About this topic
Summary Traditional theistic arguments conclude that God exists. Practical arguments for theism, by contrast, conclude that we have practical reason(s) to believe in God. Pascal's wager is one of the most famous, but this category includes all papers examining the practical reasons to be a theist. Further, while 'being a theist' is traditional taken to be a matter of belief, this category also includes practical reasons for certain religious practices.
Key works Historical figures that play an influential role in this debate include Blaise Pascal, who makes arguably the most famous pragmatic argument for theism in his Pensées, (fragments 233-241) and Al-Ghazālī (The Alchemy of Happiness) who provides a pragmatic argument for theism that actually predates Pascal's. See also W.K. Clifford's "The Ethics of Belief" for a famous evidentialist objection to pragmatic arguments for theism, and William James (The Will to Believe) for an alternative pragmatic argument for theism.  While there is much contemporary literature about Pascal's wager in particular (see the PhilPapers subcategory on Pascal's wager for an overview), Susan Rinard's work on practical reasons for belief (e.g. Rinard 2017 and Rinard 2019) deserves a read from anyone interested in pragmatic arguments for theism. 
Introductions For an introduction to pragmatic arguments for theism, see Duncan 2013. For an introduction to Pascal's wager in particular, see Rota 2017
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Pascal's Wager
  1. A Paradox for Tiny Probabilities and Enormous Values.Nick Beckstead & Teruji Thomas - forthcoming - Noûs.
    We begin by showing that every theory of the value of uncertain prospects must have one of three unpalatable properties. _Reckless_ theories recommend giving up a sure thing, no matter how good, for an arbitrarily tiny chance of enormous gain; _timid_ theories permit passing up an arbitrarily large potential gain to prevent a tiny increase in risk; _non-transitive_ theories deny the principle that, if A is better than B and B is better than C, then A must be better than (...)
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  2. An Epistemic Version of Pascal's Wager.Elizabeth Jackson - forthcoming - Journal of the American Philosophical Association.
    Epistemic consequentialism is the view that epistemic goodness is more fundamental than epistemic rightness. This paper examines the relationship between epistemic consequentialism and theistic belief. I argue that, in an epistemic consequentialist framework, there is an epistemic reason to believe in God. Imagine having an unlimited amount of time to ask an omniscient being anything you wanted. The potential epistemic benefits would be enormous. Considerations like these point to an epistemic version of Pascal’s wager. I compare and contrast the epistemic (...)
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  3. ch. 10. Many gods, many wagers : Pascal's Wager meets the replicator dynamics.Paul Bartha - 2012 - In Jake Chandler & Victoria S. Harrison (eds.), Probability in the Philosophy of Religion. Oxford University Press.
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  4. Know Your Way Out of St. Petersburg: An Exploration of "Knowledge-First" Decision Theory.Frank Hong - forthcoming - Erkenntnis:1-20.
    This paper explores the consequences of applying two natural ideas from epistemology to decision theory: (1) that knowledge should guide our actions, and (2) that we know a lot of non-trivial things. In particular, we explore the consequences of these ideas as they are applied to standard decision theoretic puzzles such as the St. Petersburg Paradox. In doing so, we develop a “knowledge-first” decision theory and we will see how it can help us avoid fanaticism with regard to the St. (...)
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  5. Planning for Pascal's Mugging.Jeffrey Sanford Russell - manuscript
    In "Pascal's Mugging" (Bostrom 2009), Pascal gives away his wallet for an extremely tiny chance of an extremely large reward. In this continuation of Bostrom's story, Pascal's friend counsels him to take into account the possibility of making mistakes about his true expected utilities, and they consider to what extent this will help Pascal make plans to avoid future muggings.
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  6. The Buddha's Lucky Throw and Pascal's Wager.Bronwyn Finnigan - forthcoming - Australasian Journal of Philosophy.
