Blaise Pascal and the “Summum Bonum” (the highest good)

sketch of pascal © 2007 Thomas Christensen

sketch of pascal © 2007 Thomas Christensen

“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different
means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going
to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended
with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this
object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those
who hang themselves.”

Aristotle held a very similar view over 1000 years prior to Pascal, along with Eudoxus, who was probably the originator of the formula expressed by Aristotle:

Every art or applied science and every systematic investigation, and similarly every action and choice, seem to aim at some good; the good, therefore, has been well defined as that at which all things aim… (Nicomachean Ethics, I.1 – see 10.2 for his discussion of Eudoxus).

For the sake of brevity, I have posted a video by Christian author Randy Alcorn which present’s Pascal’s answer to the question of what is our highest good. I will post in a comment some lengthier excerpts from Pascal for those interested.

If it seems good to you, please feel free to comment!

BMC @ Manifest Propensity, 2014

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One thought on “Blaise Pascal and the “Summum Bonum” (the highest good)

  1. Here is the rest of Pensee #425, along with Pensee #426 which is only one sentence.

    And yet, after such a great number of years, no one without faith has
    reached the point to which all continually look. All complain, princes
    and subjects, noblemen and commoners, old and young, strong and weak,
    learned and ignorant, healthy and sick, of all countries, all times,
    all ages, and all conditions.

    A trial so long, so continuous, and so uniform, should certainly
    convince us of our inability to reach the good by our own efforts. But
    example teaches us little. No resemblance is ever so perfect that there
    is not some slight difference; and hence we expect that our hope will
    not be deceived on this occasion as before. And thus, while the present
    never satisfies us, experience dupes us and, from misfortune to
    misfortune, leads us to death, their eternal crown.

    What is it, then, that this desire and this inability proclaim to us,
    but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now
    remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to
    fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he
    does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate,
    because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and
    immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself. He only is our
    true good, and since we have forsaken him, it is a strange thing that
    there is nothing in nature which has not been serviceable in taking His
    place; the stars, the heavens, earth, the elements, plants, cabbages,
    leeks, animals, insects, calves, serpents, fever, pestilence, war,
    famine, vices, adultery, incest. And since man has lost the true good,
    everything can appear equally good to him, even his own destruction,
    though so opposed to God, to reason, and to the whole course of nature.

    Some seek good in authority, others in scientific research, others in
    pleasure. Others, who are in fact nearer the truth, have considered it
    necessary that the universal good, which all men desire, should not
    consist in any of the particular things which can only be possessed by
    one man, and which, when shared, afflict their possessors more by the
    want of the part he has not than they please him by the possession of
    what he has. They have learned that the true good should be such as all
    can possess at once, without diminution and without envy, and which no
    one can lose against his will. And their reason is that this desire,
    being natural to man, since it is necessarily in all, and that it is
    impossible not to have it, they infer from it…

    426. True nature being lost, everything becomes its own nature; as the
    true good being lost, everything becomes its own true good.

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