Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) was a late Renaissance man—philosopher, mathematician, physicist, inventor, and writer. He discovered the direct relationship between barometric pressure and altitude; he constructed the first functional mechanical calculator; he established in Paris the world’s first public transportation system; he solved innumerable “impossible” problems of mathematics; but probably his greatest legacy to the world were his “thoughts.” Discovered after his death, jotted on scraps of paper scattered and hidden among his belongings, were over 900 random thoughts and fragments of thoughts that have come to be known in Western literature as the Pensées of Pascal. These fragments preserve for us Pascal’s attempt, as he was dying in his late 30s, to systematize on paper a grand apology for the Christian faith.

That this was his design is certain, for four years before his death he revealed to his friends a verbal outline of the comprehensive work he had in mind. When his papers were examined it was recognized that many of the 900 jotted thoughts were the raw material of his projected Apology. These have been published in various arrangements as different editors have attempted to pull the fragments into logical groupings. The reconstruction of the intended Apology from the Pensées remains one of the most tantalizing textual problems in literary history.

The following fragment may reveal Pascal’s own conceptual outline for his unfinished work:

“First part: Misery of man without God. Second part: Happiness of man with God.” Or, “First part: That nature is corrupt. Proved by nature itself. Second part: That there is a redeemer. Proved by Scripture” (60). (Léon Brunschvicg’s numbering scheme for the fragments is the arrangement ...

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