    The Apaṇṇaka Sutta, one of the early recorded teachings of the Buddha, contains an argument for accepting the doctrines of karma and rebirth that Buddhist scholars claim anticipates Pascal’s wager. I call this argument the Buddha’s wager. Does it anticipate Pascal’s wager and is it a good bet? Contemporary scholars identify at least four versions of Pascal’s wager in his Pensées. This article demonstrates that the Buddha’s wager anticipates two versions of Pascal’s wager, but not its canonical form. Like Pascal’s (...)
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  7. Pascal’s Wager and Decision-making with Imprecise Probabilities.André Neiva - forthcoming - Philosophia:1-30.
    Unlike other classical arguments for the existence of God, Pascal’s Wager provides a pragmatic rationale for theistic belief. Its most popular version says that it is rationally mandatory to choose a way of life that seeks to cultivate belief in God because this is the option of maximum expected utility. Despite its initial attractiveness, this long-standing argument has been subject to various criticisms by many philosophers. What is less discussed, however, is the rationality of this choice in situations where the (...)
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  8. Taking Pascal's wager: faith, evidence, and the abundant life.Michael Rota - 2016 - Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic, an imprint of Intervarsity Press.
    In part one of this book I argue for the conditional claim that if Christianity has at least a 50% epistemic probability, then it is rational to commit to living a Christian life (and irrational not to). This claim is supported by a contemporary version of Pascal's wager. In part two, I then proceed to argue that Christianity does have at least a 50% epistemic probability, by advancing versions of the cosmological argument, the fine-tuning argument, and historical arguments for the (...)
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  9. A compendium of paradoxes. [REVIEW]William D’Alessandro - 2022 - Metascience 31 (3):1-4.
    A review of Matt Cook's book Sleight of Mind: 75 Ingenious Paradoxes in Mathematics, Physics, and Philosophy.
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  10. Pascal’s Wager: a Reason to Hesitate.Amos Wollen - 2022 - Philosophia 50 (5):2743-2750.
    One version of Pascal’s Wager says we should commit to, or cultivate belief in, whatever religion we think is most likely to bring us eternal joy. I pose a reductio for this version of the Wager. After exploring some ways the Pascalian might respond, the verdict is that it provides some reason to suspect that somewhere, somehow, the Wager goes wrong.
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  11. Wittgenstein’s Wager: On [Absolute] Certainty.Noah Greenstein - 2022 - Southwest Philosophy Review 38 (1):51-57.
    Knowledge is analyzed in terms of the cost incurred when mistakes are made — things we should have known better, but didn’t. Following Wittgenstein at the end of On Certainty, an Epistemic Wager, similar to Pascal’s Wager, is set up to represent the cost differences not in belief vs. disbelief, but in knowledge vs. skepticism. This leads to a core class of absolutely certain knowledge, related to Moorean Facts, that is integrated into our everyday lives. This core knowledge is resistant (...)
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  12. Can Pascal’s Wager Save Morality from Ockham’s Razor?Tobias Beardsley - 2021 - Philosophia 50 (2):405-424.
    One version of moral error theory maintains that the central problem with morality is an ontological commitment to irreducible normativity. This paper argues that this version of error theory ultimately depends on an appeal to Ockham’s Razor, and that Ockham’s Razor should not be applied to irreducible normativity. This is because the appeal to Ockham’s Razor always contains an intractable element of epistemic circularity; and if this circularity is not vicious, we can construct a sound argument for the existence of (...)
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  13. From Desire to Conversion: Pascal's Wager and Girard's Mimetic Theory.Joel Hodge - 2022 - Heythrop Journal 63 (4):691-702.
    The Heythrop Journal, Volume 63, Issue 4, Page 691-702, July 2022.
