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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index P > Blaise Pascal Quotes

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Blaise Pascal
(19 Jun 1623 - 19 Aug 1662)

French mathematician and physicist who was a child prodigy. In mathematics, he developed a theory of probabilities. In physics, he invented the hydraulic press and formulated Pascal’s Law for pressure.


Science Quotes by Blaise Pascal (29 quotes)

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La puissance des mouches. Elles gagnent des batailles, empêchent notre âme d’agir, mangent notre corps.
Flies are so mighty that they win battles, paralyse our minds, eat up our bodies.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées (1670), No. 367, translated by A. J. Krailsheimer (1995), 6. Original French text in Pensées de Pascal: publiées dans leur texte authentique (1866), Vol. 1, 176, No. 120.
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L’homme n’est qu’un roseau, le plus faible de la nature, mais c’est un roseau pensant. Il ne faut pas que l’univers entier s’arme pour l’écraser; une vapeur, une goutte d’eau suffit pour le tuer. Mais quand l’univers l’écraserait, l’homme serait encore plus noble que ce qui le tue, parce qu’il sait qu’il meurt et l’avantage que l’univers a sur lui; l’univers n'en sait rien.
Man is a reed, the feeblest thing in nature. But a reed that can think. The whole universe need not fly to arms to kill him ; for a little heat or a drop of water can slay a man. But, even then, man would be nobler than his destroyer, for he would know he died, while the whole universe would know nothing of its victory.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées. As given and translated in Hugh Percy Jones (ed.), Dictionary of Foreign Phrases and Classical Quotations (1908), 292.
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L’homme n’est qu’un roseau, le plus faible de la nature; mais c’est un roseau pensant.
Man is but a reed, the weakest thing in nature; but a thinking reed.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées (1670), Section 1, aphorism 160. In H.F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal’s Pensées (1950), 83.
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On se persuade mieux, pour l’ordinaire, par les raisons qu’on a soi-même trouvées, que par celles qui sont venues dans l’esprit des autres.
We are generally more effectually persuaded by reasons we have ourselves discovered than by those which have occurred to others.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées (1670), Section 1, aphorism 18. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 11. Original French text in Pensées de Pascal: publiées dans leur texte authentique (1866), Vol. 1, 99.
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Puisqu'on ne peut être universel en sachant tout ce qui se peut sur tout, il faut savoir peu de tout. Car il est bien plus beau de savoir quelque chose de tout que de savoir rout d'une chose; cette universalité est la plus belle. Si on pouvait avoir les deux, encore mieux.
Since we cannot be universal and know all that is to be known of everything, we ought to know a little about everything, For it is far better to know something about everything than to know all about one thing.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées. Quoted in Nigel Rees, Brewer's Famous Quotations: 5000 Quotations and the Stories Behind Them (2006), 249.

