Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal on man as a “thinking reed”


Thought constitutes the greatness of man.


Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature, but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.

All our dignity consists then in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavour then to think well; this is the principle of morality.


A thinking reed.—It is not from space that I must seek my dignity, but from the government of my thought. I shall have no more if I possess worlds. By space the universe encompasses and swallows me up like an atom; by thought I comprehend the world.
Blaise Pascal in Thoughts, translated from the French by William Finlayson Trotter, Mary Louise Booth and Orlando Williams Wight, (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1910), p. 120. First published as Pensées de M. Pascal sur la religion et sur quelques autres sujets, qui ont été trouvées après sa mort, parmy ses papiers (“Thoughts of M. Pascal on religion and on some other subjects, which were found after his death, among his papers”), edited, with a preface by Étienne Périer, (Paris, France: Chez Guillaume Desprez, 1669). High quality scan available at Gallica; text in translation available at Project Gutenberg.

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"Thought constitutes the greatness of man."