PREFACE When in the year 1940 I ventured a small volume under the title The Secret of Pascal, I honestly did not expect to write further on the topic. But circumstances ordered otherwise. The needs of Cambridge students and the difficulty, ...
This assignment is to be worked alongside other homework and is due at the class period following the midterm exam. Though you should do reading and start thinking about the issues right away, details will make most sense after we have made some progress with other assignments.
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, the Wager is a good bet. In the situation of a modern Western intellectual, the reasoning of the Wager is still powerful, though the range of options and the actions indicated are not the same as in Pascal’s day. (shrink)
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 reason to pay special attention to the infinite consequences of our actions. (shrink)
This article discusses the relation between empirical and normative approaches in bioethics. The issue of dwarf tossing, while admittedly unusual, is chosen as a point of departure because it challenges the reader to look with fresh eyes upon several central bioethical themes, including human dignity, autonomy, and the protection of vulnerable people. After an overview of current approaches to the integration of empirical and normative ethics, we consider five ways that the empirical and normative can be brought together to speak (...) to the problem of dwarf tossing: prescriptive applied ethics, theoretical ethics, critical applied ethics, particularist ethics and integrated empirical ethics. We defend a position of critical applied ethics that allows for a two-way relation between empirical and normative theories. Against efforts fully to integrate the normative and the empirical into one synthesis, we propose that the two should stand in tension and relation to one another. The approach we endorse acknowledges that a social practice can and should be judged both by the gathering of empirical data and by normative ethics. Critical applied ethics uses a five stage process that includes: (a) determination of the problem, (b) description of the problem, (c) empirical study of effects and alternatives, (d) normative weighing and (e) evaluation of the effects of a decision. In each stage, we explore the perspective from both the empirical (sociological) and the normative ethical point of view. We conclude by applying our five-stage critical applied ethics to the example of dwarf tossing. (shrink)
The Many Gods Objection (MGO) is widely viewed as a decisive criticism of Pascal’s Wager. By introducing a plurality of hypotheses with infinite expected utility into the decision matrix, the wagerer is left without adequate grounds to decide between them. However, some have attempted to rebut this objection by employing various criteria drawn from the theological tradition. Unfortunately, such defenses do little good for an argument that is supposed to be an apologetic aimed at atheists and agnostics. The purpose (...) of this paper is to offer a defensive strategy of a different sort, one more suited to the Wager’s apologetic aim and status as a decision under ignorance. Instead of turning to criteria independent of the Wager, it will be shown that there are characteristics already built into its decision theoretic structure that can be used to block many categories of theological hypotheses including MGO’s more outrageous “cooked-up” hypotheses and “philosophers’ fictions”. -/- Please note that there are editorial errors in the published version. They have been corrected in the attached. (shrink)
