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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2003
  • Online publication date: May 2006

7 - Pascal’s theory of knowledge


In a letter of 1660 to Pierre Fermat, Pascal describes geometry in the following terms:

For to speak frankly to you of geometry, I find it to be the highest exercise of the mind; but at the same time I know it to be so useless, that I make little difference between a man who is only a geometer and an able craftsman. Therefore I call it the finest occupation [métier] in the world; but after all, it is only an occupation; and I have often said that it is good for the trial but not for the employment of our strength, so that I would not walk two steps for geometry, and I am persuaded that you are strongly of my opinion.

This paradoxical praise of geometry addressed to a man he considered a great mathematician is one of many texts where Pascal expresses doubts regarding human knowledge.