Philosophy ETDs

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The question of whether Pascal was a philosopher or not has not always been the dominant problem of Pascal scholarship. But since the advent of Existentialism, there has been renewed interest in the work of Pascal and its philosophic value. Upon examination one finds that both Pascal scholars and historians of philosophy have wrestled with the problem of whether to call Pascal a true philosopher. Critics in both areas have pointed to the unsystematic character of his thought, his preconceived religious ideas, his apologetic motives and finally his lack of interest in the detached search for truth as a good and end in itself. Along with this they have also alluded to certain explicitly anti-philosophical remarks made by Pascal. Unfortunately, most of their judgments are based solely on a reading of the Pensees to the neglect of all other evidence. Almost all of these scholars completely ignore the Entrentien avec M. de Saci where Pascal explicitly appropriated the title of philosopher for himself. A brief inspection of the philosophical climate surrounding Pascal sheds valuable light on his own basic enterprise. In the 17th century, one finds philosophy almost totally absorbed in the question of the meaning of life. Looking to the Pensees one finds that while Pascal sees the Catholic religion as providing the key to the meaning of human existence, he does not feel that it requires one to commit philosophical suicide, or destroy the basic project of philosophy. In this attitude Pascal shows himself in greater accord with the movements and spirit of orthodox Augustinianism in the 17th century than with the credo quia absurdum of the Jansenists. Seen in their proper context, Pascal's severe remarks on philosophy reflect his dislike only of those philosophers unconcerned with the question of the meaning of human life or those who seek to displace the Christian faith with secular ideologies. Pascal's view of philosophy as the search for the meaning of life cannot be rejected outright as unphilosophical, for history itself reveals that the philosophical enterprise constantly assumes different and sometimes even antithetical meanings. In the light of all of these facts, on finds that Pascal cannot in justice be denied a place among true philosophers.

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First Committee Member (Chair)

Brian Edgar O'Neil

Second Committee Member

Howard N. Tuttle

Third Committee Member

Agnes Charlene McDermott



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Philosophy Commons