Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) is known in the English-speaking world principally for the wager (an argument that it is rational to do what will affect belief in God and irrational not to), and, more generally, for the Pensees, a collection of philosophical and theological fragments of unusual emotional and intellectual intensity collected and published after his death.
He thought and wrote, however, about much more than this: mathematics; physics; grace, freedom, and predestination; the nature of the church; the Christian life; what it is to write and read; the order of things; the nature and purpose of human life; and more.
He was among the polymaths of the seventeenth century, and among the principal apologists of his time for the Catholic faith, against both its Protestant opponents and its secular critics. Why Read Pascal? engages all the major topics of Pascal's theological and philosophical writing.
It provides discussion of Pascal's literary style, his linked understandings of knowledge and of the various orders of things, his anthropology (with special attention to his presentation of affliction, death, and boredom), his politics, and his understanding of the relation between Christianity and Judaism.
Pascal emerges as a literary stylist of a high order, a witty and polemical writer (never have the Jesuits been more thoroughly eviscerated), and, perhaps above all else, as someone concerned to show to Christianity's cultured despisers that the fabric of their own lives implies the truth of Christianity if only they can be brought to look at what their lives are like. Why Read Pascal? is the first book in English in a generation to engage all the principal themes in Pascal's theology and philosophy.
The book takes Pascal seriously as an interlocutor and as a contributor of continuing relevance to Catholic thought; but it also offers criticisms of some among the positions he takes, showing, in doing so, how lively his writing remains for us now.