Pascal’s View Of The Heart
Pascal seemed, on the surface to make one of the most famous reasoned and calculated defenses of Western Christian philosophy when the French thinker made his ‘wager’ that it was better to suppose that God existed, rather than did not exist, given the proposition of eternal life if one acquiesced, and the certainty of damnation of one did not. But in Pascal’s less quoted but more extensive musings on his “View of the Heart” in relation to, in reaction with, and ultimately in support of the limits of rational human philosophy, Pascal suggested that reason did not alone satisfy all of the functions of human philosophy. In fact, in his Pensees 423 Pascal states: “The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” The heart, in Pascal’s philosophy, stands opposed to the pure rationalism of the head, when really the heart should, and does, guide the head in relation to its sensations of the deity.
In 423, Pascal further states that “the heart has its reasons, which reason knows nothing,” in other words that emotional feeling within the human animal senses the Universal Being, the Being that is God as one of its natural components. Thus the human heart loves this all-pervasive unity as naturally, indeed, as the owner and possessing authority of the heart loves him or herself. “I say that the heart naturally loves the Universal Being, and also itself naturally, according as it gives itself to them,” both God and the self.
Because “we feel it in a thousand things,” Pascal suggests that God must have a reality that is substantiated by our sensing of that reality and of something connecting the real nature of human existence. In contrast to belief, thus disbelief is a hardened, willful, and unnatural act of the heart alone, as opposed to the more natural conjunction and perception of the human heart and emotion. Human reason alone, or incorrectly applied is a hardening of the self against God, and against the emotional truth perceived by the human heart.
Furthermore, the pervasiveness of God and the pervasive sense one has of God is analogous to self-love, a sense of self, and the drive for self-preservation in a positive sense. Thus, Pascal’s French Catholic philosophy, rather than world-denying, is world affirming, as it uses the world and the sense of the self or soul, not to criticize humanity’s self fixation, but to praise one’s intuitive sense of love and respect for one’s body and soul, as created by the Universal Being. Moreover, Pascal grounds his argument in a sensation of integrity of the self that he believes God inserts in the emotional life of the human creation, and the human heart is only robbed of, through incorrect and overly zealous use of reason alone.
Of one who only is filled with self-love and focused on the purely rational, Pascal states, “you have rejected the one God and the love of God and kept the other a sense of self. Is it by reason that you love yourself?” (423) Although this could be contended, Pascal believes that no human being rationally decide to preserve, focus on, and love the self — it happens naturally and through emotion. Pascal does not admit to the possibility of natural and intuitive self-hatred in human beings. Also, Pascal goes farther, in 424 when he states because “it is the heart which perceives God and not reason,” that is, faith is God perceived by the heart, not reason.” In other words, as faith springs from love and emotion, a true believer must seek to hold onto that initial emotion of the heart, and use that faith and love as springboards for their source of faith and belief, not seek to find belief in reason after the fact. Emotion is the first cause, rationality proceeds after the fact.
The most obvious people Pascal is waging his argument against are those philosophers who advance an atheistic or skeptical point-of-view. Skeptics, Pascal suggests in his Proposition 110, claim to argue from first principles by demanding proof of God’s existence, while humans “know truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart, and it is in this last way that we know first principles; and reason, which has no part in it, tries in vain to impugn them. The skeptics, who have only this for their object, labor to no purpose.”
For example, a rationalist skeptic may rationalize human existence as a mental dream in the mind, and that there is no reality, but from the emotion the human heart has a sensation beyond the definably rational that “we know that we do not dream, and, however impossible it is for us to prove it by reason, this inability demonstrates only the weakness of our reason, but not, as they affirm, the uncertainty of all our knowledge. For the knowledge of first principles, as space, time, motion, number, is as sure as any of those which we get from reasoning.” (110) The sense of time passing, the sense of occupying space, and the sense of a divinity are all analogous.
In this contention, Pascal seems to take on rationalists such as Descartes, who, although a fellow Christian believer, said ‘I think therefore I am,’ in other words, that reason must justify God, as was popular as well amongst the skeptics who denied God and the scholastic monks who used ‘proofs’ to justify God’s existence and qualities. But for Pascal, “reason must trust these intuitions of the heart, and must base them on every argument, just as humans trust their intuitive knowledge of the tri-dimensional nature of space and of the infinity of number, and reason then shows that there are no two square numbers one of which is double of the other.” (110) One does not first mathematically parse one’s doorstep before stepping on it to decide that has substance, Pascal might state and so real principles “are intuited, propositions are inferred, all with certainty, though in different ways,” and so believers proceed from emotional belief and trust into a belief of God.
Here, Pascal’s argument shifts slightly, and expands, as his defense of a belief in God itself seems analogous to a man or woman who falls in love, and then finds rational reasons to love the beloved and to marry. “And it is as useless and absurd for reason to demand from the heart proofs of her first principles, before admitting them, as it would be for the heart to demand from reason an intuition of all demonstrated propositions before accepting them,” in the material world, as well as the emotional world. (110)
Pascal’s statement that “the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing” thus proceeds from Christian belief in first causes as superior from second causes, that is as the heart and feeling comes first, feeling is superior to thinking about the existence of God. It also places a Christian, Catholic stress upon the goodness of the world as God’s original creation, and although the nature of the world and human feeling can be tainted by evil, skepticism, sin, and rationalism that denies feeling, this does not deny the goodness of the world, humanity, and the veracity of human feeling.
Pascal, much to the confusion of modern readers validates self-love, but not in the sense of narcissism, but only in the sense that loving the self means that one is loving God’s creation, and that one ought to naturally preserve one’s love of God as one, in Pascal’s view, one instinctively preserves the self. In other words, for Pascal, there is little angst or natural sense of alienation from the self, or dislike of the self, or drive to destroy the self out of a sense of unworthiness or self-hatred. Pascal…