Pascal’s Wager: The Utility Argument Explained

by J.W. Wartick

…I realized that Pascal’s Wager is a much stronger argument than I had thought.

Let’s get it out of the way: Pascal’s Wager does not have much “street cred.” It’s much-maligned as nothing more than rolling the dice, and doing so for no good reason. After all, on which deity should one wager?

Here, I’ll take a look at one formulation of Pascal’s Wager, then very briefly offer a way to perhaps circumvent the “many gods” objection. I’ll be relying heavily upon Jeff Jordan’s book, Pascal’s Wager: Pragmatic Arguments and Belief in God, in what follows.

One way to lay out the Wager may be as follows (quoted from Jordan, 23, cited below):

1. for any person S, and alternatives, a and b, available to S, if the expected utility of a exceeds that of b, S should choose a
2. believing in God carries more expected utility than does not believing
3. Therefore, one should believe in God

Now, this is a pretty straightforward argument. 3, the conclusion, follows via modus ponens. Thus, it is up to the one who wants to deny 3 to deny one of the premises. Let’s examine each in turn.

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Premise 1 seems to be logical, but it has actually garnered just as many objections as the second premise. Some have argued that one should not reduce belief in God to a “gamble” or some pragmatic choice. Others have argued that one cannot simply choose to believe and argued that the Wager results in Doxastic Voluntarism–the notion that one may simply change beliefs at will. In order to combat each objection in turn, one would have to show that it may be permissible to choose pragmatically even in religion. Jordan argues to this effect at length, but for the sake of argument I think it may be enough to just say that generally, we do make choices which we think will benefit us, and this is not an objectionable path of reasoning. Moreover, the Wager does not reduce to doxastic voluntarism, for one may indeed change one’s disposition toward something, but not at will. This is a complex argument, and I think we may set it aside for now because there is nothing in Premise 1 which would demand doxastic voluntarism.

Premise 2, of course, is highly contentious as well. Some allege that belief in God prevents the joys of hedonistic living; others allege that one would not know which deity to choose; still others would argue that…


Pascal’s Wager: The Utility Argument Explained | J.W. Wartick -“Always Have a Reason”