come in contact are not separate, since otherwise they would not touch each other. Now, by their definition, they have no other parts; therefore they have no separate parts; therefore they are not an extension by the definition of extension which involves the separation of parts.

The same thing will be shown of all the other indivisibles that may be brought into junction, for the same reason. And consequently an indivisible, multiplied as many times as we like, will not make an extension. Therefore it is not of the same kind as extension, by the definition of things of the same kind.

It is in this manner that we demonstrate that indivisibles are not of the same species as numbers. Hence it arises that two units may indeed make a number, because they are pf the same kind; and that two indivisibles do not make a extension, because they are not of the same kind.

Hence we see how little reason there is in comparing the relation that exists between unity and numbers with that which exists between indivisibles and extension.

But if we wish to take in numbers a comparison that represents with accuracy what we are considering in extension, this must be the relation of zero to numbers; for zero is not of the same kind as numbers, since, being multiplied, it cannot exceed them: so that it is the true indivisibility of number, as indivisibility is the true zero of extension. And a like one will be found between rest and motion, and between an instant and time; for all these things are heterogeneous in their magnitudes, since being infinitely multiplied, they can never make any thing else than indivisibles, any more than the indivisibles of extension, and for the same reason. And then we shall find a perfect correspondence between these things; for all these magnitudes are divisible ad infinitum, without ever falling into their indivisibles, so that they all hold a middle place between infinity and nothingness.

Such is the admirable relation that nature has established between these things, and the two marvellous infinities which she has proposed to mankind, not to comprehend, but to admire; and to finish the consideration of this by a last remark, I will add that these two infinites, although infinitely different, are notwithstanding relative to each other, in such a manner that the knowledge of the one leads necessarily to the knowledge of the other.

For in numbers, inasmuch as they can be continually augmented, it absolutely follows that they can be continually diminished, and this clearly; for if a number can be multiplied to 100,000, for example, 100,000th part can also be taken from it, by dividing it by the same number by which it is multiplied; and thus every term of augmentation will become a term of division, by changing the whole into a fraction. So that infinite augmentation also includes necessarily infinite division.

And in space the same relation is seen between these two contrary infinites; that is, that inasmuch as a space can be infinitely prolonged, it follows that it may be infinitely diminished, as appears in this example: If we look through a glass at a vessel that recedes continually in a straight line, it is evident that any point of the vessel observed will continually advance by a perpetual flow in proportion as the ship recedes. Therefore if the course of the vessel is extended ad infinitum, this point will continually recede; and yet it will never reach that point in which the horizontal ray carried from the eye to the glass shall fall, so that it will constantly approach it without ever reaching it, unceasingly dividing the space which will remain under this horizontal point without ever arriving at it. From which is seen the necessary conclusion that is drawn from the infinity of the extension of the course of the vessel to the infinite and infinitely minute division of this little space remaining beneath this horizontal point.

Those who will not be satisfied with these reasons, and will persist in the belief that space is not divisible ad infinitum, can make no pretensions to geometrical demonstrations, and although they may be enlightened in other things, they will be very little in this; for one can easily be a very capable man and a bad geometrician.

But those who clearly perceive these truths will be able to admire the grandeur and power of nature in this double infinity that surrounds us on all sides, and to learn by this marvellous consideration to know themselves, in regarding themselves thus placed between infinitude and a negation of extension, between an infinitude and a negation of number, between an infinitude and a negation of movement, between an infinitude and a negation of time. From which we may learn to estimate ourselves at our true value, and to form reflections which will be worth more than all the rest of geometry itself.

I have thought myself obliged to enter into this long discussion for the benefit of those who, not comprehending at first this double infinity, are capable of being persuaded of it. And although there may be many who have sufficient enlightenment to dispense with it, it may nevertheless happen that this discourse which will be necessary to the one will not be entirely useless to the other.


The respect that we bear to antiquity is at the present day carried to such a point on subjects in which it ought to have less weight, that oracles are made of all its thoughts and

mysteries, even of its obscurities; that novelties can no longer be advanced without peril, and that the text of an author suffices to destroy the strongest reasons    

Not that it is my intention to correct one error by another, and not to esteem the ancients at all because others have esteemed them too much.

