Pascal's Wager

When there is an equal risk of winning and of losing, if you had only two lives to win, you might still wager; but if there were three lives to win, you would still have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing); and being thus obliged to play, you would be imprudent not to risk your life to win three in a game where there is an equal chance of winning and of losing. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. That being so, if there were an infinity of chances to which only one was in your favor, you would still do right to stake one to win two, and you would act unwisely in refusing to play one life against three, in a game where you had only one chance out of an infinite number, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to win. But here there is an infinity of an infinitely happy life to win, one chance of winning against a finite number of chances of losing, and what you stake is finite. That removes all doubt as to choice, wherever the infinite is to be won, and there is not an infinity of chances of loss against the chance of winning, there are no two ways about it; you must risk all.

Pascal in Luck: The Wonderful Randomness of Everyday Life, Nicholas Rescher. This was used as an argument for belief in God and conversion to Christianity.


William James responds to Pascal’s Wager in The Will to Believe (as quoted on the Wikipedia under Pascal’s Wager):

Surely Pascal's own personal belief in masses and holy water had far other springs; and this celebrated page of his is but an argument for others, a last desperate snatch at a weapon against the hardness of the unbelieving heart. We feel that a faith in masses and holy water adopted willfully after such a mechanical calculation would lack the inner soul of faith’s reality; and if we were ourselves in the place of the Deity, we should probably take particular pleasure in cutting off believers of this pattern from their infinite reward.

And, of course, one could easily use this as an argument for the conversion to any religion, not only Christianity. How is one to choose which religion deserves your devotion, when most religions are exclusive?

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