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The Will to Come Out All Right

  • Herb Yarvin (a1)

William James presents Pascal's wager in this manner: if you believe in God and God exists, then your gain is infinite; if you believe in God and God doesn't exist, then your loss is finite. Therefore, since a finite loss is reasonable where there is the possibility of infinite gain, you ought to believe in God. ‘What have you to lose?’ James asks (II).1

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page 303 note 1 Roman numerals in parentheses in the text refer to sections of James's paper.

page 304 note 1 Some questions about whether divine authority would distinguish between a faith initially based on self-interest which has later become unself-interested and a faith constantly based on self-interest come into play here. The answers to these questions might be crucial – depending on what other assumptions about divine authority were made-to whether the wager made sense to someone with a will to come out all right.

page 307 note 1 James goes on to speak to an audience which views the universe not as a mere It, but a Thou, and he argues that from this point of view one feels that religion's reward may be withheld unless one meets religion halfway by believing in it. Once again James's maxim is reasonable: if it is true that the universe is a Thou, then it follows that one should meet religion halfway. But from this maxim it does not follow that one should meet religion halfway. To get that conclusion here, we would have to know that the universe is a Thou, and this is something James does not claim to know. But James does address himself to an audience which believes that the universe is a Thou, and this audience will, given James's reasoning, believe that religion should be met halfway.

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Religious Studies
  • ISSN: 0034-4125
  • EISSN: 1469-901X
  • URL: /core/journals/religious-studies
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