I do not pretend to banish their authority in order to exalt reasoning alone, although others have sought to establish their authority alone to the prejudice of reasoning    

To make this important distinction with care, it is necessary to consider that the former depend solely on memory and are purely historical, having nothing for their object except to know what the authors have written; the latter depend solely on reasoning and are entirely dogmatic, having for their object to seek and discover concealed truths.

Those of the former kind are limited, inasmuch as the books in which they are contained    
It is according to this distinction that we must regulate differently the extent of this respect. The respect that we should have for    

In matters in which we only seek to know what the authors have written, as in history, geography, jurisprudence, languages, and especially in theology; and in fine in all those which have for their principle either simple facts or divine or human institutions, we must necessarily have recourse to their books, since all that we can know of them is therein contained; hence it is evident that we can have full knowledge of them, and that it is not possible to add any thing thereto.

If it is in question to know who was the first king of the French; in what spot geographers place the first meridian; what words are used in a dead language, and all things of this nature; what other means than books can guide is to them? And who can add any thing new to what they teach us, since we wish only to know what they contain?

Authority alone can enlighten us on these. But the subject in which authority has the principal weight is theology, because there she is inseparable from truth, and we know it only through her: so that to give full certainty to matters incomprehensible to reason, it suffices to show them in the sacred books; as to show the uncertainty of the most probable things, it is only necessary to show that they are not included therein; since its principles are superior to nature and reason, and since, the mind of man being too weak to attain them by its own efforts, he cannot reach these lofty conceptions if he be not carried thither by an omnipotent and superhuman power.

It is not the same with subjects that fall under the senses and under reasoning; authority here is useless; it belongs to reason alone to know them. They have their separate rights: there the one has all the advantage, here the other reigns in turn. But as subjects of this kind are proportioned to the grasp of the mind, it finds full liberty to extend them; its inexhaustible fertility produces continually, and its inventions may be multiplied altogether without limit and without interruption    

It is thus that geometry, arithmetic, music, physics, medicine, architecture, and all the sciences that are subject to experiment and reasoning, should be augmented in order to become perfect. The ancients found them merely outlined by those who preceded them; and we shall leave them to those who will come after us in a more finished state than we received them.

As their perfection depends on time and pains, it is evident that although our pains and time may have acquired less than their labors separate from ours, both joined together must nevertheless have more effect than each one alone.

The clearing up of this difference should make us pity the blindness of those who bring authority alone as proof in physical matters, instead of reasoning or experiments; and inspire us with horror for the wickedness of others who make use of reasoning alone in theology, instead of the authority of the Scripture and the Fathers. We must raise the courage of those timid people who dare invent nothing in physics, and confound the insolence of those rash persons who produce novelties in theology. Nevertheless the misfortune of the age is such, that we see many new opinions in theology, unknown to all antiquity, maintained with obstinacy and received with applause; whilst those that are produced in physics, though small in number, should, it seems, be convicted of falsehood as soon as they shock already received opinions in the slightest degree; as if the respect that we have for the ancient philosophers were a duty, and that which we bear to the most ancient of the Fathers solely a matter of courtesy! I leave it to judicious persons to remark the importance of this abuse which perverts the order of the sciences with so much injustice; and I think that there will be few who will not wish that this liberty[13] might be applied to other matters, since new inventions are infallible errors in the matters[14] which we profane with impunity; and since they are absolutely necessary for the perfection of so many other subjects incomparably lower, which nevertheless we dare not approach.

Let us divide our credulity and suspicion with more justice, and limit this respect we have for the ancients. As reason gives it birth, she ought also to measure it; and let us consider that if they had continued in this restraint of not daring to add any thing to the knowledge which they had received, or if those of their times had made the like difficulty in receiving the novelties which they offered them, they would have deprived themselves and their posterity of the fruit of their inventions.

As they only made use of that which had been bequeathed to them as a means whereby to gain more, and as this happy daring opened to them the way to great things, we should take that which they acquired in the same manner, and by their example, make of it the means and not the end of our study, and thus strive while imitating to surpass them.

For what is more unjust than to treat our ancestors with more deference than they showed to those who preceded them, and to have for them that inviolable respect which they have only merited from us because they had not the like for those who possessed the same advantage over them?    

The secrets of nature are concealed; although she is continually working, we do not always discover her effects: time reveals them from age to age, and although always alike in herself she is not always alike known.

The experiments that give us the knowledge of these secrets are multiplied continually; and as they are the sole principles of physics, the consequences are multiplied in proportion.

