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A defence of Pascal's wager

  • Geoffrey Brown (a1)
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Pascal's Wager, and the issues raised by it, have, despite a few notable exceptions, been an object of some neglect in recent Philosophy of Religion. Whether this neglect is from an assumption that the argument requires no comment, or from a feeling that there is something not quite academically respectable about it, I have come to believe that it is undeserved. One reason why the argument is deserving of attention from the theologian is that Pascal has managed to put his finger on just the sort of consideration which, rightly or wrongly, is capable of exercising a powerful influence over the ordinary mind – the sort of problem which, in short, keeps people awake at nights. A reason why it should be of interest to the philosopher is that it possesses that characteristically philosophical quality of appearing obviously invalid in some lights, and in others (rather like the Ontological Argument) manages to slip past every supposed disproof, and annoy us with the suspicion that it may, after all, be valid. These reasons alone are sufficient to justify the philosopher of religion in attempting a careful analysis of Pascal's case in the light of which its cogency can be assessed. In this paper, I shall attempt such an analysis, and shall proceed to argue that, correctly understood and within its proper limitations, Pascal's argument is indeed valid.

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page 466 note 1 Dalton, Peter C., ‘Pascal's Wager: The Second ArgumentSouthern journal of Philosophy XIII, no. 1 (spring 1995), 3146, and ‘Pascal's Wager: The First Argument’, Philosophical Review, VII, no. 2 (1976), 346–86.

page 466 note 2 Pascal, , Pensées, 418 All references to the Pensées are based on the Penguin Classics edition, trans. Krailsheimer, A. J. (Penguin Books, 1966).

page 466 note 3 Id.

page 466 note 4 On this point, see Clement Webb, C. J., Pascal's Philosophy of Religion (Clarendon, Oxford, 1929), ch. v.

page 467 note 1 Steinman, Jean, Pascal (Desclée De Brouwer, 1962), ch. vi.

page 467 note 2 Pensées, p. 418.

page 468 note 1 Id.

page 468 note 2 Swinburne, R. G., The ‘Christian Wager’, Religious Studies IV (19681969), 217228.

page 469 note 1 Plato, , Phaedo 114d, trans. Tredennick, Hugh, in Collected Dialogues, ed. Hamilton, and Cairns, (Pantheon, 1961).

page 470 note 1 Lewis, C. S., Miracles (Bles, 1947).

page 470 note 2 James, William, ‘The Will to Believe’, in Tite Will to Believe and other essays… (Longmans Green, 1904).

page 471 note 1 Mill, J. S., A System of Logic.

page 471 note 2 Hume, , An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, ch. x.

page 471 note 3 Pensées, p. 418.

page 471 note 4 James, , op. cit.

page 471 note 5 Flew, Anthony, The Presumption of Atheism (Elek/Pemberton, 1976), ch. v. (Similar arguments are also presented in his God and Philosophy, 1966.)

page 472 note 1 Id.

page 472 note 2 Price, H. H.Belief and Will’, PAS, supplementary vol., XXVIII (1954). (See also Pojman, B. P., ‘Belief and Will’, Rel. Stud. XIV, 114.)

page 473 note 1 Id.

page 473 note 2 Pensées, p. 418.

page 474 note 1 Ibid. p. 427.

page 474 note 2 On this, see Turner, M. B., ‘Deciding for God – the Bayesian Support of Pascal's Wager’, in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research XXIX (19681969).

page 475 note 1 Flew, , op. cit., ch. 5.

page 475 note 2 Id.

page 476 note 1 Pensées, p. 418.

page 476 note 2 A similar, though distinct, point, has been made by Mellor, D. H. in his article ‘God and Probability’, Rel. Stud. V (1969), 223234.

page 477 note 1 E.g. Cousin, Victor, Des Pensées de Pascal.

page 477 note 2 On this controversy, see Lacombe, Roger-E., L'Apologétique de Pascal (Presses Universitaires de France 1958).

page 478 note 1 See Laporte, Jean, Le Coeur et La Raison selon Pascal (Éditions Elzévir, Paris, 1950).

page 478 note 2 Penelhum, T., «Pascal's Wager’, Journal of Religion XLIV (1964).

page 479 note 1 Swinburne, , op. cit.

page 479 note 2 John, 4: 16.

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