Select thoughts
of Blaise Pascal
Edited By Louis D. Thorpe
February 4, 2023

Truth about lies

Imagination. It is that controlling factor in man, that mistress of error and falsity, and all the more treacherous because it is not always so; it would be an infallible touchstone of truth if it were an infallible touchstone of falsehood. But being most commonly false, it gives no mark of its quality, marking with the same stamp both the true and the false.

I am not talking about madness, I am talking about the wisest men; and it is among them that imagination has the great privilege of persuading them. It does reason no good to protest; reason cannot set a true value of things.

This arrogant power, the enemy of reason, which delights in controlling and dominating it in order to demonstrate what it can do in all things, has established in man a second nature. Imagination makes people happy or unhappy, healthy or ill, rich or poor; it inspires belief or doubt, and it contradicts reason; it conceals meanings, or makes them obvious; it has its fools and its sages; and nothing disturbs us more than to see that she fills her devotees with a satisfaction incomparably more full and complete than it does reason.

Those who are clever through imagination are a great deal more pleased with themselves than the wise can reasonably be. They look down upon men with haughtiness; they argue with boldness and confidence, others argue with fear and diffidence or distrust. This gaiety of countenance often gives them the advantage in the opinion of the hearers, so much favour have the imaginary wise in the eyes of judges of like nature. Imagination cannot make fools wise, but it makes them happy, to the envy of reason which can only make its favorites miserable; the one covering them with glory, the other with shame.

What about this faculty of imagination dispenses reputation, awards respect and veneration to persons, works, laws, and the great? How insufficient are all the riches of the earth without her consent!

Man has been well advised to ally these two powers (reason and imagination), although in that peace imagination has very fully the advantage. When imagination and reason are at war, the former prevails much more completely; never does reason entirely triumph over imagination, whereas imagination often unseats entirely reason from its throne.

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