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The ethics and morality of Pascal's wager

Discussion in 'Ethics & Morality' started by Pooja Sadhu, Jul 21, 2019.

  1. Moral Orel

    Moral Orel Proud Citizen of Moralton Supporter

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    The intellect dismisses Scientology, and that's a good thing. Intellect is good at discerning truth in that regard. But people still believe in Scientology, so if the intellect dismisses it, then it must be the heart that leads folks to believe it, and that makes the heart terrible at discerning truth.
     
  2. Silmarien

    Silmarien Existentialist

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    Well, I'm Pascalian, for starters. I'm not fully convinced that human reason is sufficient to answer these questions, though I'm particularly unimpressed by what I see in the naturalist camp. My strongest sympathies are for certain aspects of the Christian Platonist tradition, but I don't really want to burden you with too many inherently religious ideas. ^_^ In any case, the Wager starts from the assumption of unknowability, so I might as well wear my irrationalist hat today.

    An important thing to note is that I started out as an atheistic existentialist--practically a relic of the 1950s. This means a couple of things when it comes to the topic of Pascal's Wager, the first of which is that I already had a non-theistic concept of damnation. Mauvaise foi and personal hells are really our thing, so the first time I came across the more mystical or Eastern Christian conception of damnation as an existential state rather than a place, it actually made a good deal of sense. If the soul truly is immortal (and who can know one way or the other?), then it seemed to me that there actually might be genuine dangers--not because of divine punishment, but because hell is yourself.

    This is why Pascal's Wager is situational effective. The theistic and non-theistic existentialistic traditions are aligned in ways that actually make communication possible. Their arguments can be effective against us in ways that they might not be against other secularists. In this case, Christianity imposes no threat that I don't already recognize. All it does is point out--correctly--that if existence actually does end up being eternal, then your Huis Clos/No Exit scenario is more than just a thought experiment. What Christianity offers is an alternative to a reality that is meaningless and unknowable, where the best advice that can be offered is to try anyway, knowing you are doomed to failure. If you're in perpetual dialogue with Sartre and Camus, and Christianity comes along and says, "Really? Are you sure you're looking at things the right way?" it's worth considering what it would mean if you did in fact have things backwards.

    I could say a good deal more, particularly about the moral dimension of belief justification, but I'm trying not to write a book here. It should be remembered that Pascal was something of a proto-existentialist himself, though, so there are certain complications involved in assuming a form of strict evidentialism as the default epistemology. We might not merely disagree, but start spitting terms like "mauvaise foi," so really you have to toss out the rulebook and start over when dealing with people whose starting place is unknowability. Everything is different.

    Oh, yes. Absolutely. Tenets conceal far more than they reveal.

    Hmm. Alright. Apology accepted. :)
     
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2019
  3. zippy2006

    zippy2006 Dragonsworn

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    I don't agree with your reasoning here.
     
  4. zippy2006

    zippy2006 Dragonsworn

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    It's true. One time I rented out my apartment to some folks, and when the lease was up I asked them, "Hey, so what were you guys doing in there for all those months?" They didn't reveal very much at all. :sorry:
     
  5. Silmarien

    Silmarien Existentialist

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    You know... it looked strange, but I figured I was just getting confused with David Tennant and stuck with the same spelling.

    In my defense, who cares about English, because I just got back my results from my Spanish C1 exam in May and I passed by a good 30 points! :swoon:Vaya por Dios, but whoever at the Instituto de Cervantes thought my writing sample deserved a near perfect score must have been drunk.
     
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  6. zippy2006

    zippy2006 Dragonsworn

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    ^_^

    Hey, congrats! :oldthumbsup:
     
  7. Kylie

    Kylie Atheist and Proud

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    I have two questions.

    First, if you think this applies to Christianity, then does it also apply to other religions as well? Does it apply to Islam? If not, why not? What is there about this argument that makes it valid for only Christianity? And if it does apply to other religions, why have you not converted to them?

    Secondly, Pascal's Wager advocates belief for selfish purposes. Do you really think God is going to like that?
     
  8. 2PhiloVoid

    2PhiloVoid A Crash Test Dummy's work is never done! Supporter

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    :doh1:
     
  9. Kylie

    Kylie Atheist and Proud

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    Care to elaborate?
     
