In Job's Balances \ III \ Gethsemane Night|
Pascal dared to do this, and herein lies the paradoxical character of his philosophy, herein also its strength and its great attraction. The praise and approval, the blame and reproaches of that reason qua nos laudabiles vel vituperabiles sumus, and which according to the doctrine of the Stoics and Pelagians was alone able to raise a man up or cast him down, suddenly became to him adiaphoron (indifferent).
The change of values is complete. According to the Hellenic conception the real was negligible, to Pascal the ideal. The summum bonum of the philosophers becomes the butt of his ceaseless and mordant sarcasm. "Ceux qui les croient, sont les plus vides et les plus sots" ("Those who believe in them are the most empty and foolish of men"), he says of the philosophers. And again, in particularly provocative and curt fashion: "Les bêtes ne s'admirent point. Un cheval n'admire point son compagnon. Ce n'est pas qu'il n'y ait entre eux de l'émulation à la course, mais c'est sans conséquence; car, étant à l'étable, le plus pesant et le plus mal taillé n'en cède pas son avoine à l'autre, comme les hommes veulent qu'on leur fasse. Leur vertu se satisfait d'elle-même." ("The brutes do not admire each other. A horse does not admire his companion. Not that there is no rivalry between them in a race, but that is of no consequence; for in the stable, the heavier and most ill-formed does not give up his oats to the other, as men would have others do to them. Their virtue is satisfied with itself.") This ideal of the Stoics - that virtue is its own reward - Pascal finds realized in the stable. St. Augustine, too, as we know, disliked Stoicism and belittled it on every occasion, in and out of season. If the words so long attributed to him: virtutes gentium splendida vitia sunt (the virtues of the gentiles are only splendid vices) - if these words are not his, he at least said the almost identical words, virtutes gentium potius vitia sunt (the virtues of the gentiles are rather their vices). Yet he never thought of seeking and finding the Stoic ideal among the animals. He was too much attached to ancient philosophy, and his Christianity was too much permeated by Hellenism.
Pascal himself did not find it easy to escape the ideology which governed his own day. He laughs at the Stoics, and is indignant at "virtue which is its own reward", or in modern phraseology "autonomous morality"; he thinks the place for this is in the stable, that it is suitable for horses but not for men. This did not prevent him from eternally repeating, "le moi est haïssable" ("the ego is hateful"), a principle in which Stoic morality is as plainly implicit as it is in the words of which Pascal makes such mock. For all morality, be it of Epictetus or of Marcus Aurelius, of Kant or of Hegel, is derived from the hatred of the human "ego". What does this mean? Is Pascal following Augustine and returning to morality and Pelagianism? Many critics think so, and would see in Pascal a moralist, but they are quite wrong.
He certainly inherited this idea of the hatefulness of self from ancient philosophy. Yet this hatred of the ego had quite a different significance for him than for any other philosopher, ancient or modern. His submission to fate is as unlike the submission of a Stoic as his asceticism which provoked, and still provokes, so much irritation even among his most ardent admirers. The Stoics persecuted the ego with genuine zeal, hoping to kill and annihilate it; for it was only by so doing that they could assure the final triumph of their principles and ideas. A principle can only gain a definite victory when no one any longer opposes or contradicts it. For who but the ego has wrestled so unintermittently throughout the ages against this principle? And what enemy has given it so much trouble and anxiety? The ego is the most irrational of all God's creatures; it is the incarnation of revolt. Pascal knows it, he does not forget the words "subjicite et dominamini" ("submit and have dominion") which God addressed to the first man after blessing him. Would he be prepared to deliver man into the power of dead, self-sufficient principles? Hear what he has to say:
One could not find a better definition of the ideal of modern philosophy than this: a single, immaterial, eternal truth, from which of necessity proceed many other truths, equally immaterial and equally eternal. It is true that even today, three hundred years after Descartes, men are still far from the realization of this ideal, but it is so dear to them that they reverence it and cherish it as though it had already been realized. "Nasciturus pro jam nato habetur." ("That which is about to be born is considered as already born.") But Pascal, who has brought this ideal before the supreme tribunal where neither our "miserable justice" nor our "incurable, presumptuous reason" is regarded, declares that though you might succeed in attaining to these eternal and immaterial truths, however well adapted to one another, yet their value would be nil. They would not help you to save your soul.
"Quand un homme serait persuadé que les proportions des nombres sont des vérités immatérielles, éternelles et dépendantes d'une première vérité en qui elles subsistent et qu'on appelle Dieu, je ne le trouverai pas beaucoup avancé pour son salut." ("Though a man might be persuaded that the proportions of numbers are immaterial and eternal truths, dependent on a prime truth in which they have their being, and which is called God, yet I think he would not greatly have advanced his salvation.") Thus speaks Pascal, while all modern philosophy, following in the steps of the old, has had but one wish since Descartes (even before him): to express the essence of creation in mathematical formulae.