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  14. Pragmatic Arguments for Theism.Elizabeth Jackson - forthcoming - In John Greco, Tyler Dalton McNabb & Jonathan Fuqua (eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Religious Epistemology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
    Traditional theistic arguments conclude that God exists. Pragmatic theistic arguments, by contrast, conclude that you ought to believe in God. The two most famous pragmatic theistic arguments are put forth by Blaise Pascal (1662) and William James (1896). Pragmatic arguments for theism can be summarized as follows: believing in God has significant benefits, and these benefits aren’t available for the unbeliever. Thus, you should believe in, or ‘wager on’, God. This article distinguishes between various kinds of theistic wagers, including finite (...)
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  15. On Two Arguments for Fanaticism.Jeffrey Sanford Russell -
    Should we make significant sacrifices to ever-so-slightly lower the chance of extremely bad outcomes, or to ever-so-slightly raise the chance of extremely good outcomes? *Fanaticism* says yes: for every bad outcome, there is a tiny chance of extreme disaster that is even worse, and for every good outcome, there is a tiny chance of an enormous good that is even better. I consider two related recent arguments for Fanaticism: Beckstead and Thomas's argument from *strange dependence on space and time*, and (...)
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  16. A Permissivist Defense of Pascal’s Wager.Elizabeth Jackson - forthcoming - Erkenntnis:1-26.
    Epistemic permissivism is the thesis that the evidence can rationally permit more than one attitude toward a proposition. Pascal’s wager is the idea that one ought to believe in God for practical reasons, because of what one can gain if theism is true and what one has to lose if theism is false. In this paper, I argue that if epistemic permissivism is true, then the defender of Pascal’s wager has powerful responses to two prominent objections. First, I argue that (...)
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  17. Infinite Prospects.Jeffrey Sanford Russell & Yoaav Isaacs - 2021 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 103 (1):178-198.
    People with the kind of preferences that give rise to the St. Petersburg paradox are problematic---but not because there is anything wrong with infinite utilities. Rather, such people cannot assign the St. Petersburg gamble any value that any kind of outcome could possibly have. Their preferences also violate an infinitary generalization of Savage's Sure Thing Principle, which we call the *Countable Sure Thing Principle*, as well as an infinitary generalization of von Neumann and Morgenstern's Independence axiom, which we call *Countable (...)
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  18. The Ethics of Religious Belief.Elizabeth Jackson - 2021 - Religious Studies Archives 1 (4):1-10.
    On some religious traditions, there are obligations to believe certain things. However, this leads to a puzzle, since many philosophers think that we cannot voluntarily control our beliefs, and, plausibly, ought implies can. How do we make sense of religious doxastic obligations? The papers in this issue present four responses to this puzzle. The first response denies that we have doxastic obligations at all; the second denies that ought implies can. The third and fourth responses maintain that we have either (...)
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  19. Can Pascal’s rationality rescue the pandemic vaccine?Venkat Ramanan - 2021 - Blue Labyrinths.
    How do you convine someone to take the coronavirus vaccine? This essay argues that we an do so by presenting to them a reasoned argument from theology, namely, Pascal's wager.
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  20. Faithfully Taking Pascal’s Wager.Elizabeth Jackson - forthcoming - The Monist.
    This paper examines the relationship between taking Pascal’s wager, faith, and hope. First, I argue that many who take Pascal’s wager have genuine faith that God exists. The person of faith and the wagerer have several things in common, including a commitment to God and positive cognitive and conative attitudes toward God’s existence. I also argue that if one’s credences in theism are too low to have faith, the wagerer can still hope that God exists, another commitment-justifying theological virtue. I (...)
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  21. Infinity in Pascal's Wager.Graham Oppy - 2018 - In Paul Bartha & Lawrence Pasternack (eds.), Pascal's Wager. Cambridge, UK: pp. 260-77.
    Bartha (2012) conjectures that, if we meet all of the other objections to Pascal’s wager, then the many-Gods objection is already met. Moreover, he shows that, if all other objections to Pascal’s wager are already met, then, in a choice between a Jealous God, an Indifferent God, a Very Nice God, a Very Perverse God, the full range of Nice Gods, the full range of Perverse Gods, and no God, you should wager on the Jealous God. I argue that his (...)
