A THOROUGHLY MODERN WAGER (pages 207-231)

Michael J. SHAFFER

ABSTRACT: Pascal’s wager is a familiar heuristic designed to show that believing that God exists is of greater practical value than believing that God does not exist given the outcomes associated with those beliefs as understood in Christian theology. In this way Pascal argues that we that we ought to believe that God exists, independent of epistemic grounds. But, things are not easy, because he understands that belief is not subject to direct voluntary control. So, for purely practical reasons, he advises us to put ourselves in situations that will maximize our chances of acquiring the belief that God exists. In effect, he advises us to attempt to acquire that belief by indirect control. But, then the wager is not a proper decision problem since it does not involve a real choice. Additionally, there are at least two other problems that afflict the traditional wager: one involving the value of eternal damnation and one concerning the coherence of infinite utilities. In this paper the wager will be explored and a corrected version will be presented that yields a rather surprising, but theoretically correct, conclusion.

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