In the period of transition from Medievalism to the Renaissance, a moment of radical upheaval in Western culture, Pascal describes powerfully the experience the existentialists were later to call Dasein:

“When I consider the brief span of my life, swallowed up in the eternity before and behind it, the small space that I fill, or even see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces which I know not, and which know not me, I am afraid, and wonder to see myself here rather than there; for there is no reason why I should be here rather than there, now rather than then. . . .”

Rarely has the existential problem been put more simply or beautifully.

In this passage we see, first, the profound realization of the contingency of human life which existentialists call “thrownness.” Second, we see Pascal facing unflinchingly the question of being there or more accurately “being where?” Third, we see the realization that one cannot take refuge in some superficial explanation of time and space, which Pascal, scientist that he was, could well know; and lastly, the deep shaking anxiety arising from this stark awareness of existence in such a universe.

May, Rollo and Ernest Angel, Henri F. Ellenberger. Existence: A New Dimension in Psychiatry and Psychology. New York: Basic Book, Inc., 1958. 18. Print.


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