marcusaurelius
This is NOT a true quote of Marcus Aurelius. The closest thing to this quote is from Meditations 2.11, but it does not have the same meaning. Still, I love the quote, so I’ll let it be.

Pascal’s wager is accepting the existence of God just in case he exists and in case he would be pissed at you. Often the lazy thinkers and disinterested deists claim that Pascal’s wager is a reasonable path to follow.

Mark is one of those disinterested people that is sort of wishy-washy about religion, and doesn’t really pay any attention to it, while I try to get him to think about the consequences of not taking it seriously.

The argument I usually make against Pascal’s wager is that if God exists, he’s evil, and he should be rejected by any moral person. I’m not getting through to many with that line of reasoning, but I still think it’s a valid point to make.

Pascal writes about the wager in his Pensees, published posthumously in 1669. The Pensees are in fact the scraps, the left-overs, the notes from the estate of Blaise Pascal. He had started to prepare them into a book, but never finished it. In section 233 he writes this.

If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what He is or if He is….

…”God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.

Do not, then, reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know nothing about it. “No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true course is not to wager at all.”

Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

“That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may perhaps wager too much.” Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly, being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite.

That is all well and good if you accepted being bullied by fear of a gruesome fate by an entity that then takes pride in being as gruesome as possible toward people that it doesn’t like. The moral stance is, it seems to me, that there can be no wager; the moral person must reject an entity of this nature or lose his or her status as a moral entity.

Like, if you sit and watch a film, when the villain of the film start to torture the prisoners, and then promise to keep them alive forever just to suffer endless torture – unless the prisoners submit to the villain’s will – the film viewer is starting to expect one of the square jawed Hollywood heroes to drop into the scene and swing his machine gun around, with a sardonic quip that will make the audience feel that right and justice have arrived.

Pascal’s wager is not so much a wager as it is submission to an entity that for all practical purposes is evil and wicked, and the moral person must take a stance to reject that entity in its entirety. Pascal’s wager is not reasonable, and it is not good. It is submission in the face of evil, rather than resistance to evil.

But then again, since this entity does not exist, the wager becomes irrelevant, and seeking it out and living by it becomes an exercise in futility.

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