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  22. Review of The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity. [REVIEW]Theron Pummer - 2020 - Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews 8.
  23. Decyzje w sytuacjach niepewności normatywnej.Tomasz Żuradzki - 2020 - Przeglad Filozoficzny - Nowa Seria 29 (2):53-72.
    Etycy nie poświęcali dotąd wiele uwagi niepewności, koncentrując się często na skrajnie wyidealizowanych hipotetycznych sytuacjach, w których zarówno kwestie empiryczne (np. stan świata, spektrum możliwych decyzji oraz ich konsekwencje, związki przyczynowe między zdarzeniami), jak i normatywne (np. treść norm, skale wartości) były jasno określone i znane podmiotowi. W poniższym artykule – który jest rezultatem projektu dotyczącego różnych typów decyzji w sytuacjach niepewności związanej z postępem w naukach i technologiach biomedycznych – przedstawię analizę sytuacji niepewności normatywnej, czyli takich, w których podmiot (...)
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  24. Non-Archimedean Preferences Over Countable Lotteries.Jeffrey Sanford Russell - 2020 - Journal of Mathematical Economics 88 (May 2020):180-186.
    We prove a representation theorem for preference relations over countably infinite lotteries that satisfy a generalized form of the Independence axiom, without assuming Continuity. The representing space consists of lexicographically ordered transfinite sequences of bounded real numbers. This result is generalized to preference orders on abstract superconvex spaces.
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  25. Pascal, Pascalberg, and friends.Samuel Lebens - 2020 - International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 87 (1):109-130.
    Pascal’s wager has to face the many gods objection. The wager goes wrong when it asks us to chose between Christianity and atheism, as if there are no other options. Some have argued that we’re entitled to dismiss exotic, bizarre, or subjectively unappealing religions from the scope of the wager. But they have provided no satisfying justification for such a radical wager-saving dispensation. This paper fills that dialectical gap. It argues that some agents are blameless or even praiseworthy for ignoring (...)
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  26. Salvaging Pascal’s Wager.Elizabeth Jackson & Andrew Rogers - 2019 - Philosophia Christi 21 (1):59-84.
    Many think that Pascal’s Wager is a hopeless failure. A primary reason for this is because a number of challenging objections have been raised to the wager, including the “many gods” objection and the “mixed strategy” objection. We argue that both objections are formal, but not substantive, problems for the wager, and that they both fail for the same reason. We then respond to additional objections to the wager. We show how a version of Pascalian reasoning succeeds, giving us a (...)
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  27. Pascal’s wager and the origins of decision theory: decision-making by real decision-makers.James Franklin - 2018 - In Paul Bartha & Lawrence Pasternack (eds.), Pascal's Wager. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 27-44.
    Pascal’s Wager does not exist in a Platonic world of possible gods, abstract probabilities and arbitrary payoffs. Real decision-makers, such as Pascal’s “man of the world” of 1660, face a range of religious options they take to be serious, with fixed probabilities grounded in their evidence, and with utilities that are fixed quantities in actual minds. The many ingenious objections to the Wager dreamed up by philosophers do not apply in such a real decision matrix. In the situation Pascal addresses, (...)
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  28. Wagering on an Ironic God: Pascal on Faith and Philosophy by Thomas S. Hibbs. [REVIEW]Graham Oppy - 2018 - Journal of the History of Philosophy 56 (2):372-373.
    This is a short review of Thomas S. Hibbs' book: *Wagering on an Ironic God: Pascal on Faith and Philosophy*.
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  29. Surreal Decisions.Eddy Keming Chen & Daniel Rubio - 2020 - Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 100 (1):54-74.
    Although expected utility theory has proven a fruitful and elegant theory in the finite realm, attempts to generalize it to infinite values have resulted in many paradoxes. In this paper, we argue that the use of John Conway's surreal numbers shall provide a firm mathematical foundation for transfinite decision theory. To that end, we prove a surreal representation theorem and show that our surreal decision theory respects dominance reasoning even in the case of infinite values. We then bring our theory (...)
