Home Curiosity A brief dive into the philosophy of Blaise Pascal

A brief dive into the philosophy of Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal
"Bildnis des Blaise Pascal" (Public Domain) by ubleipzig

Blaise Pascal is probably one of the best known mathematicians, physicists, and inventors of the 17th century. That said, later in life, the logic-driven Pascal turned his hand to philosophical writings.

Intrigued? Let’s dive in. 

Inventions of Blaise Pascal

Over the years, Pascal coined – or finding new applications for – theories like Pascal’s theorem, Pascal’s principle of pressure, and Pascal’s triangle. Some historians believe that Pascal is even responsible for inventing the roulette wheel. In 1655, Pascal was attempting to invent a perpetual motion machine – this is essentially a machine that would continue to operate without needing an external energy source. Unfortunately, this is impossible without defying the laws of physics. Nevertheless, a primitive form of the roulette wheel was born.

Gambling on the wheel was then introduced when the wheel was combined with a traditional French game called Biribi. Over the years, the game has continued to introduce new innovations – nowadays, players can play online roulette games, spinning the wheel whenever they like. With games like Quantum Roulette, Diamond Bet Roulette, and Roulette Live, there are different immersive options drawing on the innovative inspiration behind the game itself. 

Pascal is also credited as building one of the first forms of digital calculator, known as the pascaline, which used a combination of pins and gears to carry out simple integer addition. With a few tweaks, a more experienced operator could use the pascaline to perform subtraction, multiplication, and division. Different iterations of the pascaline could operate using numbers of between five and eight digits. 

However, in addition to his inventions, later in life Pascal was also a keen philosopher. 

Pascal’s philosophical writings 

Perhaps Pascal’s most famous philosophical area is the philosophy of religion. However, unlike many of the philosophers in this area, Pascal interestingly was not trying to persuade readers to turn to religion. Instead, Pascal came up with a unique rationale which became known as Pascal’s Wager. Pascal’s Wager is the idea that debating the existence of religion is rather unnecessary – instead, it is logical to believe in religion in case it is true. If it is not, you lose little – if it is, you gain a lot. This is potentially inspired by his work using the coefficients of the Binomial Theorem to calculate probability. 

After all, Pascal was an inventor, a scientist, and a mathematician through and through. With this in mind, Pascal was consistently analytical and pragmatic in his evaluations, always curious and trying to find new perspectives. Due to this, Pascal’s philosophy is unique in that he applied his knowledge of psychology, history, and probability to his philosophical writings. 

Though, of course, due to its context in history, Pascal’s philosophy is based in religion, the core meaning is still relevant in the modern day. In fact, one modern writer has argued that Pascal’s Wager can be applied to modern issues such as climate change, as so much is potentially at stake.

That said, it doesn’t have to only be applied in such drastic situations. For example, when meeting someone new, if you are impolite, something bad could happen. Though this may not happen, we tend to be polite just in case. At work, you could do nothing on the pretense that no one is watching – but, what if your boss is observing? Hence, we try to look busy. 

shaking hands

And there you have it, just a brief look at Blaise Pascal, his philosophical ideas, and how they can be applied to modern life.