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The Wager

Read Pascal, “The Wager.” In a paper of about three pages, adopt a stance with respect to his
reasoning. That is, either attack or defend his argument. In order to give the argument its best chance,
consider the argument in isolation from Pascal’s particular religious context and so in the form presented
on p. 158 of the reader. Do you think Pascal’s reasoning is cogent? Does Pascal demonstrate the
rationality of religious belief? Your task is to take a stand. First be sure that you understand the
argument, and are able to explain it clearly in your paper. Then you will be in a position to evaluate.
Your paper should have the following structure:
I. Set up and state the argument. Then introduce the thesis you will defend.
II. Evaluate the argument for validity (as discussed in the first part of the course) and explain your
evaluation.
III. Evaluate the argument for soundness (again, as discussed in the first part of the course) and
explain your evaluation. This part should defend or reject a single objection to one premise!!
IV. Apply your conclusions about validity and soundness to the case: Is the conclusion correct? Has
Pascal demonstrated the rationality of religious belief?
If you conclude that the argument is deductively valid (hint: it is, and you will be able to follow the
demonstration from lecture), then the question of soundness depends on the truth of its premises.
Thus part (III) should be the main part of your discussion. For this: (i) You may attack the argument by
developing an attack against one of the premises and saying how the attack survives replies. Or (ii) you
may defend by developing a reply against some one particular attack: say how the attack works, and
why you think it fails — it is too much to show that all the premises survive all attacks!
Whether you attack or defend the argument, then, you will cover roughly the same material: some one
significant objection against a premise together with replies – either to say either to say the objection
works, or to undercut it. Some suggestions are linked below.
The way this assignment asks you to focus on a particular version of the argument and then its validity
and soundness MAKES DIRECT APPEAL TO OTHER SOURCES, AND ESPECIALLY WEB SOURCES USELESS:
do not use them, and do not get caught up in plagiarism!
Summary of argument: http://philosophy.csusb.edu/~troy/PascalArg.pdf (p. 158 of text)
Suggested Objections:
These are not meant as complete objections and replies! Rather, they are meant only to get your
creative juices flowing. The idea would be to pick one and develop either the objection or a reply. You
will probably not get much traction against the first premise. The interesting debate is about (2) and (3).
1. first objection against premise two: http://philosophy.csusb.edu/~troy/PascalP2aObj.pdf
2. second objection against premise two: http://philosophy.csusb.edu/~troy/PascalP2bObj.pdf
3. first objection against premise three: http://philosophy.csusb.edu/~troy/PascalP3aObj.pdf
4. second objection against premise three: http://philosophy.csusb.edu/~troy/PascalP3bObj.pdf