Pascal claims that pride and despair can be replaced by the virtues of humility and hope. I will explore here what Pascal means by pride and despair as spiritual vices, and how an encounter with Christ in faith engenders the spiritual virtues of humility and hope.
When Pascal writes that the knowledge of God creates prides one should understand that such knowledge has been acquired without the proper contextualization: the knowledge of humanity’s own wretchedness or misery. Similarly, the knowledge of humanity’s wretchedness leads human beings into despair if they do not have the knowledge of God. In this respect, Pascal writes: “Without this divine knowledge how could men help to felt either exalted at the persistent inward sense of their past greatness or dejected at the sight of their present weakness?” [L208] Pascal here rises the problem of human pride and exaltation and the problem of despair and the lack of hope because of human wretchedness. With this rhetorical question, Pascal suggests that there is not a solution to the problem planted, at least without the involvement of divine knowledge. The main problem arises because humanity is blind and cannot “see the whole truth” — its real condition and its need for a redeemer. This makes that human beings “could not attain perfect virtue.” [L208] For example, Pascal argues that pride is the sin responsible that people believe they can know God.
Unlike Socrates who understood sin exclusively as a problem of human ignorance, Pascal’s pride and despair has to do with a spiritual condition so that it is needed an intersection between divine knowledge and human awareness. For this reason, Pascal focuses on the need for both the divine knowledge that reveals the truth of sin to humanity and the human awareness that helps humans to recognize their needs. As he had written before “One must know oneself. Even if that does not help in finding truth, at least it helps in running one’s life, and nothing is more proper.” [L72]
Thus, for Pascal, both pride and despair are connected to each other since they are related to an epistemological issue: the lack of knowledge of some kind. In Pascal’s view, the accumulation of knowledge of God itself would not bring any benefit for the human condition if the person is not aware of his/her own misery. It only leads people and philosophers to increase their pride. The thing applies to despair: the accumulation of knowledge about the human condition would not benefit us at all. Knowing solely the human misery leads to despair when one discovers that there is not a simple cure for such a condition. With this Pascal establishes the case for the need of his Wager proposal because human pride and despair are serious spiritual sins.
Having in mind this situation Pascal proposes his solution to the human pride and despair. Such a solution is found only in the Christian Gospel because “it is the only religion entitled to teach and correct humankind.” [L208]. The Gospel gives us a mediator who can show the human being both the knowledge of God and the knowledge of human’s wretchedness. In this respect, Pascal writes, “The Incarnation shows man the greatness of his wretchedness through the greatness of the redeem required.” [L352]. This is so because, for Pascal, the Incarnation would be the best doctrine “suited to man than that which teaches him his dual capacity for receiving and losing grace, on account of the dual danger for which he is always exposed of despair or pride.” [L354] As seen Pascal finds in the doctrine of Incarnation a solution to replace despair and pride in the human condition. While the accumulation of the knowledge of God creates pride in the sinful human nature and the accumulation of the knowledge about the human condition creates despair, the knowledge of Christ addresses both in the Incarnation promoting humility and hope.