The complex world of thought and sensitivity in the sphere of contemporary art has entailed the revision and exclusion of disciplines aimed at providing a model to explain and conceptualize reality. Art history, as one such discipline, has had many of its contributions questioned from Gombrich’s epistemological reformulation to the postmodern discourses, which extol the death of the author, the post-structuralist idea of tradition as a textual phenomenon, and the declaration of the death of history as a consequence of the (...) hybridization of disciplines and of other bran- ches of human knowledge. Nevertheless, it can be demonstrated that proposals as those by Julius von Schlosser and Giulio Carlo Argan enclose reflections and methodological aspects which can help us face the task of understanding and visualizing the mediating role of historians in the culture of sensitivity, and the art modulations that have resulted from the blows of history and that, in turn, have shaped both art and art history into what they are or can be to us today. (shrink)
Em Pascal, por meio da crítica à razão discursiva que estava à sua época em vias de consagração, está em curso a defesa de uma concepção alargada da racionalidade, que procura estendê-la a partir de uma perspectiva anti-intuicionista e antifundacionista radical para dimensões da realidade que o arranjo epistemológico gestado pela filosofia cartesiana quer deixar de fora. A hipótese que gostaríamos de discutir é a de que essa subversão se dá pela desestabilização desse arranjo por meio da descrição que (...)Pascal realiza, em Pensamentos, da faculdade imaginação, cujo interesse para o estudo da verdade deve ser considerado para que se possa entender a inflexão que a epistemologia pascaliana tenta empreender ante as outras de seu tempo. (shrink)
O ceticismo desempenha um papel decisivo na filosofia pascaliana. De fato, amplamente influenciado por autores como Michel de Montaigne e Pierre Charron, Blaise Pascal acaba por contrariar a tendência geral do século do grande Racionalismo, levantando profundas objeções relativamente à pretensão – tipicamente cartesiana – de se conhecer a Verdade de maneira certa e segura. Como se pode depreender mesmo de uma rápida leitura de seus escritos, a obra pascaliana é toda perpassada por uma notável desconfiança de nossa suposta (...) capacidade de adquirir certezas inabaláveis sobre o que quer que seja: desconfiança esta que, diga-se de passagem, está em profunda sintonia com a chocante posição do autor concernente às consequências do pecado original. Assim sendo, o que pretendemos neste artigo é: i) apresentar os argumentos céticos subscritos por Pascal em sua principal obra filosófica – os Pensamentos; e ii) analisando a obra Do espírito geométrico e da arte de persuadir, indicar que nem mesmo os conhecimentos oferecidos pela luz natural são capazes de nos livrar das dúvidas suscitadas pela argumentação cética. (shrink)
O presente artigo visa explorar as relações entre Pascal e Pessoa tendo por base o impacto da obra do autor francês tanto na estruturação quanto nas temáticas presentes ao longo do projeto do Livro do Desassossego. Com efeito, na Biblioteca Particular de Pessoa encontramos livros de e sobre Pascal que se encontram sublinhados e anotados pelo autor português e nos possibilitam certificar o interesse de Pessoa pelo pensamento pascaliano. Para além disso, o espólio de Pessoa oferece-nos um conjunto (...) de fragmentos que nos permitem elucidar até que ponto a leitura da obra de Pascal viria a ser importante para a elaboração dos fragmentos do Livro do Desassossego. Assim, tendo por base a análise da presença do nome e do pensamento de Pascal em fragmentos do espólio de Pessoa, o presente artigo explicita qual o papel da leitura pessoana de Pascal na elaboração do projeto do Livro do Desassossego. (shrink)
This paper argues that Pascal's formulation of his famous wager argument licenses an inference about God's nature that ultimately vitiates the claim that wagering for God is in one's rational self-interest. In particular, it is argued that if we accept Pascal's premises, then we can infer that the god for whom Pascal encourages us to wager is irrational. But if God is irrational, then the prudentially rational course of action is to refrain from wagering for him.