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  30. Pascal’s Wager.Paul Bartha & Lawrence Pasternack (eds.) - 2018 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
    In his famous Wager, Blaise Pascal offers the reader an argument that it is rational to strive to believe in God. Philosophical debates about this classic argument have continued until our own times. This volume provides a comprehensive examination of Pascal's Wager, including its theological framework, its place in the history of philosophy, and its importance to contemporary decision theory. The volume starts with a valuable primer on infinity and decision theory for students and non-specialists. A sequence of chapters then (...)
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  31. Wagering with and without Pascal.Daniel Collette & Joseph Anderson - 2018 - Res Philosophica 95 (1):95-110.
    Pascal’s wager has received the attention of philosophers for centuries. Most of its criticisms arise from how the wager is often framed. We present Pascal’s wager three ways: in isolation from any further apologetic arguments, as leading toward a regimen intended to produce belief, and finally embedded in a larger apology that includes evidence for Christianity. We find that none of the common objections apply when the wager is presented as part of Pascal’s larger project. Pascal’s wager is a successful (...)
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  32. Michael Rota, Taking Pascal’s Wager: Faith, Evidence, and the Abundant Life. [REVIEW]Michael T. McFall - 2017 - Teaching Philosophy 40 (1):116-119.
  33. Pascal's wager.Michael Rota - 2017 - Philosophy Compass 12 (4):e12404.
    Pascal's wager is an argument in support of religious belief taking its name from the seventeenth century polymath Blaise Pascal. Unlike more traditional arguments for the existence of God, Pascal's wager is a pragmatic argument, concluding not that God exists but that one should wager for God; that is, one should live as if God exists. After an introduction to the elements of decision theory needed to understand the wager, I discuss the interpretation of Pascal's reasoning in the Infini rien (...)
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  34. A Thoroughly Modern Wager.Michael J. Shaffer - 2017 - Logos and Episteme 8 (2):207-231.
    This paper presents a corrected version of Pascal's wager that makes it consonant with modern decision theory. The corrected wager shows that not committing to God's existence is the rational choice.
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  35. Wagering Against Divine Hiddenness.Elizabeth Jackson - 2016 - European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 8 (4):85-108.
    J.L. Schellenberg argues that divine hiddenness provides an argument for the conclusion that God does not exist, for if God existed he would not allow non-resistant non-belief to occur, but non-resistant non-belief does occur, so God does not exist. In this paper, I argue that the stakes involved in theistic considerations put pressure on Schellenberg’s premise that non-resistant non-belief occurs. First, I specify conditions for someone’s being a resistant non-believer. Then, I argue that many people fulfill these conditions because, given (...)
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  36. Pascal's Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God - By Jeff Jordan.Robert D. Anderson - 2008 - Philosophical Books 49 (1):94-96.
  37. The Epistemology of Pragmatic Beliefs.Nicholas Rescher - 1984 - Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 58:173-187.
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  38. God Owes Us Nothing: A Brief Remark on Pascal's Religion and on the Spirit of Jansenism. [REVIEW]James Wetzel - 1997 - Religious Studies 33 (1):121-130.
  39. The gambler's argument: Blaise pascal: Warburton The gambler's argument.Nigel Warburton - 2004 - Think 3 (7):17-20.
    Nigel Warburton is not betting that God exists….
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  40. Writing and Sentiment: Blaise Pascal, the Vacuum, and the Pensées.Matthew L. Jones - 2001 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 32 (1):139-181.
  41. Waging War on Pascal's Wager.Alan Hájek - 2003 - Philosophical Review 112 (1):27-56.
    Pascal’s Wager is simply too good to be true—or better, too good to be sound. There must be something wrong with Pascal’s argument that decision-theoretic reasoning shows that one must believe in God, if one is rational. No surprise, then, that critics of the argument are easily found, or that they have attacked it on many fronts. For Pascal has given them no dearth of targets.