  10. 2PhiloVoid

    2PhiloVoid A Crash Test Dummy's work is never done! Supporter

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    I suppose I could, but before I do ... maybe just see what I wrote back up in post #38 to the OP for starters. (link provided below) ;)

    The ethics and morality of Pascal's wager
     
  11. Kylie

    Kylie Atheist and Proud

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    Thanks for that.

    it seems to me that you are essentially saying that if there is a person who wants to believe, but they aren't sure/don't have sufficient evidence, they should believe anyway, and that way they will be in a better position for when the evidence is available to them.

    Can you provide a source to support your position?

    However, there are a few things about your position.

    First, it's still deciding on your conclusion before you have the evidence to support that conclusion, simply because that's the conclusion you want to reach. That would be like a lawyer saying, "I know there isn't enough evidence to reach a guilty verdict, but let's face it, we all want him to be guilty, so return a guilty verdict and that way you'll be in a good position once the evidence comes in."

    Secondly, Pascal's wager was originally presented in section 233 of Pascal's posthumously published Pensées. In that section, he wrote:

    If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is....

    ..."God is, or He is not." But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

    Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. "No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all."

    Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

    "That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much." Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite.

    I don't see where in that part he specifies that the wager is only intended for people who want to believe yet are unsure about the sufficiency of the evidence. He is saying, in my opinion, that everyone must make a decision whether or not to believe, and he is presenting his wager as a way of explaining how belief maximizes the chances of winning by playing the odds - in short, the very interpretation of Pascal's Wager you claimed was wrong.
     
  12. 2PhiloVoid

    2PhiloVoid A Crash Test Dummy's work is never done! Supporter

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    Oh well then. If I'm "wrong," despite the fact that I've actually read and understood the entire Pensees, along with Pascal's overall context (...while I have a hunch that you haven't), then I guess I'm just wasting your time. But nevertheless, yes, not only can I discuss this issue, I can provide 'sources' and hermeneutical analysis of Pascal.

    First off, you really shouldn't eliminate portions of Pascal's Wager material, replacing them with ellipses ... that should be a hermeneutical 'no-no' in this case. And you may want to keep in mind that there has been more than one version and translation of Pascal's Pensees. The translation I like reads slightly differently than the following one, but the following still captures more of the material than you have in your own abbreviated quotation of it. I suggest you take in a 'fuller' reading (although, in my estimation, even that's not full enough contextually since we also need to take into consideration what I call Pascal's A.A.S.S. [...short for Argument Against Sociopathic Skepticism] which precedes the Wager and gives initial psychological motive for the Wager) before we attempt to discuss things:

    https://www.york.ac.uk/depts/maths/histstat/pascal_wager.pdf
     
    Last edited: Aug 31, 2019
  13. Kylie

    Kylie Atheist and Proud

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    You're right, I haven't read it.

    As for the bits removed by the ellipses, I was cutting and pasting, so you'd have to blame my source for that, not me.

    Thanks for providing the PDF of the whole thing. I had a look through it but couldn't find a bit that clearly and unambiguously states that the wager is designed primarily for those people who want to believe but don't have sufficient evidence to do so. Could you cut'n'paste the relevant sentences?

    You also didn't respond to my point about the lawyer instructing the jury to find someone guilty even though there isn't sufficient evidence. Could you tell me how that point is mistaken?
     
  14. Kaon

    Kaon Well-Known Member

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    Pascals wager is sophomoric at best, in my opinion.

    I think Thor, Odin, Semiramis as Diana/Cybil, Zeus...and all the other gods of myth exist. They just aren't the Most Highest God. So, Pascal's wager does ignore that these entities exist, and that despite the fact that a prime/Most High God exists, people can and will still choose to follow one of the lesser god for which they resonate.

    In fact, most gods over the eras and cultures are the same fallen entities masquerading under different names - especially where they have established their nexus (pyramids.)

    If you believe that there are no other magistrates masquerading as gods on this plane of existence - throughout our history - then of course Pascal's wager is a compelling argument. However, Pascal in his academic learnedness couldn't see beyond the influence of Catholiccism as the power in his culture and time.
     
  15. 2PhiloVoid

    2PhiloVoid A Crash Test Dummy's work is never done! Supporter

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    Thank you for being honest.

