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The Pensées

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. The concept, but not the term, “Pascal’s Wager” stems from a portion of this work. The Pensées is in fact a name given posthumously to his fragments, which he had been preparing for an Apology for the Christian Religion which was never completed.

Although the Pensées appears 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.  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.   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.

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