An Unholy Guide to Pascal’s Wager

(About a 6 minute read)

The alarming thought crossed my mind this morning that you, dear reader, woke up today lusting to hear all about Pascal’s Wager. No sooner had I thought that than I also thought, “By Golly! I should do something about that!” Hence, I have generously created this thread to satiate your strange and unholy desires. .

As you know, Pascal’s Wager is famous — whole libraries have been written about it. Compared to those libraries, this is a pretty brief post.  So I’ve added some links at the end to sources that will take the determined and/or passionate enthusiast further.

Blaise Pascal was a French philosopher, scientist, mathematician and probability theorist who lived from 1623 to 1662. Pascal had several friends who enjoyed gambling, and some scholars have argued that his invention of the famous Wager was in part inspired by his desire to appeal to his friends. The Wager actually comes in three separate and distinct formulations so it is in fact not one wager, but three.

Having said all that, let’s get to the meat of the matter!

Pascal begins by observing that, since God is infinite, we humans are incapable of knowing whether or not He exists…

If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is.

Pascal then goes on to first insist that it is thus necessary for us to wager whether or not God exists, and then he offers three distinct formulations of his wager…

First Formulation of Pascal’s Wager:

The Third and final formulation of his wager is the most important for this is the formulation that is most often referred to as “Pascal’s Wager”…

Just for kicks, we now turn to Kaufmann’s critique of Pascal’s Wager…

Last, here are some sources for more information about the famous Wager — including two relatively in-depth encyclopedia articles that much more fully explain the wager, and mention several more or less standard critiques Kaufmann doesn’t mention.

Pensées (See section III, subsection #233 for the wagers).

Pascal’s Wager about God (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

Pascal’s Wager (Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

Comments? Observations? Objections? Muddled Rants? Primeval Screams?

2 thoughts on “An Unholy Guide to Pascal’s Wager

  1. Pascal was definitely over thinking things, though in somewhat of a amusing, nerdy way. I can picture him thoughtfully manipulating a deck of playing cards on a table… cards marked “life one,” “life two,” “life three” and a whole pile of “infinite happiness” cards balanced by “chance of loss.”

    Paul, for a non believer you seem to think a lot about God, gods, and religion. Hmmmm. That’s what I like about you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One of my philosophy professors was a student of Pascal. He told us about his “theory” that Pascal had created his wager specifically to get his friends — who most of all loved to gamble — to think about God and salvation. Pascal wasn’t so much concerned with persuading them to wager on God, as he was concerned with just getting them to think about God and salvation.

    I should have mentioned that in my post.

    Like

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