June 18, 2023

Pascal’s Wager: a dialogue

Pascal’s Wager is a philosophical argument put forward by the 17th century French philosopher, mathematician, and physicist Blaise Pascal. The argument is a pragmatic reasoning in favor of belief in God and is found in his posthumously published work Pensées.

Clay: Monsieur Pascal, you are known for your philosophical wager on the existence of God. Can you elucidate on this?

Pascal: Ah, yes, Clay, the wager. Let’s imagine a game of chance. It’s a wager, you see. On one side, you have the option to believe in God, and on the other, to not believe.

Clay: And the stakes, Monsieur Pascal?

Pascal: If you believe in God and He does indeed exist, the reward is infinite – eternal happiness in the afterlife. If He doesn’t exist, you may have lost some earthly pleasures, but your loss is trivial.

Clay: I see. And what of the flip side?

Pascal: If you do not believe in God and He exists, you face an infinite loss – eternal damnation, perhaps. And if God doesn’t exist, your gain is rather minimal – some earthly pleasures, that’s all.

Clay: So, you argue that the most rational decision is to believe in God, even in the face of uncertainty?

Pascal: Exactly, Clay. It is not an argument for God’s existence but rather a pragmatic reasoning suggesting that the potential benefits of believing in God outweigh the potential losses.

Clay: But Monsieur Pascal, there are several gods in various religions. Why wager on the Christian God?

Pascal: Ah, you’ve raised the “Many-Gods” objection. It’s a fair critique, but remember, this wager is based on the cultural and religious context I am part of.

Clay: What about the sincerity of belief? Can one genuinely believe something out of fear or for personal gain?

Pascal: That’s another good point. Sincerity of belief is indeed a concern. But remember, the wager is not about whether the belief is sincere or insincere. It’s about the rationality of choosing to believe.

Clay: And if God rewards skepticism, not belief?

Pascal: That’s another fascinating perspective, Clay. But my wager is based on the widely accepted religious narrative where God rewards belief. If God rewards skepticism, well, that would be a different game altogether!

Clay: Your wager certainly provides food for thought, Monsieur Pascal.

Pascal: And that is the point, Clay, to think, to reason, to ponder – for that is the essence of philosophy.

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