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The Pensées (literally, "thoughts") represented a defense of the Christian religion by Blaise Pascal, the renowned 17th century philosopher and mathematician. Pascal's religious conversion led him into a life of asceticism, and the Pensées was in many ways his life's work."Pascal's Wager" is found here. The Pensées is in fact a name given posthumously to his fragments, which he had been preparing for an Apology of Christian Religion which was never completed.

Although they appear to consist of ideas and jottings, some of which are incomplete, it is believed that Pascal had, prior to his death in 1662, already planned out the order of the book and had begun the task of cutting and pasting his draft notes into a coherent form. His task incomplete, subsequent editors have disagreed on the order, if any, in which his writings should be read.[1] Those responsible for his effects, failing to recognize the basic structure of the work, handed them over to be edited, and they were published in 1669.[2] The first English translation was made in 1688 by John Walker.[3] It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that scholars began to understand Pascal's intention. In the 1990s, decisive philological achievements were made, and the edition by Philippe Sellier of the book contains his "thoughts" in more or less the order he left them.

Several attempts have been made to arrange the notes systematically; notable editions include those of Brunschvicg, Louis Lafuma, and (most recently) Sellier. (See, also, the monumental edition of his Oeuvres complètes (1964–1991), which is known as the Tercentenary Edition and was realized by Jean Mesnard;[4] this edition reviews the dating, history, and critical bibliography of each of Pascal's texts.) Although Brunschvicg tried to classify the posthume fragments according to themes, recent research has prompted Sellier to choose entirely different classifications, as Pascal often examined the same event or example through many different lenses [5].

The original layout of the individual notes was in fact recorded in situ, although this was not reflected in published editions of the work until recently, because the colleagues of Pascal who edited his notes after his death switched the order of the book's two main sections. Early editions led off with the traditional Christian content, leaving Pascal's reflections on the human condition until the end. The structure of the apology Pascal intended is best described by H. F. Stewart D.D. in the preface to his translation of the Pensees: Part I shows "from Nature" that man is wretched without God, Part II shows "from Scripture" that Jesus is the Redeemer of mankind. Part I subdivides into Ia (man without God) and Ib (man with God) to show man's inherent wretchedness. The themes of Part I are largely in the tone of vanitas mundi, after the tradition of the Hebrew Bible's book of Ecclesiastes, while the many short maxims inserted into the text are reminiscent of the Book of Proverbs.[6]

See also

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