    Ok. I'll blame your sources, then. ^_^

    Sure, but for the moment I'm going to hold off from pasting anything so that you and I can discuss the nature of Pascal's argument and the importance of the overall context of its connection to other things Pascal writes in his Pensees. It's not as if the Wager is a 'stand-alone' argument, even though, for some reason, everyone treats it like it is. Moreover, to understand the Wager is to understand Pascal's entire flow of thought, not just to peg one or two sentences as possible silver bullets. His whole argument needs to be treated as the complex dialectical thing that it is, even if we may disagree with its overall position.

    So, what do you think is inferred or even outright stated about human "knowing" by Pascal in the first several paragraphs of Pensee #343[6–233] (i.e. essentially the 1st page of the document I provided above)? I'm asking because we need to see what his local context is. And of course, we also need to know what his extended context is, especially since he refers to subjects in this passage that he treats and explains in other ways in other of his Pensees (which is why one really needs to read all of the Pensees together since they kind of buttress on another).

    Admittedly, I didn't do so because...well, I thought it was of little consequence. However, I could be wrong about that. Fortunately, I do believe that Pascal addresses this very kind of inquiry which your hypothetical lawyer would wish to make.
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2019
  16. 2PhiloVoid

    2PhiloVoid A Crash Test Dummy's work is never done! Supporter

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    And this is why we don't, and shouldn't, read Pascal's Wager as a stand-alone argument, because in his own way, he dispenses with the other world religions and his Wager is meant to reflect this epistemic position. Of course, without reading the whole of his Pensees, you wouldn't know that, would you?

    With that said, Pascal's Wager doesn't 'have to matter' to you. It's not like it's some kind of church doctrine. It's not. It's just a cognitive tool that Pascal is offering to those who would like to believe but find it difficult to do so. He's not really talking to the 'hardened, apathetic' atheist. We should all be clear on that.
     
  17. Kaon

    Kaon Well-Known Member

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    I know that, and I believe most understand it. However, it doesn't matter. It is still sophomoric, not because of some degeneracy due to religious affiliation, or political alignment. It is sophomoric because it relies on a form of duality to vindicate the restrictions on the choices given. Pascal's wager is, on the surface, thought-provoking. But, it is still from the kernel of a boxed view of reality through society and religion.

    Believers and nonbelievers need more substance than a superficial odyssey of the mind; these people are looking for profundity in their decisions (or, in the alternative). At the time, this may have been the epitome of philosophical discussion, but in this time we should understand our privilege enough to realize the elementary identity of the application.


    TL;DR: Pascal's Wager is a knee-jerk reaction to the question and consideration of existentialism, and the existence of God - despite its apparent linguistic elegance.
     
  18. 2PhiloVoid

    2PhiloVoid A Crash Test Dummy's work is never done! Supporter

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    Well then, if it "doesn't matter" for you, then we can be done since Pascal's A.A.S.S. doesn't likely "matter to you" either.

    Moreover, Pascal's Wager or no Wager, you realize that he is indeed starting from a position of ignorance, like the rest of us do who will admit to such? The point is we delude ourselves today into thinking--nay, demanding--some point of privilege for profundity that we really don't have, despite Sagan's demand for "the extraordinary."
     
    Last edited: Sep 1, 2019
  19. Kaon

    Kaon Well-Known Member

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    Pascal was a physicist, Catholic and mathematician. He should not have the capacity of ignorance you allude to. It doesn't matter not because it isn't important, but because it doesn't do anything for the seeker.

    As I said, it was good for what it was (in terms of philosophy), but for a deep odyssey into existentialism and the nature of God, it is simplistic at best - the reason why it does nothing for the seeker. It is often used as a literary prop or weapon (in a myopic way).
     
  20. 2PhiloVoid

    2PhiloVoid A Crash Test Dummy's work is never done! Supporter

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    Do you realize that in this you're simply making "just so" statements, but without actually demonstrating epistemologically that Pascal is wrong OR that you're definitively correct?

    I can understand wanting to dispense with Pascal. That's fine. You can do so. But doing so in and of itself doesn't indicate to your interlocutor that you've actually fully engaged or even understood Pascal. Have you by chance read his short writing, number #229?

    Anyway, I don't rely on Pascal even though I like much of what he says; it's just that he could be seen as an earlier, even sophomoric attempt at describing things in a way that comports with today's Philosophical Hermeneuticists.
     
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