Pascal on Happiness

Diversion, Pleasure and the Good

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 University of Cambridge, UK
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Pascal sees happiness (bonheur) as the ultimate goal of all human activity, but argues that experience shows it to be unattainable; our underlying condition is unhappiness. In the immediate, he argues, human activities are forms of diversion or distraction, by which we seek to screen from ourselves our unhappiness and mortality and to gratify our vanity. This analysis omits the role of pleasure, which he elsewhere identifies as the motive force of all volition. In order to reconcile this anomaly, we need to distinguish between the motive of our actions, the ultimate end they have in view, and the Supreme Good. The motive of our actions is pleasure, their ultimate end happiness, and the Supreme Good God, in union with whom authentic happiness consists.

Contributor Notes

Michael Moriarty ( is Drapers Professor of French at the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of Peterhouse. He works chiefly on the literature and thought of the early modern period. His publications include Early Modern French Thought: The Age of Suspicion (Oxford University Press, 2003), Fallen Nature, Fallen Selves: Early Modern French Thought II (OUP, 2006), Disguised Vices: Theories of Virtue in Early Modern French Thought (OUP, 2011), and Pascal: Reasoning and Belief (OUP, 2020). He is the co-editor, with Jeremy Jennings, of The Cambridge History of French Thought (Cambridge University Press, 2019). E-mail:


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