The essay is a comparative look at Descartes' and Pascal's epistemology. For so vast a topic, I shall confine myself to comparing three crucial epistemological topics, through which I hope to evince Descartes' and Pascal's differences and points of contact. Firstly, I will concentrate on the philosophers' engagement with skepticism, which, for each, had different functions and motivations. Secondly, the thinkers' relation to Reason shall be examined, since it is the fulcrum of their thought—and the main aspect that (...) separates them. Lastly, I will examine each philosopher's theist epistemology; this section, of course, will focus on how and by what means Descartes and Pascal set out to prove God's existence. The latter aspect shall take us back to each philosopher's relationship to Doubt: the title, " The Giants of Doubt ", in fact, implies a fundamental link between Descartes and Pascal through Doubt. In addition, and most importantly, the contrast between the two thinkers' epistemology inaugurates a decisive scission in modern thought of enormous repercussion: Descartes' sturdy rationalism initiated the great branch of modern scientific inquiry , while Pascal's appeal to the power of intuition and feelings would eventually be the precursor of the reaction to the enlightenment that invested Europe by the second half of the eighteenth century. This departure of thought, which in my view may be traced back to them, has not been the common conceit of the history of philosophy: the reaction to the enlightenment has customarily been regarded as stemming from its internal contradictions or at best from its more radical doctrines. The essay shall show that these strands of thought were both parallel and born out of the antithetical epistemologies of Descartes and Pascal. (shrink)
In the 1960s molecular population geneticists used Monte Carlo experiments to evaluate particular diffusion equation models. In this paper I examine the nature of this comparative evaluation and argue for three claims: first, Monte Carlo experiments are genuine experiments: second, Monte Carlo experiments can provide an important meansfor evaluating the adequacy of highly idealized theoretical models; and, third, the evaluation of the computational adequacy of a diffusion model with Monte Carlo experiments is significantlydifferent from the evaluation (...) of the emperical adequacy of the same diffusion model. (shrink)
Recent scholarship has shown that the success of Pascal’s wager rests on precarious grounds. To avoid notorious problems, it must appeal to considerations such as what probability we assign to the existence of various gods and what religion we think provides the greatest happiness in this life. Rational judgments concerning these matters are subject to change over time. Some claim that the wager therefore cannot support a steadfast commitment to God. I argue that this conclusion does not follow. By (...) drawing upon the line of reasoning employed in getting married, I explain how unstable considerations can provide a sufficient rational foundation for a stable commitment. (shrink)
Doctors and dentists have traditionally used antibiotic prophylaxis in certain patient groups in order to prevent infective endocarditis (IE). New guidelines, however, suggest that the risk to patients from using antibiotics is higher than the risk from IE. This paper analyses the relative risks of prescribing and not prescribing antibiotic prophylaxis against the background of Pascal’s Wager, the infamous assertion that it is better to believe in God regardless of evidence, because of the prospective benefits should He exist. Many (...) doctors seem to believe the parallel proposition that it is better to prescribe antibiotics, regardless of evidence, because of the prospective benefit conferred upon the patient. This has been called the “no lose philosophy” in medicine: better safe than sorry, even if the evidence inconveniently suggests that following this mantra is potentially more likely to result in sorry than safe. It transpires that, just as Pascal’s Wager fails to convince because of a lack of evidence to support it and the costs incurred by trying to believe, so the “belts and braces” approach of prescribing antibiotic prophylaxis is unjustifiable given the actual evidence of potential risk and benefit to the patient. Ultimately, there is no no-lose if your clinical decisions, like Pascal’s Wager, are based on faith rather than evidence. (shrink)
An adaptation of Pascal’s Wager argument has been considered useful in deciding about the provision of life-sustaining treatment for patients in persistent vegetative state. In this article, I assess whether people making such decisions should resort to the application of Pascal’s idea. I argue that there is no sufficient reason to give it an important role in making the decisions.
In a recent paper A. Tabarrok [Believe in Pascal’s Wager? Have I Got a Deal for You!, Theory and Decision 48, 123--128, 2000] argued that a believer who accepts Pascal’s Wager should in addition accept payment of any given fee in return for a given increase in the probability of reaching God. However the conclusion is obtained from manipulations of infinities which are not valid in an expected utility model. In this note, an alternative model is formulated in (...) which Tabarrok’s conclusion can be obtained. (shrink)
In this paper the question of the object in Freud’s metapsychology is sketched out from an economical point of view, that is in terms of pleasure and displeasure. This allows for a reading of Pascal’s wager that makes clear what interest Lacan had in discussing this one pensée at length in his Seminar on the Object of Psychoanalysis. The central issue in Lacan’s reading concerns the object a as a stake the subject has lost.
