Pascal's Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God

Pascal's Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God

Pascal's Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God

Pascal's Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God

Excerpt

A castaway builds a fire hoping to catch the attention of any ship or plane that might be passing nearby. Even with no evidence that a plane or ship is nearby, he still gathers driftwood and lights a fire, enhancing the possibility of rescue. The castaway's reasoning is pragmatic. The benefit associated with fire building exceeds that of not building, and, clearly, no one questions the wisdom of the action.

Of course, the castaway's building of the fire does not require that the castaway believes that it will be seen. It requires only a belief that it might be seen. Now consider the question of God. What if there is no strong evidence that God exists? May one believe, justifiably, that God exists? Or is belief in the absence of strong supporting evidence illegitimate and improper? Pragmatic arguments for theism are designed to motivate and support belief even in the absence of strong evidential support. These arguments seek to show that theistic belief is permissible, even if one does not think that it is likely that God exists. Theism is the proposition that God exists. God we will understand as that individual, if any, who is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect. A theist is anyone who believes that God exists.

Pragmatic arguments employ prudential reasons on behalf of their conclusions. A prudential reason for a proposition is a reason to think that believing that proposition would be beneficial. Other theistic arguments—the Ontological proof or the Cosmological argument, for example—provide epistemic reasons in support of theism. An epistemic reason for a certain proposition is a reason to think that that proposition is true or likely. The French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal

Some versions of the Wager are intended to persuade, even if it is extremely unlikely
that God exists.

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