Pascal's Wagers and James's Will to Believe

Jeffrey J. Jordan

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion

Published in print January 2005 | ISBN: 9780195138092
Published online April 2005 | e-ISBN: 9780199835348 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

 Pascal's Wagers and James's Will to Believe

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Pragmatic arguments seek to justify the performance of an action by appealing to the benefits that may follow from that action. Pascal’s wager, for instance, argues that one should inculcate belief in God because there is everything to gain and little to lose by doing do. In this chapter I critically examine Pascal’s wager and William James’s famous “Will-to-Believe” argument by first explaining the logic of each argument and then by surveying the objections commonly arrayed against them. Finally, I suggest that among the various versions of the wager found in Pascal’s Pensées is a neglected version that anticipates the Jamesian argument and that avoids the many-gods objection.

Keywords: William James; many gods objection; Pascal; Pascal’s wager; Pensées; pragmatic arguments; will to believe

Chapter.  7728 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

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