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  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: May 2006

2 - Pascal’s reading and the inheritance of Montaigne and Descartes


The discernible traces of Montaigne's and Descartes' works in Pascal's writings, whether explicit or implicit, result from deliberate choices of reading, determined ultimately by Pascal's eventual vocation as an apologist for the Christian religion. Pascal's interest in Descartes was, in its early stages, associated with Pascal's own purely scientific and mathematical pursuits. However, his engagement with the Discourse on Method, the Meditations and the Principles of Philosophy, as more directly with his discovery of Montaigne, must be situated among other sorts of reading deriving from more purely religious preoccupations. Before embarking on the inheritance of Montaigne and Descartes in Pascal's writing, it is essential to explore briefly some of what we know more generally of Pascal's reading habits at crucial times of his life.

Pascal’s scientific culture was first developed through his father’s contact with the circle of Father Marin Mersenne, who acted as one of the major disseminators of new scientific thinking and who was, in particular, responsible for obtaining critical views on Descartes’ Meditations, including those of Antoine Arnauld, the major polemicist among the Port-Royal Solitaires.

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