On Pascal by Douglas Groothuis is a short but enlightening look at the life of seventeenth-century mathematician, scientist, and philosopher Blaise Pascal. The goal of Groothuis’ book is to both shed light on the life and genius of Pascal and to reflect and examine the thoughts developed in his famous Pensées.
Groothuis’ book is divided into ten short chapters — the first four are devoted to the life and scientific career of Pascal, and the rest devoted to philosophical analysis of Pensées. The reader will find the historical background of Pascal’s eduction, scientific discoveries, and theological background very helpful, providing a context for understanding his Pensées further.
The author does an excellent job in summarizing the philosophy and approach of Pascal, striking a great balance between explaining the themes and reflecting on their value and potency. Each chapter of the second half (6-10) is dedicated to exploring Pascal’s main themes, such as proofs for God, divine hiddenness, skepticism, the state of man, the wager, and the person of Christ.
Regarding Pascal’s “wager,” Groothuis unpacks the ideas by exploring Pascal’s likely motivations and goals, while at the same time examining the common objections to the wager with its potential shortcomings. His critique allows for charity in Pascal’s favor (as this was an unfinished work), but still acknowledges the necessary apologetic context for the wager to be effective.
In sum, On Pascal by Douglas Groothuis delivers a valuable historical vignette and philosophical commentary. For the reader who has read or plans to read Pascal, this short work is highly recommended for deeper understanding.