French Literature

Pascal: The Pensées

800px-Blaise_Pascal_2The Pensées (literally thoughts) is a fragmentary collection of writings prepared by the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal for a projected defence of Christianity, left unfinished at his death in 1662. The proper order of the work has been the subject of much controversy, and older public domain works may not reflect recent scholarship.

Pascal was closely associated with the Jansenist movement in French Catholicism, and the Pensées reflect the Augustinian belief that man can be saved only by a divine grace he can do nothing to earn. This spirit is reflected in the most famous argument of the Pensées, 'Pascal's wager', which suggests that it is better to live as if God exists because one avoids infinite loss is one is right and suffers only finite loss if one is wrong.

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Free online texts

Bartleby: Thoughts. Harvard Classics Volume 48, Part 1. English translation. HTML format.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Pensées. Translated by William Finlayson Trotter. Multiple formats.

Classical Library: Pensées. English translation. HTML format.

Gallica: Pensées, Tome 1. French text edited by Léon Bruschvicg (1904). Image file format.

Gutenberg: Pascale's Pensées. English translation. Introduction by T.S. Eliot. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: Pensées, translated by W.F. Trotter. 1941 Modern Library edition. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: Pascal's Pensées, translated by Gertrude Burford Rawlings. Multiple formats.

Intratext: Pensées, translated by W.F. Trotter. HTML format.

Samizdat.qc.ca: Pensées. French text. PDF based on 1671 edition.

University of Adelaide: Pensées, translated by W.F. Trotter. Multiple formats.

University of Freiburg: Pensées. French text. PDF format.

University of Dusseldorf: Pensées. French text, 1812 Renouard edition. Image file format.

Wikisource: French texts and English translation by William Finlayson Trotter. HTML and other formats.

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Descartes: Discourse on Method

Frans_Hals_-_Portret_van_René_DescartesThe Discourse on Method (French: Discours de la méthode) by René Descartes was published in French in Leiden in 1637, alongside essays on optics, meteorology and geometry. It offered the an autobiographical of Descartes skeptical method and the positive metaphysical conclusions that he would later develop more fully in the Meditations. Notable among these is the first formulation of the famous 'Cogito', the principle that 'I think therefore I am' and cannot doubt my own existence.

Of the accompanying scientific essays, that on geometry is notable for introducing Cartesian co-ordinates.

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Free online texts

Bartleby: Discourse on Method. English translation. Harvard Classics, Volume 34, Part 1. HTML format.

Gallica: Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa raison et chercher la vérité dans les sciences , plus la dioptrique, les météores et la géométrie qui sont des essais de cette méthode. French text. Image file format.

Gutenberg: Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences, translated by John Veitch. Multiple formats. 

Gutenberg: Discours de la méthode. French text. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Discourse on the Method, Meditations on First Philosophy, Objections against the Meditations and Replies, The Geometry, by René Descartes. The Ethics, by Benedict De Spinoza. Great Books of the Western World, no 31 (1925). Multiple formats.

Liberty Fund: The Method, Meditations and Philosophy of Descartes, translated by John Veitch. Multiple formats.

Wikisource: French text and English translation. HTML and other formats.

Zulu Ebooks: Discours de la méthode. French text. PDF format.

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Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy

Descartes3Meditations on First Philosophy (Latin: Meditationes de prima philosophia, in qua Dei existentia et animae immortalitas demonstrantur) by Réne Descartes was first published in Latin in 1641, appearing in a French translation in 1647.

The six meditations which make up the book describe a series of mental exercises, undertaken over consecutive days.  The first meditation introduces Descartes' method of universal doubt. The second introduces the famous argument often summarised as 'I think therefore I am' (Latin: cogito ergo sum), and cannot doubt my own existence. 

In the later meditations, Descartes arrives at conventional opinions about God and the world, while more subtly introducing the foundations of his own system of physics. It is however, the first two meditations which have more often been seen as a foundational influence on modern philosophy, although the 'Cartesian dualism' which they introduced between mind and matter has been a target of persistent criticism.

Alongside the Meditations, Descartes published seven sets of objections by distinguished scholars along with his replies. These were 1. Johannes Caterus 2. Marin Mersenne 3. Thomas Hobbes 4. Antoine Arnauld 5. Pierre Gassendi 6. Further objections collected by Mersenne. 7. Pierre Bourdin.

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The Classical Library: The Meditations, translated by John Veitch. HTML format.

Gallica: Méditations métaphysiques. French text (1690). Image file format. 

Gutenberg: Meditationes de prima philosophia - Latin text. Multiple formats.

Early Modern Texts: Meditations on First Philosophy - adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.

Internet Archive: Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Discourse on the Method, Meditations on First Philosophy, Objections against the Meditations and Replies, The Geometry, by René Descartes. The Ethics, by Benedict De Spinoza. Great Books of the Western World, no 31 (1925). Multiple formats.

Latin Library: Meditationes - Latin text. HTML format.

Liberty Fund: The Method, Meditations and Philosophy of Descartes, translated by John Veitch. Multiple formats.

Marxists.org: Meditations on First Philosophy, translated by John Cottingham. HTML format.

Philosophy-Index: Meditations on First Philosophy, translated by John Veitch. HTML format.

University of Leeds/Internet Archive: Hobbes' Objections to Descartes' Meditations. HTML format.

Wikisource: Latin text, French and English translations. HTML and other formats.

Wright State University: Descartes' Meditations. English, French and Latin texts. HTML format.

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Montaigne: Essays

Montaigne-DumonstierThe Essays (French: Essais) by Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) inaugurated a literary form on their first publication in 1580. His  Essais or 'attempts' at various subjects were part of a larger project of-self reflection. His focus on the individual personality, in contrast to the ancient writers on whom he dew copiously, had a profound influence on later writers.

He knew Greek authors mainly though Latin and French, but his broad classical learning informed an eclectic philosophical world view which drew on Cicero, stoicism and skepticism. The latter was influence was strengthened by Montaigne's experiences as a nobleman during the French Wars of Religion. His belief in tolerance forms an important part of his legacy.

Free online texts

Early Modern Texts: Essays, Bks 1-11, translated by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format. Modern English translation with some editorial alterations.
Gutenberg: Essays of Michel de Montaigne — Complete, translated by Charles Cotton. Multiple formats. 
Internet Archive: The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, Vol I | Vol II. Translated by Charles Cotton and revised by William Carew Hazlitt. Multiple formats.
The Montaigne Project: Les Essais de Montaigne. Full Searchable HTML text in French.
Online Library of Liberty: Essays of Montaigne in 10 Volumes, translated by Charles Cotton. Multiple formats.
University of Adelaide: The Essays of Montaigne, translated by Charles Cotton. Multiple formats.
University of Oregon: Montaigne's Essays, translated by John Florio, 1603. PDF format.
Wikisource: Multiple French editions | English translation by John Florio, 1603 | English translation by Charles Cotton 1686, revised by William Carew Hazlitt in 1877.

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