The reasons for the lasting impact of Blaise Pascal’s writings, and specifically ‘Pascal’s Wager,’ are not difficult to discern. That piece represents at once the work of a devout Christian and a thoughtful, if self-assured, philosopher (for a work that pits a devout Christian against a thoughtful, if self-assured, philosopher, see my article on C.S. Lewis and James Rachels). In existing as such, Pascal’s Wager seems a seasoned pontification which has stood up to much historical as well as modern criticism of its mathematics and its logic, regardless of how its flaws yield a failure by scope (detailed below).
Despite being famous as an exercise in reason, Pascal’s Wager is a passage grounded on the unstable foundation of chance and built of the inherently unknowable within theology. This text’s utilization of chance is particularly fascinating due to the fact that it shares meaning between an older conception of chance as pure randomness—arising from the potentially providential turning of some wheel of fortune—and a newer conception implemented in probability theory—wherein that same purity of randomness begets a clarity of logic in cases of ever-mounting complexity.
Indeed, despite its having been written by a man supposedly holding to the tenets of fatalism under the umbrella of Jansenism, ‘chance’ is therein nearly conflated with ‘probability,’ as it would later come to be understood. In Blaise Pascal’s Wager, his use of language turns chance itself into a predictable and knowable tool in the application of logic, and in doing so presents a discourse concerning chance which remains relevant to a modern society of dubious piety to the Wager’s ultimate conclusion.
A Logical Infinite: