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Pascal: Pensees, the Wager

Blaise Pascal was an active and arguably one of the most vocal supporters of the existence of God. In several of his writings, he offers explanations as to why there is a high likelihood that God exists as opposed to his inexistence. In his Pensees collection, Pascal offers credible argument through “The Wager,”. In, “The Wager,” Pascal offers several reasons for and against the existence of God that a person can use to choose to either to believe or not to believe. From the arguments presented in, “The Wager,” this paper will seek to answer several questions. To begin with, the paper will consider whether self interest is a key reason upon which the existence of God is based. Additionally, the paper will seek to answer how much about God can be known and whether the arguments presented in “The Wager, “are sufficient proof to the existence of God or not. A review of these questions will be used in drawing a conclusion. The objections to the arguments presented in “The Wager,” will also be reviewed.

It is imperative that the perspective given by Pascal in “The Wager,” be contrasted against that of his peers. Prior to Pascal’s arguments, there were several proofs forwarded that alleged the existence of God. These arguments include the cosmological and ontological arguments by Descartes, the ‘five ways,’ of Aquinas as well as the ontological argument proposed by Anselm. Since Pascal did not subscribe to such ideologies of proving the existence of God to form a belief in God, he was motivated to forward his own arguments.

In “The Wager,” Pascal offers a definitive explanation of the merits and demerits associated with believing or not believing in God. Pascal suggests that, individuals who believe in God will receive a reward while non-believers are bound to be punished. He presents a set of four outcomes on the belief or disbelief in God. First, an individual could choose to believe and end up being right. They will then be rewarded. The person could also choose to believe and end up being wrong, as a result, nothing g will happen, and the person will just remain dead. On the other hand, a person could choose not to believe and also turn out to be right and, therefore, they just end up dead, as well. However, if they are wrong then, they will end up being punished. In essence, Pascal argues that, when a person believes, they may either be rewarded or gain nothing and will end up dead. However, if a person chooses to disbelieve, it is either hell or nothing.

Therefore, the question of whether self interest can be used as the basis of belief in the existence of God arises. According to Pascal’s, “The Wager,” it is not possible for a person to determine accurately the existence of God. However, every person must be able to wager according to their choice. Pascal suggests that it is impossible to base the choice on reason. However, it is possible to cast a wager basing on the outcomes of the choice of belief. From “The Wager,” Pascal presents problems that are exegetical. The main reason is that Pascal appears to contradict his own opinions. He describes “the true” a thing that can be lost and “error” as a thing that is to be shunned.

However, he proceeds to lay the claim that if an individual does not win the wager on God’s existence, then they do not stand to lose anything. However, if that were the case then the individual would end up losing, “the true.” This also means that the individual, by virtue of their choice would have erred. Obviously, Pascal’s perspective presents God’s existence as, “the true.” However, this is debatable since out of necessity, it is compulsory to make a choice. Furthermore, the choice made is not greater than the reason made in choosing otherwise. However according to Pascal, reason cannot be used to make such a decision. From Pascal’s perspective, wagering for God far outweighs wagering against God. This is because, the worst outcome anticipated when wagering for the inexistence God is just as good as the best consequence of wagering against the inexistence of God. However, if one wagers for the existence of God, the consequence is far much better than wagering against the existence of God. Therefore, rationally, Pascal suggests it is better if a person accepts that God exists rather than God does not exist.

Pascal refers to two and three lives from a hypothetical standpoint. He suggests that when one wagers for God, it is equated to a single life. However, among the prizes set for wagering for God are three lives. Then from this supposition, Pascal relies on two assumptions. To begin with, he assumes that there is a fixed probability of ½ that God exists and that when one wagers for God, then there are an infinite number of rewards if it turn out that God truly exists.

Pascal’s wager can also be used to know about God and some of his attributes. The wager serves as a means of justifying that the existent God punishes those who do not believe in him but rewards those who do. However, it also justifies an individual’s belief in everything and anything whose probability cannot be zero and bears similar rewards to that of belief in God. This reason asserts that God is definitive and non changing. This is contrary to Christian belief that states if a person believesthe reward s eternal life. However if, a person chooses not to believe, then they will perish in hell. However, in Christianity, there is the possibility of changing allegiance from belief to disbelief and from disbelief to belief. The wager does not account for the alternating viewpoints.

There are two key objections that can be raised concerning “The Wager,” raised by Pascal. To begin with, it is argued that a belief in God for the sole reason of being rewarded is not a correct motive of belief. This is because such a motive describes individuals who are self-seeking and, therefore, are not capable of serving the Deity properly. Pascal would have, however, argued that the proper motive for belief comes after a person chooses their belief and that how a person perceives God is dependent on the person’s comprehension level. Therefore, there is only one God who is perceived by everyone. However, each person perceives God according to their understanding level.

Secondly, for one to be sure of a reward, a person would not be able to know the exact God or gods that they should believe in so as to receive the full wager conditions. As a result, the conditions of the wager are challenged when referenced against other gods such as Zeus, Mithras or Odin. Therefore, in order for a person to be fully assured of the reward, they would have to believe in all the gods. However, if only one God existed then Pascal’s strategy would be self-defeating. Therefore, suppositions presented by “The Wager” are flawed in some way as it applies decision theory that is only useful to actions but not beliefs. Furthermore, “The Wager,” commits a false dilemma fallacy. This is because it claims uncertainty yet it provides two options of a God who punishes non-believers and rewards believers.

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