Blaise Pascal: Life Story and Impact

Duke Kinamon
March 11, 2018

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2018

Early years

Fig. 1: Fig. 1: A picture of Blaise Pascal. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Born on June 19, 1623 in Clermont- Ferrand, Blaise Pascal a French physicist, mathematician, and theologian was born (See Fig. 1). Known for his work dealing with fluid dynamics, Blaise was a child prodigy who greatly impacted the worlds of both physical sciences and mathematics. [1] From an early age he was raised only by his father, Etienne. At the age of three his mother Antoinette Begon passed away leaving him and his two sisters, Jaqueline and Gilberete. [2] When only eight years old Blaise and his family moved to Paris. Quickly noticing the intelligence that all three of his children possessed, Etienne decided to homeschool them. However, Blaises gift for math and science was immediately recognized when even Descartes did not believe that a child could be solving the extremely advanced problems that Blaise was solving. [1] However, Blaise was his best teacher and this was undeniable. He was always attempting to explain forces of nature that simply could not be explained. [3] The Pascal family eventually left Paris and settled in Rouen where Etienne took a position calculating taxes. Recognizing his fathers struggles and workload in trying to complete his job, Blaise invented a digital calculator that made Etiennes job of calculating taxes much simpler. After assembling nearly 50 different models of the calculator, Pascal finally created a finished product and produced 20 complete versions of the digital calculator that later came to be known as Pascals calculator. [3] Blaise's creation was a stepping stone for future mechanisms used for operations of arithmetic.

Important works

Blaise Pascal is known for his works dealing with the flow of fluids such as liquids and gases as well as how fluids act while at rest. [4] One of his main inventions was the hydraulic press. The hydraulic press works by putting a force on a liquid by a piston that fits snuggly into a cylinder. This creation portrays Pascals Law that claims if any bit of pressure is transmitted to one part of the fluid, it will be felt in all other areas of the fluid as well. [4] Pascal's Barrel experiment is another method that consisted of placing a 10 meter long tube inside of a barrel filled with water. As water is slowly put into the empty tube inside of the barrel, due to the hydrostatic pressure that was exerted, the barrel will then explode. [5] Blaise made a significant contribution to the study of hydrodynamics and illustrated how and why fluids move the way they do.

Later years

In 1651 Etienne passed away, leaving Blaise very lonely. He strayed from his previously strong religious beliefs and lived a life of misery when Jaqueline left him to pursue the life of a nun. Years later at the age of 31, Blaise experienced an event that changed his life and his legacy. One night he had a religious dream that lead him back to his once strong faith and religious beliefs. [2] Inspired by this experience, Blaise wrote the Provincial Letters that explained his disbelief in the way Catholics were thinking in the modern time period. Not only did Blaise convince people of his religious opinions seen in the Provincial Letters, but he also inspired French writers through his unique and stylish writing techniques. [6] In the early 1660s Blaise grew sick and continued to reject any forms of help believing that death should be all natural. [3] Shortly after Jaqueline passed away, Blaise did too on August 19, 1662 with signs of stomach cancer or tuberculosis. [2]

© Duke Kinamon. The author warrants that the work is the author's own and that Stanford University provided no input other than typesetting and referencing guidelines. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] B. Pascal, The Thoughts, Letters and Opuscules of Blaise Pascal (Arkose Press, 2015).

[2] B. Pascal, The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal (Andesite Press, 2015).

[3] Visc. St. Cyres, Pascal (E. P. Dutton, 1910).

[4] W. Clark and O. Smeaton, The World's Epoch-Makers: Pascal and the Port Royalists (Leopold Classic Library, 2016).

[5] H. Lamb, Hydrodynamics (1895) (Kessinger Publishing, 2010).

[6] B. Pascal, The Provincial Letters (Pinnacle Press, 2017).