Reason and morality will of course protest: does a truth cease to be true because it is useless to the soul? Is there any one in the world so daring that he will refuse to obey reason and call justice "miserable"? Truth and morality are autonomous, and legislate for themselves. They are not subject, they do not obey; they command. They issue from that reason of which Pascal himself said that it was the most terrible thing to disobey it.
And what has set itself up against reason, against those eternal and immaterial truths? The soul. Again the same ego which Pascal, who passed through the school of Epictetus, taught us to hate. For it must be perfectly evident that nothing is better calculated to tame man's "egotistical" tendencies than immaterial and eternal truth as expounded by the philosophers; consequently, if one were to search everywhere for a principle which could curb the pretensions of rebellious individuality, one could not conceive of a God more capable of doing so than the Hellenic God as suggested to Pascal by the "philosophers". There could be no better "tamer" than the summum bonum of them all, especially Epictetus and his disciples, down to Marcus Aurelius, the imperial philosopher. For what the Stoics call living conformably to nature - têi physei - means living conformably to reason, i.e. contrary to nature. The Stoics themselves would have approved of Pascal's iron girdle, which symbolized his willingness to submit his "ego" to one or more of the eternal and immaterial truths. The Stoics, like Pascal, saw plainly that unless the "ego" were first annihilated there could never be any unity or order. The human "egos" are infinitely numerous, each one considers itself the center of the universe and demands to be treated as though he were alone in existence. There can obviously be no way of reconciling these demands and satisfying them all. Until the "ego" has been abolished, there will always be chaos and ineptitude instead of union and harmony. The task of reason is precisely to introduce order into creation, and that is why it has the power to exact obedience from all. For this cause - again that there should be order in the world - reason has invented morality, and shares with it its own sovereign prerogatives. The ultimate fate of mankind is to prostrate itself before the claims of reason and morality, and to submit itself to their autonomous principles. And at the same time, this obedience constitutes our greatest good, the summum bonum.
I repeat that the philosophers taught all this and Pascal repeated it after them. But his method of following them is strange. While repeating the philosophers' words, he says exactly the opposite of what they teach. This peace which reason and morality bring to man does not interest Pascal in the least. To him it means the end, non-existence, death. Hence his strange "methodological" rule: Seek with lamentation. You will not find this in the handbooks of logic of Pascal's day, nor in modern works. On the contrary: The wise man must forget his desires, his fears, his hopes, and be prepared to accept any truth, though by its very nature it is absolutely indifferent to human needs. This is so self-evident that it is hardly mentioned in the Discourse of Method. It is true that we find in Bacon reflections on various kinds of idola which distort our objective investigations. But only Spinoza declares, as though answering Pascal, of whom he probably never even heard, with impatience and irritation: "Non ridere, non lugere, neque detestari, sed intelligere." ("Laugh not, weep not, be not wroth, but understand.")
Pascal makes quite other demands: you must positively laugh, weep, and grow wroth, else your search will avail you nothing. With what right does Pascal make these demands? Have they any meaning? The question is fundamental, for here lies the root of the whole difference between Pascal and modern philosophy. If you adopt Pascal's methodological rule you will have one truth, if Spinoza's rule, quite another. Spinoza's ideal was the "intelligence". And for Spinoza the ego was in fact always "hateful". For we must never forget that the "ego" is the most refractory, and therefore the most incomprehensible and irrational thing in the world. "Understanding" only becomes possible when the human "ego" has been deprived of all its individual rights and prerogatives, when it has become a "thing" or a "phenomenon" among the other things and phenomena of nature. The choice must be made: either the ideal and intangible order with its eternal and immaterial truths, that order which Pascal had rejected and whose adoption reduces the medieval idea of the salvation of the soul to an utter absurdity; or else the capricious, discontented, restless, yearning "ego" which always refuses to recognize the supremacy of "truths", either material or ideal. He who undertakes to achieve understanding must be like the Stoics and other philosophers of old, must flee the self, hate it and annihilate it in order to make possible the realization of the objective world-order. But he who, like Pascal, sees in "understanding" the beginning of death, and finds his vocation in the fight against death, cannot hate the "ego". In the "ego", and only in the "ego" and its irrationality, lies the hope that it may be possible to dissipate the hypnosis of mathematical truth which the philosophers, misled by its immateriality and eternity, have put in the place of God.