Pascal's Wagers and James's Will to Believe

Jeffrey J. Jordan

in The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion

Published in print June 2007 | ISBN: 9780195331356
Published online September 2009 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Pascal's Wagers and James's Will to Believe

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Pascal's wager was a revolutionary apologetic device. It is not an argument for the claim that God exists. That sort of argument appeals to evidence, whether empirical or conceptual. The wager is an argument that belief in God is pragmatically rational, that inculcating a belief in God is the action dictated by prudence. To say that an action is pragmatically rational implies that it is in one's best interests to do that action. Rationality and truth can diverge, of course. But in the absence of conclusive evidence of truth, Pascal contends, rationality should be our guide. Pascal's pragmatic turn, though foreshadowed in earlier writers, was an attempt to argue that theistic belief was the only proper attitude to adopt when faced with the question of the existence of God. Because reason cannot determine the answer, it must yield the field to prudence, which, if the wager succeeds, wins the day for theism.

Keywords: Pascal's wager; rationality; truth; God's existence; belief in God; theistic belief

Article.  7564 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Religion ; History of Western Philosophy

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