Musing about man’s moral incertitude, Blaise Pascal sought deliverance from doubt in the insistent demands of the heart. Against all reliance on theology, dogmatic or philosophical, we recover our dignity and repossess our faith as true passion charges life with meaning.
Pascal (1623 - 1662) was a child prodigy; French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer and Christian philosopher. His most influential theological work, referred to posthumously as the Pensées (“Thoughts”), was not completed before his death. It was to have been a sustained and coherent examination and defense of the Christian faith, with the original title “Apologie de la religion Chrétienne,” (“Defense of the Christian Religion”).
One of the Apologie’s main strategies was to use the contradictory philosophies of skepticism and stoicism, personalized by Montaigne on one hand, and Epictetus on the other, in order to bring the unbeliever to such despair and confusion that he would embrace God:
“For after all what is man in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either. The ends of things and their beginnings are impregnably concealed from him in an impenetrable secret. He is equally incapable of seeing the nothingness out of which he was drawn and the infinite in which he is engulfed.”
- Pensées No. 72
Jean Paul Sartre’s (1905 - 1980) concerns about the nature of being are elucidated in his philosophical masterpiece, “Being and Nothingness.” In it he defines two types of reality that lie beyond our conscious experience: the nature or essence of the object of consciousness and that of consciousness itself.
The young Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and longtime friend Raymond Aron, a fellow philosopher, met over apricot cocktails at the Bec-de-Gaz bar on the rue Montparnasse in Paris in 1933. Their reunion would ignite a movement, inspiring Sartre to integrate Phenomenology into his own French, humanistic sensibility, thereby creating an entirely new philosophical approach inspired by themes of radical freedom, authentic being and political activism.