A game is on, at the other end of this infinite distance, and heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason you cannot leave either; according to reason you cannot leave either undone... Yes, but wager you must; there is no option, you have embarked on it. So which will you have. Come. Since you must choose, let us see what concerns you least. You have two things to lose: truth and good, and two things to stake: your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness. And your nature has two things to shun: error and misery. Your reason does not suffer by your choosing one more than the other, for you must choose. That is one point cleared. But your happiness? Let us weigh gain and loss in calling heads that God is. Reckon these two chances: if you win, you win all; if you lose, you lose naught. Then do not hesitate, wager that He is.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées (1670), Section I, aphorism 223. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 117-119.
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Faith is different from proof; the latter is human, the former is a Gift from God.
— Blaise Pascal
Quoted in Kim Lim (ed.), 1,001 Pearls of Spiritual Wisdom: Words to Enrich, Inspire, and Guide Your Life (2014), 42
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I have made this one [letter] longer than usual because I did not have the leisure to make it shorter.
— Blaise Pascal
The Provincial Letters, Letter XVI, to the Reverend Jesuit Fathers (4 Dec 1656), ed. A. J. Krailsheimer (1967), 257.
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I have spent much time in the study of the abstract sciences; but the paucity of persons with whom you can communicate on such subjects disgusted me with them. When I began to study man, I saw that these abstract sciences are not suited to him, and that in diving into them, I wandered farther from my real object than those who knew them not, and I forgave them for not having attended to these things. I expected then, however, that I should find some companions in the study of man, since it was so specifically a duty. I was in error. There are fewer students of man than of geometry.
— Blaise Pascal
Thoughts of Blaise Pascal (1846), 137.
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I will paint for [man] not only the visible universe, but all that he can conceive of nature’s immensity in the womb of an atom.
— Blaise Pascal
In 'The Misery of Man Without God', Blaise Pascal (1910), Vol. 48, 27, as translated by W.F. Trotter.
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Knowledge of physical science will not console me for ignorance of morality in time of affliction, but knowledge of morality will always console me for ignorance of physical science.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées (1670), No. 23, translated by A. J. Krailsheimer (1995), 6.
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Let him look at that dazzling light hung aloft as an eternal lamp to lighten the universe; let him behold the earth, a mere dot compared with the vast circuit which that orb describes, and stand amazed to find that the vast circuit itself is but a very fine point compared with the orbit traced by the stars as they roll their course on high. But if our vision halts there, let imagination pass beyond; it will fail to form a conception long before Nature fails to supply material. The whole visible world is but an imperceptible speck in the ample bosom of Nature. No notion comes near it. Though we may extend our thought beyond imaginable space, yet compared with reality we bring to birth mere atoms. Nature is an infinite sphere whereof the centre is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, imagination is brought to silence at the thought, and that is the most perceptible sign of the all-power of God.
Let man reawake and consider what he is compared with the reality of things; regard himself lost in this remote corner of Nature; and from the tiny cell where he lodges, to wit the Universe, weigh at their true worth earth, kingdoms, towns, himself. What is a man face to face with infinity?
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées (1670), Section 1, aphorism 43. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 19.
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Mathematics contain a great number of premises, and there is perhaps a kind of intellect that can search with ease a few premises to the bottom, and cannot in the least penetrate those matters in which there are many premises.
— Blaise Pascal
In Pascal’s Pensées (1958), 3.
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Rivers are roads which move, and which carry us whither we desire to go.
— Blaise Pascal
In Pascal’s Pensées (1958), 6.
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The eternal silence of these infinite spaces fills me with dread.
— Blaise Pascal
Blaise Pascal and A. J. Krailsheimer (trans.), Pensées (1966, Rev. ed. 1995), 66.
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The greater intellect one has, the more originality one finds in men. Ordinary persons find no difference between men.
— Blaise Pascal
In Pascal’s Pensées (1958), 4.
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The parts of the universe … all are connected with each other in such a way that I think it to be impossible to understand any one without the whole.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées, no. 72. Quoted in Erhard Scheibe and Brigitte Falkenburg (ed), Between Rationalism and Empiricism: Selected Papers in the Philosophy of Physics (2001), 25.
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The state of man is changeableness, ennui, anxiety.
