From Pensées, Blaise Pascal 1660, Trotter trans.
233. Infinite—nothing.—Our soul is cast into a body, where it finds number,
dimension. Thereupon it reasons, and calls this nature necessity, and can believe
Unity joined to infinity adds nothing to it, no more than one foot to an infinite
measure. The finite is annihilated in the presence of the infinite, and becomes a pure
nothing. So our spirit before God, so our justice before divine justice. There is not so
great a disproportion between our justice and that of God as between unity and infinity.
The justice of God must be vast like His compassion. Now justice to the outcast
is less vast and ought less to offend our feelings than mercy towards the elect.
We know that there is an infinite, and are ignorant of its nature. As we know it to
be false that numbers are finite, it is therefore true that there is an infinity in number. But
we do not know what it is. It is false that it is even, it is false that it is odd; for the
addition of a unit can make no change in its nature. Yet it is a number, and every
number is odd or even (this is certainly true of every finite number). So we may well
know that there is a God without knowing what He is. Is there not one substantial truth,
seeing there are so many things which are not the truth itself?
We know then the existence and nature of the finite, because we also are finite
and have extension. We know the existence of the infinite and are ignorant of its nature,
because it has extension like us, but not limits like us. But we know neither the
existence nor the nature of God, because He has neither extension nor limits.
But by faith we know His existence; in glory we shall know His nature. Now, I
have already shown that we may well know the existence of a thing, without knowing its
Let us now speak according to natural lights.
If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor
limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if
He is. This being so, who will dare to undertake the decision of the question? Not we,
who have no affinity to Him.
Who then will blame Christians for not being able to give a reason for their belief,
since they profess a religion for which they cannot give a reason? They declare, in
expounding it to the world, that it is a foolishness, stultitiam (Cor. 1:21.): and then you
complain that they do not prove it! If they proved it, they would not keep their word; it is
in lacking proofs that they are not lacking in sense. "Yes, but although this excuses
those who offer it as such and takes away from them the blame of putting it forward
without reason, it does not excuse those who receive it." Let us then examine this point,
and say, "God is, or He is not." But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide
nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at
the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you
wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according
to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.
Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know
nothing about it. "No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice;
for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault,
they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all. "Yes; but you must
wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see.
Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to
lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your
knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and
misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since
you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us
weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances.
If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation
that He is. "That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much."
Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two
lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you
would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be
imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game
where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and
happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only
would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act
stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in
which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an
infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain,
a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite.
It is all divided; where-ever the infinite is and there is not an infinity of chances of loss
against that of gain, there is no time to hesitate, you must give all. And thus, when one
is forced to play, he must renounce reason to preserve his life, rather than risk it for
infinite gain, as likely to happen as the loss of nothingness.
For it is no use to say it is uncertain if we will gain, and it is certain that we risk,
and that the infinite distance between the certainly of what is staked and the uncertainty
of what will be gained, equals the finite good which is certainly staked against the
uncertain infinite. It is not so, as every player stakes a certainty to gain an uncertainty,
and yet he stakes a finite certainty to gain a finite uncertainty, without transgressing
against reason. There is not an infinite distance between the certainty staked and the
uncertainty of the gain; that is untrue. In truth, there is an infinity between the certainty
of gain and the certainty of loss. But the uncertainty of the gain is proportioned to the
certainty of the stake according to the proportion of the chances of gain and loss. Hence
it comes that, if there are as many risks on one side as on the other, the course is to
play even; and then the certainty of the stake is equal to the uncertainty of the gain, so
far is it from fact that there is an infinite distance between them. And so our proposition
is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks
of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain. This is demonstrable; and if men are capable
of any truths, this is one.
"I confess it, I admit it. But, still, is there no means of seeing the faces of the
cards?" Yes, Scripture and the rest, etc. "Yes, but I have my hands tied and my mouth
closed; I am forced to wager, and am not free. I am not released, and am so made that I
cannot believe. What, then, would you have me do?"
True. But at least learn your inability to believe, since reason brings you to this,
and yet you cannot believe. Endeavour, then, to convince yourself, not by increase of
proofs of God, but by the abatement of your passions. You would like to attain faith and
do not know the way; you would like to cure yourself of unbelief and ask the remedy for
it. Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their
possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow, and who are
cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began; by
acting as if they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Even this
will naturally make you believe, and deaden your acuteness. "But this is what I am
afraid of." And why? What have you to lose?
But to show you that this leads you there, it is this which will lessen the passions,
which are your stumbling-blocks.
The end of this discourse.—Now, what harm will befall you in taking this side?
You will be faithful, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful. Certainly you
will not have those poisonous pleasures, glory and luxury; but will you not have others?
I will tell you that you will thereby gain in this life, and that, at each step you take on this
road, you will see so great certainty of gain, so much nothingness in what you risk, that
you will at last recognise that you have wagered for something certain and infinite, for
which you have given nothing.
From Pensées, Blaise Pascal 1660, Trotter trans.