# Blaise
Pascal

* *

**Blaise
Pascal** (June
19, 1623 - August 19, 1662) was a French mathematician, physicist and religious
philosopher. His contributions to the natural sciences include the construction
of mechanical calculators, considerations on probability theory, studies of fluids,
and clarification of concepts such as pressure and vacuum. Following a profound
religious experience in 1654, Pascal abandoned mathematics and physics for philosophy
and theology.

Born
in Clermont-Ferrand, Puy-de-Dôme, France, Blaise Pascal lost his mother at the
age of three. His mathematician father, Étienne Pascal (1588 - 1651), brought
him up. Blaise Pascal was the brother of Jacqueline Pascal (1625 - 1661).

Computer
historians recognize his contribution to their field as his construction at the
age of 18 of a mechanical calculator capable of addition and subtraction (the
Zwinger museum, in Dresden, Germany exhibits one of his original mechanical calculators).
He also produced a treatise on conic sections as a young man. In 1654, prompted
by a friend interested in gambling problems, he corresponded with Fermat and laid
out a simple account of probabilities.

He
later formulated Pascal's Wager, an argument for the belief in God based on probabilities.
*Pascal's triangle*, a way to present binomial coefficients, also bears
his name, though mathematicians knew binomial coefficients long before his time.

His notable contributions
to the fields of the study of fluids (hydrodynamics and hydrostatics) centered
around the principles of hydraulic fluids. His inventions include the hydraulic
press (using hydraulic pressure to multiply force) and the syringe. He clarified
concepts such as pressure (the unit of which bears his name) and vacuum.

In
1650, suffering from frail health, Pascal retired from mathematics. However, in
1653, his health recovered and he wrote *Traité du triangle arithmétique*
in which he described the "arithmetical triangle" that bears his name.

Following
an accident at the Neuilly bridge where the horses plunged over the parapet but
the carriage miraculously survived in 1654, Pascal abandoned mathematics and physics
for philosophy and theology. In 1660, King Louis XIV of France ordered the shredding
and burning of Pascal's *The Provincial Letters*, a defense of the Jansenist
Antoine Arnauld.

Pascal
never completed his most influential work, the *Pensées*, but a version
of his notes for that book appeared in print in 1670, eight years after his death,
and it soon became a classic of devotional literature.

Pascal
also attained fame for his attack on casuistry, a popular ethical method used
by Catholic thinkers in the early modern period, (especially the Jesuits). Pascal
denounced casuistry as the mere use of complex reasoning to justify moral laxity.
His writings on this subject appeared as the *Lettres provinciales*, or
"Provincial Letters."

Pascal
died in Paris on August 19,
1662
and is buried there in the St. Étienne-du-Mont cemetery.