Condition de l’homme, inconstance, ennui, inquietude.
— Blaise Pascal
From Pensées Art. vi, 46. In Craufurd Tait Ramage, Beautiful Thoughts from French and Italian Authors (1866), 239.
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There are then two kinds of intellect: the one able to penetrate acutely and deeply into the conclusions of given premises, and this is the precise intellect; the other able to comprehend a great number of premises without confusing them, and this is the mathematical intellect. The one has force and exactness, the other comprehension. Now the one quality can exist without the other; the intellect can be strong and narrow, and can also be comprehensive and weak.
— Blaise Pascal
In Pascal’s Pensées (1958), 3.
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They say that habit is second nature. Who knows but nature is only first habit?
— Blaise Pascal
As quoted in epigraph in Edward Kasner and James Newman, Mathematics and the Imagination (1940, 1949), 112.
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Those who judge of a work by rule are in regard to others as those who have a watch are in regard to others. One says, “It is two hours ago”; the other says, “It is only three-quarters of an hour.” I look at my watch, and say to the one, “You are weary,” and to the other, “Time gallops with you”; for it is only an hour and a half ago, and I laugh at those who tell me that time goes slowly with me, and that I judge by imagination. They do not know that I judge by my watch.
— Blaise Pascal
In Pascal’s Pensées (1958), 3-4.
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Through space the universe grasps me and swallows me up like a speck. But through thought I grasp it.
— Blaise Pascal
Penseés trans. A.J. Krailsheimer (1966), No. 13. In Vinoth Ramachandra, Subverting Global Myths: Theology and the Public Issues Shaping our World (2008), 183.
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We are never in search of things, but always in search of the search.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées No. 135. As cited in Eric Voegeli, From Enlightenment to Revolution (1975), 53.
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We know that there is an infinite, and we know not its nature. As we know it to be false that numbers are finite, it is therefore true that there is a numerical infinity. But we know not of what kind; it is untrue that it is even, untrue that it is odd; for the addition of a unit does not change its nature; yet it is a number, and every number is odd or even (this certainly holds of every finite number). Thus we may quite well know that there is a God without knowing what He is.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées (1670), Section 1, aphorism 223. In H. F. Stewart (ed.), Pascal's Pensées (1950), 117.
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We know the truth not only through our reason but also through our heart. It is through the latter that we know first principles, and reason, which has nothing to do with it, tries in vain to refute them.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées (1670), trans. A. J. Krailsheimer (1966), Section 1, VI, aphorism 110, 58.
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What a chimera ... is man ! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a prodigy! A judge of all things, feeble worm of the earth, depository of the truth, cloacae of uncertainty and error, the glory and the shame of the universe!
— Blaise Pascal
…...
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When everything moves at the same time, nothing moves in appearance.
Quand tout se remue également, rien ne se remue en apparence.
— Blaise Pascal
From Pensées Art. vi, 27. In Craufurd Tait Ramage, Beautiful Thoughts from French and Italian Authors (1866), 237.
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You see, if the height of the mercury [barometer] column is less on the top of a mountain than at the foot of it (as I have many reasons for believing, although everyone who has so far written about it is of the contrary opinion), it follows that the weight of the air must be the sole cause of the phenomenon, and not that abhorrence of a vacuum, since it is obvious that at the foot of the mountain there is more air to have weight than at the summit, and we cannot possibly say that the air at the foot of the mountain has a greater aversion to empty space than at the top.
— Blaise Pascal
In letter to brother-in-law Perier (Nov 1647) as given in Daniel Webster Hering, Physics: the Science of the Forces of Nature (1922), 114. As also stated by Hering, Perier conducted an experiment on 19 Sep 1648 comparing readings on two barometers, one at the foot, and another at the top of 4,000-ft Puy-de-Dôme neighboring mountain.
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…what is man in the midst of nature? A nothing in comparison with the infinite, an all in comparison with nothingness: a mean between nothing and all. Infinitely far from comprehending the extremes, the end of things and their principle are for him inevitably concealed in an impenetrable secret; equally incapable of seeing the nothingness whence he is derived, and the infinity in which he is swallowed up.
— Blaise Pascal
Pensées. Collected in Blaise Pascal and O.W. Wright (trans.), The Thoughts, Letters and Opuscules of Blaise Pascal (1859), 160. There are versions by other translators. For example, an alternate translation for the last sentence is: [Man is] “equally incapable of seeing the nothingness from which he emerges and the infinity in which he is engulfed.”
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Quotes by others about Blaise Pascal (7)

