"I know of no religious writer more pertinent to our time." (T. S. Eliot)
"The liveliest, most eloquent apology of Christianity ever written." (AudioFile)
This audiobook begins with an analysis of the difference between mathematical and intuitive thinking and goes on to consider the value of skepticism, contradictions, feeling, memory, and imagination. Much of the value of the Pensées results from the clarity with which Pascal was able to present his intuitive thoughts.
Pascal spent much of his life composing this magnum opus, which offers some of the most powerful aphorisms about human experience and behavior ever written.
- Thomas Phelan
Great work, mediocre audio version
I gave this 4 stars because even if read by the Chipmunks the Pensees deserves 4 stars.
I avoided Pascal for years because I was aware of the argument from his famous Wager and profoundly disagreed with it so I felt he didn't have much to offer. Fortunately, I became convinced of the importance of Pascal so I read the Pensees years ago with low expectations. It shocked me. While I still profoundly disagree with the Wager, as a whole the work is one of the most profound I have ever read and it is one I return to often. In a few words, Pascal understood man. One example... "We are so presumptuous that we should like to be known all over the world, even by people who will only come when we are no more. Such is our vanity that the good opinion of half a dozen of the people around us gives us pleasure and satisfaction."
Now a few words about the audio book itself. First, the choice of narrator is completely wrong. While competent as a narrator, his deep scholarly voice makes the work sound like it is encrusted in cobwebs and of no practical importance. I almost stopped listening because I didn't want to come to associate the voice with the work. This would be my greatest fear for those who have never read the Pensees. The voice reading the Pensees should be one of an earnest friend not a hoary scholar.
Second, I don't like the translation. It too is archaic and sometimes sounds like the King James Bible. I much prefer the organization and translation by A.J. Krailsheimer.
If you can find an UNABRIDGED version with a different narrator and ideally based on the Krailsheimer translation then definitely go with that. However, my criticisms aside, this audio book is still is the Pensees and well worth your time and money if you can't find a better audio version.
Story telling by Aphorisms
There are multiple levels to this book. It works best when he's sharing his wisdom by using aphorisms (short pithy and usually wise statements ). They're so many pearls within this book that it wouldn't be worthwhile to highlight with a highlighter because you would highlight over half of the book. Pascal really has a great way of looking at the world and giving a smart sounding soundbite.
Matter of fact, I would say this is one of the best self help books I've ever came across. He clearly also had parts of a book ready to be published before he died. That's the parts where he proves the truth of the Christian faith by prophecy and its miracles with plenty of bible quotes and those parts flowed more like a book.
From time to time, I dip my toes into apologetic modern writers and not a one has done as well as Pascal does with this book.
In addition, Pascal does a really good job of using reason to show that reason can't give you faith, and, furthermore it will take away the mysteries that he holds so dearly.
I had recently read Hobbes "Leviathan" and the contrast with this book is enlightening. Hobbes sees the world 'deductively' and would starts with axioms, definitions and universals and then argue his points. Pascal does the opposite for the most part, he goes to the particular to the particular and then to the general. Both touch on many of the same themes, but, for example, Hobbes will argue the Papist are flawed and miracles are suspect, while Pascal will argue for the truth of the only true universal church (Catholicism) and miracles are necessary for Christianity. To Pascal tradition, culture and faith rule supremely, Hobbes says the opposite. It's clear which of the two the Enlightenment embraced and which one they ignored.
The book is much more than just about religion (though a lot of it is). His world view and his use of aphorisms cohere much more than Nietzsche's do. These two thinkers, Nietzsche and Pascal are completely antithetical but use a similar approach in edifying.
I have a problem with using aphorisms for making your points. One can read into them something that is not true and almost always there opposite can be just as true. ("A wise man holds his tongue before speaking", oh my, how wise how deep. But wait it can be just as true that "the wise should always speak (after all he is wise)").
He's good at his logic. One of my favorites was something like "the epicureans and stoics conclusions are right but we know they are wrong since if there premises were negated they would still be just as true". That's a really interesting way of demonstrating proof by contradiction, but the same logic could be applied to his core beliefs too I suspect.
I had to reflect on his statement "that we know there is one true religion because there are very many false religions". I realized he is actually right, but it's for an obscure reason and I'll let the reader figure out for himself. (Oh heck, I'll tell ya. For there to be a 'false religion' there must be a true religion otherwise there can be no such thing as religion. Look it's his argument not mine).
Overall his method of argumentation is better than most modern day apologia, there is a large portion of the book that deals with witty sayings that can help one cope with the day-to-day, most modern day apologetic arguments go no further than what's in this book, and it's fun to watch someone using reason to defeat reason.
I've loved Pascal every time I've read his work, but I couldn't finish reading this production. The reading is dull, lifeless, but I've suffered through that before. In this production, the reader and producer collude to crash chapters and thoughts into one another like a slow motion train wreck. A moment's hesitation, or at least a deep breath once in a while, would have been appreciated.