It is in this manner that we may at the present day adopt different sentiments and new opinions, without despising the ancients and[15] without ingratitude, since the first knowledge which they have given us has served as a stepping-stone to our own, and since in these advantages we are indebted to them for our ascendency over them; because being raised by their aid to a certain degree, the slightest effort causes us to mount still higher, and with less pains and less glory we find ourselves above them. Thence it is that we are enabled to discover things which it was impossible for them to perceive. Our view is more extended, and although they knew as well as we all that they could observe in nature, they did not, nevertheless, know it so well, and we see more than they.

Yet it is marvellous in what manner their sentiments are revered. It is made a crime to contradict them and an act of treason to add to them, as though they had left no more truths to be known.

Is not this to treat unworthily the reason of man and to put it on a level with the instinct of animals, since we take away the principal difference between them, which is that the effects of reason accumulate without ceasing, whilst instinct remains always in the same state? The cells of the bees were as correctly measured a thousand years ago as to-day, and each formed a hexagon as exactly the first time as the last. It is the same with all that the animals produce by this occult impulse. Nature instructs them in proportion as necessity impels them; but this fragile science is lost with the wants which give it birth: as they received it without study, they have not the happiness of preserving it; and every time it is given them it is new to them, since the…nature having for her object nothing but the maintenance of animals in a limited order of perfection, she inspires them with this necessary science…always the same, lest they may fall into decay, and does not permit them to add to it, lest they should exceed the limits that she has prescribed to them. It is not the same with man, who is formed only for infinity. He is ignorant at the earliest age of his life; but he is instructed unceasingly in his progress; for he derives advantage, not only from his own experience, but also from that of his predecessors; since he always retains in his memory the knowledge which he himself has once acquired, and since he has that of the ancients ever present in the books which they have bequeathed to him. And as he preserves this knowledge, he can also add to it easily; so that men are at the present day in some sort in the same condition in which those ancient philosophers would have been found, could they have survived till the present time, adding to the knowledge which they possessed that which their studies would have acquired by the aid of so many centuries. Thence it is that by an especial prerogative, not only does each man advance from day to day in the sciences, but all mankind together make continual progress in proportion as the world grows older, since the same thing happens in the succession of men as in the different ages of single individuals. So that the whole succession of men, during the course of many ages, should be considered as a single man who subsists forever and learns continually, whence we see with what injustice we respect antiquity in philosophers; for as old age is that period of life most remote from infancy, who does not see that old age in this universal man ought not to be sought in the times nearest his birth, but in those the most remote from it? Those whom we call ancient were really new in all things, and properly constituted the infancy of mankind; and as we have joined to their knowledge the experience of the centuries which have followed them, it is in ourselves that we should find this antiquity that we revere in others.

They should be admired for the results which they derived from the very few principles they possessed, and they should be excused for those in which they failed rather from the lack of the advantage of experience than the strength of reasoning.

For were they not excusable in the idea that they entertained of the milky way, when, the weakness of their vision not having yet received the assistance of art, they attributed this color to a greater density in that part of the heavens which reflected the light more strongly? But would we not be inexcusable for remaining in the same opinion, now that, by the aid of the advantages procured us by the telescope, we have discovered in it an infinite number of small stars, whose more abundant splendor has revealed to us the true cause of this whiteness!

Had they not also cause for saying that all corruptible bodies were inclosed within the orbit of the moon, when, during the course of so many ages they had not yet remarked either corruption or generation outside of this space?

But ought we not to be assured of the contrary, when the whole world has manifestly beheld comets kindle and disappear far beyond the limits of that sphere?

In the same way, in respect to vacuum, they had a right to say that nature would not suffer it, since all their experiments had always made them remark that she abhorred, and could not suffer it.

But if the modern experiments had been known to them, perhaps they would have found cause for affirming what they found cause for denying, for the reason that vacuum had not yet appeared. Thus, in the judgment they formed that nature would not suffer vacuum, they only heard nature spoken of in the condition in which they knew her; since, to speak in general terms, it would not have been sufficient to have seen it constantly in a hundred cases, a thousand, or any other number, however great it may have been; since, if a single case remained unexamined, this alone would suffice to prevent the general definition, and if a single one was contrary, this alone    

For in all matters the proof of which consists in experiments, and not in demonstrations, we can make no universal assertion, except by the general enumeration of all the parts and all the different cases. Thus it is that when we say that the diamond is the hardest of all bodies, we mean of all the bodies with which we are acquainted, and we neither can nor ought to comprehend in this assertion those with which we are not acquainted; and when we say that gold is the heaviest of all bodies, we should be presumptuous to comprehend in this general proposition those which have not yet come to our knowledge, although it is not impossible that they may exist in nature.

