Pascal's Wager Argument: Some Issues

  1. Many nonbelievers may assign the probability that God exists a value of 0. In that case, the expected utilities of belief and unbelief if God exists will not be infinitely positive or negative after all. The wager argument will only be effective for agents who think it's an open question whether there is a God or not.
  2. Can we treat belief as just another action we can make pragmatic decisions about? In general, we do not decide what to believe; we just find ourselves believing or not believing things. Pascal is well aware of this point, though. His recommendation is not to snap your fingers and start believing, but rather to place yourself in situations that make it more likely that you will come to believe. (Go to church, mingle with religious friends, etc.)
  3. Should we choose beliefs on pragmatic grounds? Or should we only decide what to believe based on the evidence? (Or on some other grounds?)
  4. It is possible that the marginal utility of moments of happiness diminishes over time. But summing an infinite number of units of decreasing size does not necessarily lead to an infinite value: it depends on how fast the size is decreasing. So it's possible that the total value of an infinite number of days of happiness is still finite! (Who would have thought you'd need calculus to figure out what the utility of believing in God is? But it could be the case!)
  5. It is possible that one could place a negative value on happiness (maybe a masochist would not find the prospect of eternal bliss enticing, and would prefer eternal torment). (Notice that although this shows that there may be some individuals for whom the wager argument is not applicable, it does not show that there is any problem with the argument in general.)

Last update: September 20, 2007.
Curtis Brown  |  Introduction to Philosophy  |  Philosophy Department  |  Trinity University