Sunday, August 08, 2010

Wagering on Seeking

According to the doctrine of chance, you ought to put yourself to the trouble of searching for the truth; for if you die without worshipping the True Cause, you are lost. "But," say you, "if He had wished me to worship Him, He would have left me signs of His will." He has done so; but you neglect them. Seek them, therefore; it is well worth it.

Pascal, Pensées 236. Note that the argument here is that we should inquire; this is a theme that comes up a number of times in Wager passages. It also shows indirectly why the too-common practice of focusing on 233 (the larger Wager fragment) is problematic, since there are other fragments that put the Wager in perspective. It's a flaw in Hajek's otherwise interesting SEP article, for instance. But a certain amount of leeway can be allowed, given that we face with Pascal's Wager a problem we don't usually face: the Pensées are posthumously published fragments. Pascal was building up a Wager argument but we don't have it. What we do have are a bunch of draft fragments. I think we have enough to piece together quite a bit and determine approximately what Pascal would have ended up with, but it takes work; so it's not surprising that people just focus on the largest Wager fragment as if it were 'the' Wager argument, rather than (what it certainly must be, given other fragments) merely a sketch of part of it. But the result is that people lose sight of just how much of Pascal's argument, if completed according to the notes we have, would have had to do not with belief but with inquiry. (Another result is that people lose sight of the fact that most of the Wager-relevant fragments show clearly that Pascal is arguing against a particular group of people who are arguing that Christians are irrational not to suspend judgment, and it is this he is attacking, not atheism.)

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