Chapter 16. "The Wager" by Blaise Pascal

Table of Contents
Ideas of Interest from the Pensées
The Reading Selection from Pensées
Related Ideas
Topics Worth Investigating

Blaise Pascal, Thoemmes

About the author…

Early in life Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) pursued interests in physics and mathematics. His theory of conic sections and probability theory are well known; nevertheless, his experimental methodology in physics proved just as influential, especially his research in hydrostatics. His correspondence with Fermat helped establish the foundations of probability theory; his correspondence with Leibniz helped establish the foundations of the calculus. As a result of a harrowing accident, Pascal turned his attention to religion and religious philosophy in the latter part of his life. It seems he was driving a four-in-hand when the two leader horses leaped over the parapet of Neuilly bridge. Pascal's life was saved when the traces broke; he took the accident as a sign to abandon his experimental life and turn to God. The remainder of his life, he carried a piece of parchment describing this incident next to his heart. Fortunately, for mathematics, however, he sinned from time to time, especially, when a few years later, he completed his essay on the cycloid.

Ideas of Interest from the Pensées

  1. According to Pascal, how much can be known about God?

  2. Reconstruct Pascal's wager as carefully as possible.

  3. Explain whether you consider Pascal's wager a proof of God's existence or not.

  4. What major objections can you construct to the wager? Can these objections be countered?

  5. Clarify the meaning of Pascal's sentence, "The heart has its reasons which reason does not know."



Blaise Pascal. Pensées (1660). Trans. W. F. Trotter. New York: Collier & Son, 1910.