Pascal : Man is a thinking reed

This is the most famous quote by Blaise Pascal, a French philosopher. This is an excerpt of his Thoughts:

Man is a reed, the weakest of nature, but he is a thinking reed. It is not necessary that the entire universe arm itself to crush: a vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But if the universe were to crush him, man would still be nobler than what kills him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage that the universe has over him, the universe does knows nothing

What is man? Pascal’s Conception of subjectivity

What is the difference between man and the objects of nature?

Pascal splits two kinds of beings: natural beings and human beings. The former are not sentient, they are silent and unconscious beings. Men have reflexivity, the ability to make distance themselves.

The frailty of man is twofold: physical, man is prone to corruption (elderness, illness …) and finitude, and especially moral. Man seeks to escape indeed ever in the entertainment, afraid to face his own nothingness. Report inauthentic to oneself and others (role of self-esteem)

A paradoxical human condition: Greatness and Misery of Man

The universe has a distinctly superior to man. The man is in that wretched and fragile. But it is in the consciousness of his own weakness lies superiority, ultimately, of man on nature. Consciousness transforms the great misery in misery. Being conscious of being miserable is not quite be miserable. The metaphysical drama of existence can be overwhelmed by the victory obtained by the awakening of consciousness.

In summary, it is the thought that makes man worthy. Two lessons can be drawn from Pascal:

All our dignity consists then in thought

Working to think well: that the principle of morality

This dual conception of the human condition will greatly influence over existentialists like Sartre, Kierkegaard, and Heidegger.

Cite this article as: Tim, "Pascal : Man is a thinking reed, September 1, 2022, " in Philosophy & Philosophers, September 1, 2022,

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