The Great Philosophers

Blaise Pascal: One of the 17th century’s best intellects

Pascal was a man of so many talents that it was reported that even René Descartes was envious of the Frenchman

Tuesday 03 August 2021 21:30
<p>Prodigious polymath: Pascal as depicted in a contemporaneous engraving</p>

Prodigious polymath: Pascal as depicted in a contemporaneous engraving

Blaise Pascal (1623–62) was a man of many talents. In his short life, he made significant contributions to the fields of philosophy, mathematics, physics and theology

When not working on the mysteries of the universe, Pascal also found time to invent a calculating machine and to establish an omnibus system in Paris (the profits of which went to the poor), and this from a man who died before his 40th birthday. He is generally considered to have been one of the 17th-century’s best intellects; indeed, many commentators report that even the great philosopher René Descartes was envious of Pascal’s prodigious abilities.

It was clear from a very early age that Pascal was going to be something special. His father Étienne, a trained lawyer and brilliant mathematician, with connections to some of the leading scientific thinkers of the age via his association with the Mersenne circle of natural philosophers, took on the task of his son’s education. Blaise was extraordinarily precocious. His sister reports, for example, that by the age of 12 he had managed to work out Pythagoras’s Theorem on his own. His father recognised his talent for mathematics and began to teach him. It was not long before Pascal was participating on his own terms in the discussions of the Mersenne group.

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