In the same manner, when the ancients affirmed that nature would not suffer a vacuum, they meant that she would not suffer it in any of the experiments they had seen, and they could not, without temerity, comprehend in it those which had not come to their knowledge. Had they done so, they would doubtless have drawn from them the same conclusions, and would, by their acknowledgment, have sanctioned them by this antiquity which it is sought at present to make the sole principle of the sciences.

Thus it is that, without contradicting them, we can affirm the contrary of what they say; and, whatever authority, in fine, this antiquity may have, truth should always have more, although newly discovered, since she is always older than all the opinions that we have had of her, and it would be showing ourselves ignorant of her nature to imagine that she may have begun to be at the time when she began to be known.


What is there more absurd than to say that inanimate bodies have passions, fears, horrors; that insensible bodies, without life, and even incapable of it, may have passions which presuppose a soul at least sensitive to experience them? Besides, if the object of this horror were a vacuum, what is there in a vacuum that could make them afraid? What is there meaner and more ridiculous?

This is not all; if they have in themselves a principle of motion to shun a vacuum, have they arms, legs, muscles, nerves?

  1. By some scholars this fragment is attributed to Mlle. Pascal.
  2. Ignoti nulla cupido—"We do not desire what we do not know."
  3. The rest of the phrase is wanting; and all this second part of the composition, either because it was not redacted by Pascal, or because it has been lost, is found neither in our MS. nor in Father Desmolets.—Faugère
  4. Montaigne, Essais, liv. III, chap. viii.―Faugère.
  5. Montaigne's expression is: "Feel on all sides how it is lodged in its author." Essais, same chapter.―Ibid.
  6. Civ. Dei, 1. XI, c. xxvi.
  7. Doubtless the logicians.―Faugère.
  8. The authenticity of this fragment is disputed.
  9. After this paragraph occur in the MS. the following lines, written in a finer hand, and inclosed in parenthesis: "…is much more to succeed in the one than the other, and I have chosen this science to attain it only because it alone knows the true rules of reasoning, and, without stopping at the rules of syllogisms which are so natural that we cannot be ignorant of them, stops and establishes itself upon the true method of conducting reasoning in all things, which almost every one is ignorant of, and which it is so advantageous to know, that we see by experience that among equal minds and like circumstances, he who possesses geometry bears it away, and acquires a new vigor. "I wish, therefore, to explain what demonstrations are by the example of those of geometry, which is almost the only one of the human sciences that produces infallible ones, because she alone observes the true method, whilst all the others are, through a natural necessity, in a sort of confusion, which the geometricians alone know exceedingly well how to comprehend." On the margin of this fragment is in the MS. the following note: "That which is in small characters was hidden under a paper, the edges of which were glued, and upon which was written the article beginning: I cannot better explain, etc."—Faugère.
  10. Pascal alludes here to Father Noël, a Jesuit, with whom he had had a warm discussion on the subject of his Expériences touchant le vide. In a letter that he wrote to Father Noël in 1647, he said: "The sentence which precedes your closing compliments defines light in these terms: Light is a luminous motion of rays composed of lucid, that is, luminous bodies; upon which, I have to tell you that it seems to me that you ought first to have defined what luminous is, and what a lucid or luminous body is, for till then, I cannot understand what light is. And as we never make use in definitions of the term of the thing defined, I should have difficulty in conforming to yours which says: Light is a luminary motion of a luminous body."—Faugère.
  11. Here the MS. adds in parenthesis: "(But as nature punishes all that science does not bestow, its order in truth does not give a superhuman perfection, but it has all that man can attain. It has seemed to me proper to give from the beginning of this discourse this, etc.).—Faugère.
  12. "God has made all things in weight, number and proportion."
  13. The word here underlined, which we restore by conjecture, is blank in the MS.―Faugère.
  14. Here seems to be needed theological matters.―Ibid.
  15. Break of two or three words in the MS. We supply them by the words italicized.―Faugère.