Religious Studies


A defence of Pascal's wager

Geoffrey Browna1

a1 The University, Newcastle Upon Tyne

Pascal's Wager, and the issues raised by it, have, despite a few notable exceptions, been an object of some neglect in recent Philosophy of Religion. Whether this neglect is from an assumption that the argument requires no comment, or from a feeling that there is something not quite academically respectable about it, I have come to believe that it is undeserved. One reason why the argument is deserving of attention from the theologian is that Pascal has managed to put his finger on just the sort of consideration which, rightly or wrongly, is capable of exercising a powerful influence over the ordinary mind – the sort of problem which, in short, keeps people awake at nights. A reason why it should be of interest to the philosopher is that it possesses that characteristically philosophical quality of appearing obviously invalid in some lights, and in others (rather like the Ontological Argument) manages to slip past every supposed disproof, and annoy us with the suspicion that it may, after all, be valid. These reasons alone are sufficient to justify the philosopher of religion in attempting a careful analysis of Pascal's case in the light of which its cogency can be assessed. In this paper, I shall attempt such an analysis, and shall proceed to argue that, correctly understood and within its proper limitations, Pascal's argument is indeed valid.