Philosophy 1020 Lecture Notes - Jansenism

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Pascal's Wager
4 October 2011
- an argument for the rationality of religious belief
Pascal:
- inventor of probability calculus
- laid foundations of infinitesimal calculus
- built the first calculating machine
- religious thinker and writer (Jansenist)
- experiments in physics, especially fluid dynamics
Pascal thought the arguments for the existence of God were not compelling, and also
that the arguments against the existence of God were not compelling. He thought we
were caught in inescapable ignorance about whether God exists or not.
Pascal's fundamental vision: in a situation of insurmountable uncertainty the best we
can do is think about probabilities and make a rational best guess.
So, he lowered the bar:
He proposed that if can’t settle the truth of the matter about the existence of God, we
should ask a different question:
Given that the evidence does not compel us one way or other, is it reasonable to
believe in God?
Or Rather:
Is it more rational to believe in God (and behave accordingly), or is it more rational to
not believe in God (and behave accordingly)?
Which is the better bet?
Combinations and Outcomes
Where G stands for the proposition that God exists, along with the traditional (Christian)
eschatological story
I believe G G is true WIN BIG
I believe G G is false little loss
I don't believe G G is true LOSE BIG
I don't believe G G is false little win
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Document Summary

An argument for the rationality of religious belief. Pascal thought the arguments for the existence of god were not compelling, and also that the arguments against the existence of god were not compelling. He thought we were caught in inescapable ignorance about whether god exists or not. Pascal"s fundamental vision: in a situation of insurmountable uncertainty the best we can do is think about probabilities and make a rational best guess. He proposed that if can t settle the truth of the matter about the existence of god, we should ask a different question: Where g stands for the proposition that god exists, along with the traditional (christian) eschatological story. Believing in god is a game of chance, we make a good bet with the information we have. The only way to be sure of avoiding the big loss, and to have a chance at the big.

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