Pascal and the „Proof by Power“. Nietzsche’s Examination of a wounded intellectual conscience. This paper sheds new light on Nietzsche’s praise of Pascal’s probity by analysing what the German philosopher calls the „proof by power“. This proof, adopted by Christianity at large, consists in making pleasure and well-being the very criteria of truth and, as such, it represents for Nietzsche a sheer dishonest form of reasoning. When Pascal finally decides to use this proof in the Pensées, he (...) is already conscious of its lack of scientific value and of its dishonesty. Nietzsche thus reveals in Pascal’s thinking the torments of a wounded intellectual conscience, torn between its fidelity to the Christian tradition and its probity inspired by this very piety. In this respect, the famous wager’s argument appears as a testimony of this tension: it is a brilliant but desperate attempt of giving this „proof by power“, which the scientific rigor it is fundamentally lacking. (shrink)
What makes Carlo Michelstaedter’s life and work worthy of a reflection on Italian aesthetics is his erratic attitude when taking a stance in the ancient discord between Philosophy and Poetry. This, since Plato’s times, as an original item, expects and transcends each historical chapter of the literary critique and each kind of philosophy of history. Michelstaedter justapoxes names such as Parmenides, Sophocles, Socrates, Christ and the Ecclesiastes in an anti-genealogical manner, that is against fathers and masters as well as (...) sons and disciples. Everything that, in his short life, he could read and study in Latin, Greek, German and Italian, was bound to death against institutions and codes, against the family and the University, against the audience and every literary genre attended by the world in which he was born. Michelstaedter reads Parmenides’ Carminum reliquiae as a poetic emergency and sees in Socrates the one who becomes this poetry. The bold link between Parmenides’ ontology and Socrates’ dialectics constitutes the climax of an iconoclastic and anti-mimetic poiesis. Rhadamanthus’ justice, results bitter to Michelstaedter. It discerns, that is, the original relationship of Socrates with death from that which was superimposed by Plato ; he distinguishes Socrates’ beautiful death from that which was enticed by Hegesias, the death-persuader, in the naive; he places Socrates next to Sophocles and the Ecclesiastes, against the mortal event of the birth. Socrates, in case, did not die because of the “cicuta” which parted him from the pain of living, nor because of the eternal idea that he’s been contemplating ever since with his immortal soul. He died, instead, after having become something divine and devilish, something that distracts him since his childhood from everything he is about to do, every time, and eventually leads him nowhere. From this anti-contemplative perspective, Michelstaedter acknowledges in every philosophy intended to reconcile the absolute and relative, the rhetoric artifice aimed at concealing an original aporia which can only be dishonestly swayed, rather than overcome. (shrink)
Blaise Pascal is highly regarded as a religious moralist, but he has rarely been given his due as an ethical theorist. The goal of this article is to assemble Pascal's scattered thoughts on moral judgment and moral wrongdoing into an explicit, coherent account that can serve as the basis for further scholarly reflection on his ethics. On my reading, Pascal affirms an axiological, social-intuitionist account of moral judgment and moral wrongdoing. He argues that a moral judgment is (...) an immediate, intuitive perception of moral value that we willfully disregard in favor of the attractive, though self-deceptive, deliverances of our socially constructed imaginations. We can deceive ourselves so easily because our capacity to evaluate goods is broken, a dark legacy of the fall. In the article's concluding section, I briefly compare Pascal to contemporary ethicists and suggest directions for future research. (shrink)
In this paper I will examine what Blaise Pascal means by “infinite distance”, both in his works on projective geometry and in the apologetics of the Pensées’s. I suggest that there is a difference of meaning in these two uses of “infinite distance”, and that the Pensées’s use of it also bears relations to the mathematical concept of heterogeneity. I also consider the relation between the finite and the infinite and the acceptance of paradoxical relations by Pascal.
