Pascal, Blaise
(1623–1662)
French mathematician, physicist, and philosopher. A mathematical prodigy, Pascal published his mathematical discoveries on the theory of conic sections at the age of sixteen. He invented the first practicable calculating machine, in 1642, while his experimental and mathematical work on the barometer affords a model of mid-17th-century science and methodology. His celebrated correspondence with Pierre Fermat laid the basis of the modern theory of probability. Pascal's family were associated with the Jansenists of Port-Royal, where his sister was a nun. After a profound religious experience in 1654, Pascal turned to philosophy and theology. His Lettres provinciales are a defence of Arnauld against his Jesuit opponents, but in spite of his efforts the two Port-Royal convents were closed in 1661. De l’esprit géométrique contains Pascal's scientific and methodological philosophy, while the Pensées (1670) are an acknowledged classic of devotional literature. Both were published posthumously, and the latter, existing only in fragments, not given a definitive edition until 1952. Because of his prevailing scepticism, coupled, however, with a deep faith, Pascal has been compared to Kierkegaard as a leading example of religious conviction based on existential commitment and faith rather than on reason. Like Berkeley, Pascal had a deep concern for the poor, and founded the first ever public bus service, whose profits he gave to charity.

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

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