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  42. The Many-Gods Objection and Pascal’s Wager.Jeff Jordan - 1991 - International Philosophical Quarterly 31 (3):309-317.
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  43. Pascal’s First Wager Reconsidered: A Virtue Theoretic View.Patrick Toner & Christopher Toner - 2006 - International Philosophical Quarterly 46 (1):75-90.
    There are at least two versions of the famous Wager argument to be found in Pascal’s Pensées. In contemporary work on the Wager, attention is almost always focused on the second. In this paper, we take a look at the first, which is often quickly dismissed as a failure. Indeed, it seems to be generally believed that Pascal himself quickly dismissed it as a failure. We fi rst argue that Pascal himself accepted the argument. Then we argue that those who (...)
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  44. The Insufficiency of the Many Gods Objection to Pascal’s Wager.Virgil Martin Nemoianu - 2010 - American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 84 (3):513-530.
    Perhaps the best known criticism of Pascal’s wager is the many Gods objection. As so often with anglophone criticisms of Pascal, the many Gods objectiontypically treats the wager in isolation from the rest of Pascal’s thought. In this case, the truncated reading has issued in the view that Pascal was indifferent toor ignorant of the possibility that Gods other than the one described by Catholic theology might exist. This view is false. Even a cursory glance beyond the wagerfragment reveals that (...)
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  45. Pascal's Wager. [REVIEW]Jack MacIntosh - 2008 - Dialogue 47 (3-4):708-710.
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  46. A Better Version of Pascal’s Wager.Michael Rota - 2016 - American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 90 (3):415-439.
    The standard version of Pascal’s Wager suffers from serious problems. In this paper I present a modified version of a Wager-style argument that avoids several of the most serious objections to the standard version, viz., the objections of Duff and Hájek relating to infinite utilities, moral objections concerning the use of pragmatic considerations, and the many-gods objection. I argue that a serious commitment to living a Christian life is rational (and the failure to make such a commitment is irrational) if (...)
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  47. Pragmatic decisions about god from different points of view: the costs of apostasy.Cei Maslen - 2016 - International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 80 (2):103-113.
    Pascal, with his famous wager, argued in favour of religious practice and faith by appeal to expected payoffs. Here I discuss an asymmetry in similar pragmatic arguments for decisions about God. I begin with the observation that apostates pay costs not shared by those who never adopt a religion in the first place. Noticing this asymmetry shows these arguments from a new perspective and may also contribute to an explanation of the endurance of religion.
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  48. Pragmatic Encroachment and Theistic Knowledge.Matthew A. Benton - 2018 - In Matthew A. Benton, John Hawthorne & Dani Rabinowitz (eds.), Knowledge, Belief, and God: New Insights in Religious Epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 267-287.
    If knowledge is sensitive to practical stakes, then whether one knows depends in part on the practical costs of being wrong. When considering religious belief, the practical costs of being wrong about theism may differ dramatically between the theist (if there is no God) and the atheist (if there is a God). This paper explores the prospects, on pragmatic encroachment, for knowledge of theism (even if true) and of atheism (even if true), given two types of practical costs: namely, by (...)
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  49. Pascal’s Wagers and James’s Will to Believe.Jeff Jordan - 2005 - In William J. Wainwright (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Religion. Oxford University Press. pp. 168-187.
    Pragmatic arguments seek to justify the performance of an action by appealing to the benefits that may follow from that action. Pascal’s wager, for instance, argues that one should inculcate belief in God because there is everything to gain and little to lose by doing do. In this chapter I critically examine Pascal’s wager and William James’s famous “Will-to-Believe” argument by first explaining the logic of each argument and then by surveying the objections commonly arrayed against them. Finally, I suggest (...)
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  50. Pascal's Wager Revisited.Robert P. Amico - 1994 - International Studies in Philosophy 26 (2):1-11.
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