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Re: 'Pascal's wager'.

Posted by Fred on March 11, 2005

In Reply to: Re: 'Pascal's wager'. posted by Lexi on March 11, 2005

: : : : : 17th Century Philosopher Blaise Pascal formulated an argument that is used anytime the downside consequences of an action or a belief are so extraordinary that the risk cannot (should not) be taken.

: : : : : Quotations:
: : : : : "If you believe in God and turn out to be incorrect, you have lost nothing -- but if you don't believe in God and turn out to be incorrect, you will go to hell. Therefore it is foolish to be an atheist." Paraphrase of Pascal's Wager.
: : : : :
: : : : : There was at least one modern application of this philosophy called "Mutually Assured Destruction" which posited that the nuclear powers were in balance with hugh overkill capacity because noone would risk the certain consequence of the earth being destroyed if the first party pulled the trigger.

: : : : : Pascal's wager works in lots of little ways as well, when you don't take an action because the consequences, although not likely to occur, are too dreadful to contemplate.

: : : : Philosopher he was, although he is probably best known as a mathematician and scientist. He invented the syringe, the hydraulic press and "Pascal's law," among much else, and has been honored by having a computer language named after him. He wrote extensively, and contentiously, on religious topics. I have always regarded his "wager," about which he seems to have been in dead earnest, as a perfect example of hypocrisy, although it may not seem so to others. SS

: : : Smokey......your suggestion of the wager as a 'perfect example' of hypocrisy is curious. If Pascal believed this formulation, how, then, could it be a representation of hypocrisy?
: : : HYPOCRISY:
: : : Pronunciation: hi-'pä-kr&-sE also hI-
: : : Function: noun
: : : Inflected Form(s): plural -sies
: : : Etymology: Middle English ypocrisie, from Old French, from Late Latin hypocrisis, from Greek hypokrisis act of playing a part on the stage, hypocrisy, from hypokrinesthai to answer, act on the stage, from hypo- + krinein to decide -more at CERTAIN
: : : Date: 13th century
: : : 1 : a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not; especially : the false assumption of an appearance of virtue or religion
: : : 2 : an act or instance of hypocrisy

: : Yes, hypocrisy. To "believe" based on a calculation is hardly belief. It's a mathematical hedging of a bet. Besides which, it's hardly binary, believe-or-not in God. Which god? Allah? Zeus? Buddha? Yahweh? Vishnu? (Pascal went totally bonkers in his last years, driven by religious obsession. He will indeed be remembered more for his mathematics than his philosophy.)

: There are many things I 'believe' based on calculation. That's part of the scientific method.
: I'm certainly not aware of any history of a cynical background for this aspect of Pascals work. You might be, and if so, I'd like you to share the information. As Smokey originally said, "his wager, about which he seems to have been in dead earnest" doesn't meet the criteria of hypocricy at all to me. As an agnostic myself, it is simplistic but not hypocricy.

I think I'm lining up with Lexi on this one. If Johnnie says he believes in Santa Claus in order to get presents and if he has no independent means of verifying whether there is a Santa Claus, he is not a hypocrite. Rather, he is a smart pragmatist.
In disgareement with bob's "bonkers remark," the Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that "In recent years Pascal has been studied seriously by existen tialists because of his brilliant portrayal of the human condition, and he has been compared with Kierkegaard, especially in terms of his antiphilosophical and fideistic statements of Christianity."