Exploring how people represent natural categories is a key step toward developing a better understanding of how people learn, form memories, and make decisions. Much research on categorization has focused on artificial categories that are created in the laboratory, since studying natural categories defined on high-dimensional stimuli such as images is methodologically challenging. Recent work has produced methods for identifying these representations from observed behavior, such as reverse correlation (RC). We compare RC against an alternative method for inferring the structure (...) of natural categories called Markov chain Monte Carlo with People (MCMCP). Based on an algorithm used in computer science and statistics, MCMCP provides a way to sample from the set of stimuli associated with a natural category. We apply MCMCP and RC to the problem of recovering natural categories that correspond to two kinds of facial affect (happy and sad) from realistic images of faces. Our results show that MCMCP requires fewer trials to obtain a higher quality estimate of people’s mental representations of these two categories. (shrink)
For Pascal, how are human beings related, or how do they relate themselves, to the summum bonum in this life? In what sense do they share in it, and how do they come to share in it? These are questions that emerge in many ways in Pascal’s writing, significantly in his concept of repos. To answer these questions, especially by elucidating what repos is for human beings in this life, I would like to begin with Graeme Hunter’s “Motion (...) and Rest in the Pensées”. Hunter’s account of Pascal is important because his purpose is to specifically address how certain aspects of modernity affect how Pascal understood repos. Hunter is certainly correct when he argues that for Pascal, repos is an orderly, directed seeking of truth—what Hunter designates as “search.” However, Hunter’s account of Pascal’s repos falls short of completion, because he neglects a crucial part of Pascal’s articulation of repos: his emphasis on the role of God’s grace in searching. By neglecting Pascal’s emphasis on grace, Hunter inadvertently depicts Pascal as reducing repos to motion, rather than envisioning them together in dialectical unity. I argue that for Pascal, it is correct to say that someone who is anxiously searching has indeed “already found,” but this cannot be solely due to human efforts: rather, it because the whole enterprise is entirely infused by grace. (shrink)
O presente artigo, refletindo sobre relação entre Mistério Pascal de Cristo, Liturgia e vida cotidiana, objetiva apresentar a salvação operada por Cristo na liturgia como uma ação inesgotável e constante que extrapola a história e atinge a existência humana. Através da ação litúrgica, o mistério pascal, centro da liturgia, é atualizado e sua celebração é transformada em momento de salvação, recuperação e engajamento de quem dela participa. Considerando alguns números da Constituição Sacrosanctum Concilium sobre a Sagrada Liturgia, comentados (...) por vários teólogos, notaremos ser impossível, depois da encarnação do Filho, o divórcio entre a liturgia e a vida da humanidade assumida por Deus dentro da história na qual também a salva. (shrink)
En su encierro durante la II Guerra Mundial, Althusser, según declaró, solamente tuvo al alcance un libro: los Pensées de Pascal, un clásico que, tras la reflexión religiosa, también planteó problemas epistemológicos, históricos y sociológicos de tal manera que en él se pueden encontrar rasgos “profundamente materialistas”.  La influencia de Pascal es expresa, cuando Althusser recoge la parábola de la conversión religiosa para explicar (insuficientemente) el fenómeno de la interpelación ideológica. Pero los textos de Pascal contienen (...) intuiciones que sobrepasan los límites de la teoría althusseriana y que se pueden rastrear a la luz de la teoría psicoanalítica de la ideología tal como ésta es elaborada por los autores de la escuela eslovena.  L. Althusser: Filosofía y marxismo. Entrevista por Fernanda Navarro , Madrid, Siglo XXI, 1988, pp. 46-47. (shrink)
En este trabajo intentaré mostrar que, de acuerdo con Agustín de Hipona –y a diferencia de una cierta lectura relativamente clásica de Pascal–, el deseo puede ser el comienzo de la relación del hombre con el Absoluto. Para ello divido el texto en cuatro partes: primero, describo la situación existencial primordial de la que nace el deseo, la inquietud. Después, describo el doble despliegue del deseo: amor o concupiscencia, según objeto e inclinación. En tercer lugar, intento describir los tipos (...) de concupiscencias y sus paralelismos en ambos autores. Concluyo mostrando la importancia de la costumbre en la constitución del deseo. (shrink)
