PHIL 1F90 Lecture 12: Pascal's Wager
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If there be a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits,
He has no relation to us. We are, then, incapable of knowing either that He is or what He is.
Let us examine this point: "Either God is, or is not," we can say. But to which side shall
we incline? Reason cannot help us. There is an infinite gulf fixed between creature and creator.
What will you wager? It is like a game in which heads or tails may turn up. There is no reason for
backing either the one possibility or the other. You cannot reasonably argue in favor of either.
If you know nothing either way, it might be urged, the true course is not to wager at all. But
you must wager; that does not depend on your will. You are embarked in this business. Which will
Let us see. Since you must choose, your reason is no more affronted in choosing one way
than the other. That point is clear. But what of your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in
wagering that God does exist. If you wager that He does, and He does, you gain all; if you
wager that He does, and He does not, you lose nothing. If you win, you take all; if you lose,
you lose nothing. This is demonstrable, and if men are capable of any truths, this is one. Wager
then, unhesitatingly, that He does exist.
If we ought to do nothing except on a certainty, we ought to do nothing for religion, because
it is not a matter of certainty,. But it is false to say, "We ought to do nothing except on a certainty,"
In a voyage at sea, in a battle, we act on uncertainties. If it be the case that we ought to do nothing
except on a certainty, then we ought to do nothing at all, for nothing is certain.
You may object: "My hands are tied, my mouth is gagged. I am forced to wager, I am not
free. But, despite this, I am so made that I cannot believe. What then would you have me do?"
I would have you understand your incapacity to believe. Labor to convince yourself, not by
more "proofs" of God's existence. but by disciplining your passions and wayward emotions. You
would arrive at faith but know not the way. You would heal yourself of unbelief, yet know not the
remedies. I answer: Learn of those who have been bound as you are. These are they who know the
way you would follow, who have been cured of a disease you would be cured of. Follow the way
by which they began, by making believe what they believed. Thus you will come to believe.
Now, what will happen to you if you take this side in the religious wager? You will be
trustworthy, honorable, humble, grateful generous, friendly, sincere, and true. You will no
longer have those poisoned pleasures, glory and luxury; but you will have other pleasures. I
tell you that you will gain this life; at each step you will see so much certainty of gain, so much
nothingness in what you stake, that you will know at last that you have wagered on a certainty, an
infinity, for which you have risked nothing.
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