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Reviewed by:
  • Pascal's Wagered. by Paul Bartha and Lawrence Pasternack
  • Daniel Collette
Paul Bartha and Lawrence Pasternack, editors. Pascal's Wager. Classic Philosophical Arguments. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pp. xv + 335.

This volume intends to offer contemporary philosophers and philosophy students a comprehensive introduction to the reception, readings, and influence of Pascal's Wager historically and today. The text is divided into three sections: the Wager's historical context and influence (Part I), critical engagements and appraisals of the Wager argument (Part II), and new discussions of the Wager in light of contemporary developments about probability, utility, and belief (Part III). In the Introduction, readers will discover a helpful primer to decision theory and infinite utility, an excellent aid for those unfamiliar with conversations beginning in Part II.

A feature rather than a flaw of contemporary analysis is a series of Pascalian Wagers that look different from Pascal's Wager. These readings raise valuable philosophical questions in their own right, and have birthed fruitful discussions in decision theory, utility, and infinite probability. However, the Wager's extraction raises some complexities, which the editors admirably acknowledge. In an effort to respect the distinction between Pascal's Wager and its extractions, Part I provides several chapters on the context and influence of the Wager. However, if the goal is to offer historical and contextual accounts, these chapters largely fall short, paying little attention to recent scholarly developments. [End Page 755]

The clearest attempt to contextualize the Wager is William Wood's "The Wager and Pascal's Theology." This chapter nicely draws attention to Pascal's intellect/will distinction and the roles each plays in belief. Wood also offers a persuasive defense of Pascal's grace paradox: Pascal authors a religious apology in spite of his predeterminist soteriology (Paul Moser also addresses this problem). Still, it is surprising that the theology of Saint-Cyran (Jean du Vergier de Hauranne, who brought Jansenism to France) is neglected, as is Pascal's complicated relationship with early modern and ancient philosophers. Wood's engagement with Pascal's minor works is found wanting, limiting the discussion to "Writings of Grace." It is difficult to arrive at a contextual account of Pascal's Wager, theological or otherwise, without considering these factors.

Part I has two notable exceptions. The first is Paul Moser's engagement with divine hiddenness. While this chapter is better suited for Part II, it is an insightful contribution; Moser does this volume justice by bringing attention to often-neglected themes in Pascal's work. The second highlight is Adam Buben's chapter. The Wager we are familiar with today (and that Pascal likely intended) did not appear, as we know it, in the earliest editions of the Pensées. Discussions of the Wager's reception need to take this editorial flaw into account. Buben's chapter is careful enough to be sensitive to factors like this one. He also offers a lens for viewing Pascal more existentially: the impact Pascal has on Kierkegaard and Nietzsche accentuates his views on death and finitude motivating the Wager. This triangulation proves insightful to all three philosophers.

Part II of this book gathers several popular objections to the Wager, most importantly Alan Hájek's. What this part lacks in novelty—most of the articles, or their equivalent, are already published elsewhere with few innovations—it makes up in convenience. This section will be particularly helpful for a new student of philosophy. Part III deals with the afterlife Pascal's Wager takes in contemporary scholarship. This part does not stretch existing scholarship significantly, but those interested in learning more about contemporary decision theory or infinite utility will find it useful. Susanna Rinard, in particular, offers a compelling discussion of challenges that arise from wagering under idealized Bayesian analysis—real human beings rarely are certain of all logical truths, have thought of all possible theories prior to evidence, or have "precise, real-valued credence" in every possible proposition (278). She contends that, since most philosophers usually assume these are not limits or rational defects, it is rational to gamble with imprecise credence in God's existence as well.

Overall, the volume has some curious editorial decisions. Daniel...


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