Wednesday, June 7, 2017

On Pascalian Wagers

On Pascalian Wagers

I think that Pascal’s Wager is logically flawed; but I also think that some Pascalian wagers are valid. The trouble is that different cultures believe in different Gods; so which God exists? Such relativity diffuses the force of the Wager. But cross-cultural human universals do exist; and for some of those things Pascalian wagers do work.

For instance, does language exist? Can we actually share thoughts by speech? Any proof or disproof of language must be stated in language. A proof of language, in language, assumes what it proves; and a disproof of language, in language, refutes itself. Therefore you cannot prove or disprove the existence of language.

If you cannot prove, but you must decide, then you must wager. You must bet that language exists, or not; and it does exist, or not. If language does not exist - if all communication is illusion - then it doesn’t matter what we say, and our bets are useless too; but if language does exist, then it is good to bet that it exists. So there’s no downside to betting that we can in fact share thoughts by speech.

Similarly there is no downside to betting that some human reasoning is valid. Or that life can have meaning. And so on.

Note that I phrase these tentatively (life can have meaning) the better to make their negations absolute catastrophes, hence paradoxically powerless. Absolute catastrophe would erase all distinctions; and with that, all responsibility. Freedom is another word for nothing left to lose! Therefore absolute catastrophe can have no valid say in our decisions. We might as well consider only its negation.

But this means that Pascalian wagers aren’t proofs; really they’re excuses. They prove not the truth of our beliefs (in language, in mind, in life) but that those beliefs are inevitable. They’re less about what we wager, than we who wager.

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