Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 77 (2):221-249 (2015)

Hanna Vandenbussche
KU Leuven (PhD)
Pascal’s anti-Cartesianism continues to be a widely discussed theme in the relevant secondary literature. In referring to his Jansenistic background, most authors tend to focus on certain prominent themes in Pascal’s writings such as the tension between grandeur and misere, the apologetic strategy of the Pensees as well as Pascal’s criticism of human reason. This article, however, engages more directly with Pascal’s invasive criticism of the optimistic Cartesian view concerning the human passions and free will. While Descartes claims that every human being is capable of reaching a state of contentment and happiness by directing his/her will in a reasonable way, Pascal consistently emphasizes that humanity is condemned to a state of restlessness and inconstancy. Because of its radical depravity due to Original Sin, Pascal believes that the human will is marked by an infinite self-love giving birth to the vicious passions of idleness and curiosity. Descartes holds, on the contrary, that the human will remains perennially capable of affirming its freedom over and against the passions. This Cartesian absolute freedom of the human will strikingly finds its expression in a passion itself, namely generosity. For Pascal, though, all human affectivity is already determined by the passion of self-love, which renders any neutral approach towards the passions impossible.
Keywords Blaise Pascal   Rene Descartes   anthropology   will   depravity   passions   self-love   generosity
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DOI 10.2143/TVF.77.2.3087651
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