Este artigo tem como objetivo um olhar histórico-teológico para a reflexão do mistério pascal principalmente no que diz respeito à questão celebrativa. No caminhar de dois milênios é notória a divisão deste tema em dois momentos: No primeiro milênio a força teológico-celebrativa do mistério pascal. No segundo milênio o caminho mudou sua rota com atitudes que levaram a se distanciar da proposta inicial na sua teologia e na sua celebração. O Concílio Vaticano II, momento eclesial de extrema importância (...) tenta retomar o caminho desviado e propõe uma volta às fontes a fim de que o mistério celebrado seja realmente o mistério de Jesus, ou seja, o Mistério Pascal na sua originalidade e inteireza. Vale lembrar que esta reflexão e também a liturgia não esgotam o tema. A teologia em seus desdobramentos e sua amplitude tem um vasto campo para sempre mais ajudar a refletir e celebrar este mistério. (shrink)
The following paper argues that Blaise Pascal, in spite of his famous opposition between the God of the Philosophers and the God of “Abraham, Isaac and Jacob” has significant affinities with the tradition of Renaissance Platonism and is in fact a Platonist in his overall outlook. This is shown in three ways. Firstly, it is argued that Pascal’s skeptical fideism has roots in the notion of faith developed in post-Plotinian neo-Platonism. Secondly, it is argued that Pascal makes (...) considerable use of the Platonic notion of an indefinite dyadic principle. Thirdly, it is argued that Pascal’s religious psychology gives a centrality to the body that brings it close to the theurgical standpoint of figures like Iamblichus. Pascal is then contrasted to figures like Cusanus and Pico in that a dyadic principle of opposition is more prominent in his work than a triadic logic of mediation. (shrink)
The actual rise of empirical contributions in bioethics questions – at a fundamental level – the place bioethics will reserve for empirical approaches in its field. This article aims to discuss the relationship between empirical research and normative evaluations and to apply this to the use of the concept of dignity in end-of-life research.It describes five possible ways in which empirical research can be related to normative ethics: prescriptive applied ethics, theorist ethics, critical applied ethics, particularist ethics and integrated empirical (...) ethics. In this article, we elaborate on the critical applied ethics perspective and present it as a five stage process comprising a) the determination of the problem, b) the description of the problem, c) the study of effects and alternatives, d) normative weighing and e) the evaluation of the effects of a decision. At each stage, we explore the perspective from both the empirical and the normative poles and apply it to the case of dignity in end-of-life decisions. (shrink)
Blaise Pascal began as a mathematical prodigy, developed into a physicist and inventor, and had become by the end of his life in 1662 a profound religious thinker. As a philosopher, he was most convinced by the long tradition of scepticism, and so refused – like Kierkegaard – to build a philosophical or theological system. Instead, he argued that the human heart required other forms of discourse to come to terms with the basic existential questions – our nature, purpose (...) and relationship with God. This introduction to the life and philosophical thought of Pascal is intended for the general reader. Strikingly illustrated, it traces the antithetical tensions in Pascal’s life from his infancy, when he was said to have been placed under the spell of a sorceress, to his final years of extreme asceticism. Pascal stressed both the misery and greatness of humanity, our finitude and our comprehension of the infinite. The book shows how his life, philosophical thought and literary style can best be understood in the light of the paradoxical view of human nature. It covers the methods of argument and the central issues of the Provincial Letters and of the Pensées ; the Introduction places Pascal’s thought in the religious and political climate of seventeenth-century France, and a ‘Chronology of the Life of Pascal’ is also included. (shrink)
Este artigo pretende expor a estrutura argumentativa do famoso fragmento pascaliano sobre a aposta, cujo intuito principal é mostrar a maior razoabilidade da vida do cristão em comparação com a do não cristão. Partindo da indemonstrabilidade da existência ou inexistência de Deus, o fragmento desenvolve uma argumentação racionalmente aceitável para justificar que se aposte no incerto, sobretudo quando o infinito está em jogo.