French mathematician who, after a dramatic conversion, devoted his prodigious intellect to the defense of Christianity. Because of his early death, the project was not finished, but his notes and ideas were posthumously collected under the title Pensees (thoughts). Part of his project was to shock indifferent and apathetic people into caring for ultimate questions concerning God, immortality, and the meaning of life.
Pascal was a trenchant critic of philosophical reductionism as contrary to the particularity of belief in the God of Jesus Christ. Thus he often opposed the god of the philosophers to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jesus Christ. Part of this stemmed from his epistemology—deeply influenced by Augustine—which emphasized the importance of the affective to our beliefs. Thus one of Pascal’s most famous claims is that “the heart has reasons that reason does not know.”
Pascal is most famous for what has come to be known as Pascal’s Wager. The wager offers a cost-benefit analysis of the rationality of belief in God. Given the possibilities that God exists and that the unbeliever will be punished with eternal damnation and the believer rewarded with eternal bliss, Pascal argues that it is rational to wager that God exists.
(Excerpted from 101 Key Terms in Philosophy and Their Importance for Theology, Kelly James Clark, Richard Lints, James K. A. Smith [Westminster John Knox Press, 2004] 65-66.)