I came to biochemistry through chemistry; I came to chemistry, partly by the labyrinthine routes that I have related, and partly through the youthful romantic notion that the natural sciences had something to do with nature. What I liked about chemistry was its clarity surrounded by darkness; what attracted me, slowly and hesitatingly, to biology was its darkness surrounded by the brightness of the givenness of nature, the holiness of life. And so I have always oscillated between the brightness of reality and the darkness of the unknowable. When Pascal speaks of God in hiding, Deus absconditus, we hear not only the profound existential thinker, but also the great searcher for the reality of the world. I consider this unquenchable resonance as the greatest gift that can be bestowed on a naturalist.
Heraclitean Fire: Sketches from a Life before Nature (1978), 55.
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In the last fifteen years we have witnessed an event that, I believe, is unique in the history of the natural sciences: their subjugation to and incorporation into the whirls and frenzies of disgusting publicity and propaganda. This is no doubt symptomatic of the precarious position assigned by present-day society to any form of intellectual activity. Such intellectual pursuits have at all times been both absurd and fragile; but they become ever more ludicrous when, as is now true of science, they become mass professions and must, as homeless pretentious parasites, justify their right to exist in a period devoted to nothing but the rapid consumption of goods and amusements. These sciences were always a divertissement in the sense in which Pascal used the word; but what is their function in a society living under the motto lunam et circenses? Are they only a band of court jesters in search of courts which, if they ever existed, have long lost their desire to be amused?
Voices in the Labyrinth: Nature, Man, and Science (1979), 27.
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Science can tell us what exists; but to compare the worths, both of what exists and of what does not exist, we must consult not science, but what Pascal calls our heart.
'The Will to Believe' (1896). In The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897), 22.
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Distrust even Mathematics; albeit so sublime and highly perfected, we have here a machine of such delicacy it can only work in vacuo, and one grain of sand in the wheels is enough to put everything out of gear. One shudders to think to what disaster such a grain of sand may bring a Mathematical brain. Remember Pascal.
The Garden of Epicurus (1894) translated by Alfred Allinson, in The Works of Anatole France in an English Translation (1920), 187.
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As far as I see, such a theory [of the primeval atom] remains entirely outside any metaphysical or religious question. It leaves the materialist free to deny any transcendental Being. He may keep, for the bottom of space-time, the same attitude of mind he has been able to adopt for events occurring in non-singular places in space-time. For the believer, it removes any attempt to familiarity with God, as were Laplace's chiquenaude or Jeans' finger. It is consonant with the wording of Isaiah speaking of the 'Hidden God' hidden even in the beginning of the universe ... Science has not to surrender in face of the Universe and when Pascal tries to infer the existence of God from the supposed infinitude of Nature, we may think that he is looking in the wrong direction.
'The Primeval atom Hypothesis and the Problem of Clusters of Galaxies', in R. Stoops (ed.), La Structure et l'Evolution de l'Univers (1958), 1-32. Trans. Helge Kragh, Cosmology and Controversy: The Historical Development of Two Theories of the Universe (1996), 60.
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Foreshadowings of the principles and even of the language of [the infinitesimal] calculus can be found in the writings of Napier, Kepler, Cavalieri, Pascal, Fermat, Wallis, and Barrow. It was Newton's good luck to come at a time when everything was ripe for the discovery, and his ability enabled him to construct almost at once a complete calculus.
History of Mathematics (3rd Ed., 1901), 366.
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Kepler’s discovery would not have been possible without the doctrine of conics. Now contemporaries of Kepler—such penetrating minds as Descartes and Pascal—were abandoning the study of geometry ... because they said it was so UTTERLY USELESS. There was the future of the human race almost trembling in the balance; for had not the geometry of conic sections already been worked out in large measure, and had their opinion that only sciences apparently useful ought to be pursued, the nineteenth century would have had none of those characters which distinguish it from the ancien régime.
From 'Lessons from the History of Science: The Scientific Attitude' (c.1896), in Collected Papers (1931), Vol. 1, 32.
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See also:
  • 19 Jun - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Pascal's birth.
  • Blaise Pascal - context of quote “Flies are so mighty” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Blaise Pascal - context of quote “Flies are so mighty” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Blaise Pascal - context of quote “Reasons we have ourselves discovered” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Blaise Pascal - context of quote “Reasons we have ourselves discovered” - Large image (800 x 400 px)
  • Blaise Pascal - context of quote “Knowledge of morality” - Medium image (500 x 250 px)
  • Blaise Pascal - context of quote “Knowledge of morality” - Large image (800 x 400 px)

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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