Pascal's Gamble the Human Condition Is One Essay

  • Length: 7 pages
  • Subject: Mythology - Religion
  • Type: Essay
  • Paper: #64257038

Excerpt from Essay :

Pascal's Gamble

The human condition is one of suffering and redemption. One who does not suffer is not human. Death and the withering away of youth and vitality explicitly demonstrates the entropic nature of existence. This situation is problematic for the rationale mind. No universally accepted system of navigating the death sentence, known has human existence, has sufficiently explained the quandary. Blaise Pascal, the renowned 17th century mathematician and philosopher, in his unfinished and fragmented collection of thoughts gathered in his "Pensees" presented a basic and mathematically-based solution to living a life according to greater purpose.

Within the Pensees, Pascal introduced mathematical proofs to the utility in accepting and living by a religious and hierarchal system. This idea is commonly referred to as Pascal's gamble. The argument states that it is better to believe and act accordingly to a dogmatic understanding of God due to the great benefits of the choice. Pascal understood that the revealing of this proof is practically impossible and therefore inherently places faith as a tool in which to achieve understanding in an ultimately irrational world. By not believing in God, the non-believer risks his or her eternal life in damnation and hell, while if the believer is found to be wrong in his beliefs, there are no side effects or ill will. Objectively, this argument is still debated today in many different fashions, however the value of the argument itself provides an excellent platform to discuss the major points of philosophy, religion, mathematics and life itself.

In this paper, I will argue that Pascal's interpretation can only be mystically understood, and his premise is not to mathematically prove any formula, rather the gamble is a metaphysical tool in reaching ne mystical heights. I will start by considering Pascal's claim that his Christian background forbid him to speak in mystical and blasphemous tones. This is very important in the interpretation. I will then raise two objections to it stating the obvious and literal interpretations of this premise. I will conclude that all objective attempts of understanding this Pascal's argument fail until the mystical qualities of faith and belief are realized.


Pascal's gamble is a mystical teaching, wishing to unveil the power of belief and faith. The gamble is disguised in abstract mathematical terminology to disguise and possibly mislead the uninitiated.


The subjective influence of Christianity within Pascal's work needs to be addressed to understand a more complete view of his proposal. Pascal, according to his written history, was a devout Christian, perhaps even extreme. Christian dogma is powerful and contains useful mantras and belief structures useful in navigating the problems of life. Regardless if Christ was real or not, the ideas of forgiveness, everlasting life and universal love provide practical ideas that may be beneficial to achieving peace of mind for its followers. Faith is the centerpiece of Christianity, and by its own elusive definition, completely and utterly subjective in nature.

Pascal seemed to have a solid grasp on his understanding of the differing sides of the mind. Abstract imagination coupled with a systematic or mathematical approach clearly relate to a modern understanding of left and right brain functions. Math itself is an extremely abstract science where letters, numbers and symbols have the ability to represent concrete material objects. Using math, an abstract art, humans can create objects and a shared reality useful in the practical occurrences and needfulness of manipulating nature. Pascal, in his early work demonstrated his mastery of this concept with his advancements in geometry and advanced mathematical theories. In Pascal's gamble the synthesis of his life's work, as applied to total understanding, is applied to promote his belief system and forms a universal approach to life he felt necessary to achieving fulfillment and happiness.

It is therefore necessary to understand a generalized interpretation of Christianity in order to grasp Pascal argument and its subjective angles of approach. To Christian believers, their version of God is the only version. It is exclusionary while offering rewards and punishments according to the devoutness of its followers. Supernatural events are assumed possible within this mental framework while miracles, unexplained phenomenon and everlasting life are offered as ideals within this community. It therefore seemed mandatory for Pascal to reconcile his spiritual life with his mathematical proofs in order to individuate his experiences and reach some sort of understanding useful in living life.

Faith is a positive function where it determines to prove in favor of something beyond the realm of human consciousness. Faith also depends on the presence of the unknown and tests the will of its wielder. Pascal's wager is this attempt at remedying the impossible task of union between the two sides of the mind that seem at odds with each other. A proof of faith, therefore eliminates faith. No faith is necessary if an outcome is one hundred percent predictable. While this apparent lack of logic may seem to deter the usefulness of this suggestion, Pascal artistically blends the two ideas into a proposition that appeals to both reason and intellect while not expressing dominance to either, but suggests that faith for faith's sake is healthy and necessary for a complete life.


Words, sentences and phrases are merely symbols of the inner qualities of man. It is therefore necessary, even if impossible to reach in totality, to attempt to reconcile the use of Pascal's symbols in knowing his meanings. The argument itself is built upon vague terminology such as good, bad, heaven, hell, is and isn't. What is good? To Pascal, perhaps piety, righteousness and faith are positive and "good" qualities. These ideas have no doubt the potential to bring about desired conformity for some. These qualities also have the possibility of attaining the opposite desired qualities as well. Heaven is subjective, everyone's ideal of the attainment of the perfect is unique and personalized. The totality of a lifetime's experiences between two people has to be different due to the differing circumstances each life contains.

Pascal does not differentiate between a universal good and a personal good making his argument considerably narrow and focused. The Christian mind frame of redemption and the rewarding of faith is to be implied in his argument. Once again the problem arises of what is rewarding and what is not. Every word and symbol that Pascal utilizes must be interpreted through this view if a side is to be chosen in this dilemma. Good and bad are separate entities in Pascal's world, disjointed and unrelated. This situation highlights why this argument is still a valid examination in today's world. Knowledge is death, and once it has been attained there is nothing more. Differentiation, movement and discourse is proof of life. Only when we disagree is anything being accomplished or learned. If indeed a universal good is discovered it would most certainly signify an end of life.

The detractors of Pascal's gamble can easily disprove the idea by merely replacing the words good and bad, or gain or loss. Gain and loss both provide useful tools to understand one's own situation and depend on each other. These ideas are not separate but different sides of the same coin. Pascal's coin flip doesn't really matter until certain ideas of what good and bad mean to the individual tossing the coin are discovered. This is both the strength and weakness of his postulate.

Pascal does not seem to intend to force his idea of goodness on the reader, rather he forces him or her to merely think about the idea. Just thinking about what is good or bad, or what heaven or hell represents provides the universal good. Here we have a forced movement or discourse and thereby attaining a natural process. Then it must be answered: Why does Pascal support belief over non-belief?

Pascal supports belief most likely to support his individual state of existence, or because it feels good to him. The argument is subjective and cannot be refuted any more than it can be supported. Pascal reveals that life itself is a game and a gamble and he has chosen to root for the positive side of things. Pascal's theory is useless however if there is no counter argument. He needs non-believers to enforce his position and complete his discourse. This is Pascal's art.

Art is neither right or wrong it just is. Art is to be consumed and contemplated and usher in some sort of harmony within the human spirit that is always in search of such providence. The mathematical probabilities assigned to such artistic notions are nothing but manipulations of his medium. His words are colors, his phrasing is the shading and outline of his mental pictures. It seems that Pascal had reached the limitations of science and math, and only through philosophical musings about God and heaven could he complete the necessary thought patterns needed to maintain his sanity.


Christianity has been a very powerful force in the development of science and understanding. The Catholic Church and…

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