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Pascal's Wager and Marcus Aurelius


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#1    green_dude777

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Posted 19 February 2013 - 12:30 AM

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

This seems to be a quote used by those on the non religious side quite often, and is attributed to Marcus Aurelius.

The philosophy uses the following logic (excerpts from Pensées, part III, §233):
  • "God is, or He is not"
  • A Game is being played... where heads or tails will turn up.
  • According to reason, you can defend either of the propositions.
  • You must wager. (It's not optional.)
  • 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. (...) 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. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.
This is the logic behind Pascal's Wager, and is often used by those of the western religions.


There's been discussions recently on being 'good' or 'bad' or 'righteous' or 'evil'.  I've made the claim that those are just cultural constructs, and being either selfish or selfless is a better measurement for someone being 'good or bad'.

With that thought in mind, does anybody spot (at least what I would consider) the flaw in Pascal's Wager, and the beauty in the quote from Marcus Aurelius?


#2    Sean93

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Posted 19 February 2013 - 12:55 AM

Problem with Pascal's wager is that it assumes one god and one religion to be right but it could actually be used for all gods. Sure people can say "I believe in god so I'll be okay when I die either way whereas the Atheist is taking a 50/50 chance and may suffer from it...but I'l be okay" This is automatically pretentious and so idiotic simply because the advocate of the Wager assumes their god to be the correct one, completely ignoring the predicament that they could in fact have the wrong god and in essence, are just as doomed as the Atheist who does not believe in a god either.

Also, side note: saying "I'll believe in god so I don't go to hell" isn't an admirable quality that a sentient, faultless being would look for in his creations, is it? That's just being a kiss ass and saying "Daddy I love you and I'll be good" so you can get a bag of (metaphorical) sweets the easy way. Fear not though (or do!), god, being god and all, would know what your true thoughts and feelings are so saying something but not meaning it wont fool the big guy/ girl (s).

As for the Marcus A, quote, it's nice I suppose and speaks of a nicer and fairer god/gods than most religions portray; Gods who accept you on character and not how much wafers you ate in your life time, or how many propitiation's you made, such as whether you have a foreskin, or cover your skin or how may times you flagellated yourself...I don't see how such trifle would matter unless god is playing games with us in which case, my man Bill Hicks was right.

Marcus also got it right when he said that we shouldn't worship a Dooshbag god. I don't care how powerful a god is; if he/she acts like a prick then they can **** off.

Edited by Sean93, 19 February 2013 - 12:56 AM.

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#3    Paranoid Android

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Posted 19 February 2013 - 03:50 AM

Pascal's Wager is flawed, in that (as was already mentioned) it assumes only two options - Christianity or atheism.  It's an unfortunate point that Pascal's writings are remembered in popular culture for this one quote/concept alone.  From what I understand of his writings, this was found in a book of notes he was using to write up a treatise on Christianity.  It was one small argument within a much broader contextual framework.  It was never intended as a standalone argument against atheism, but it has turned out that way.  I have a feeling that if Pascal were alive today he'd be utterly disappointed that this is all people know about his work.  I suppose it would be like me making my 20 thousand posts or so in this forum, and then one day find that people have ignored EVERYTHING I've ever said on this whole forum except for one sentence.  This one sentence then gets pushed to the fore and becomes "PA's declaration" or some such phrase.  Forget everything else I've written about God, one sentence is all anyone ever focuses on, for the rest of history.  I'd be disappointed (not that I expect my words to go down in history, I have no such delusions, I'm just making a point).

By the same token the quote attributed here to Marcus Aurelius (I've also heard of this described as the "Atheists Wager") is also flawed.  It rests on the assumption that the good we do in this world can balance out the bad that we do.  It is a popular view held these days, but there is absolutely no evidence to back this up.  To use an example, if I am speeding through a school zone at 70km/h (speed limit is 40, where I live) and I get pulled over by the cops and they give me a ticket, will that ticket be voided if I decide to follow the speed limit from this day hence, or perhaps even choose to be "extra good" and only do 20km/h in the future?  No matter what I do that speeding ticket will remain a stain on my driving record.  I challenge the assumption that the good we do can balance out the bad we do, and therefore I challenge Marcus Aurelius' quote that simply living a good life is enough and if that's not good enough then God is unjust.  That is a flawed premise.

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#4    eight bits

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Posted 19 February 2013 - 09:32 AM

There are  problems about the sources in the OP.

Marcus Aurelius

http://old.richardda....net/quotes/114

With many "quotes" promoted by Richard Dawkins, the authors turn out not to have said or written any such thing in a source available to other mortals. Dawkins' victims - or does he channel them? - have included Antony Flew and Albert Einstein, so Emperor Marcus is in very good company.

Marcus believed in the gods of his people and he believed them to be both benevolent and interested in human affairs. Book II of the Meditations has a passage which some people believe to have been what Dawkins rewrote, here broken into paragraphs for readability:

Quote

Since it is possible that thou mayest depart from life this very moment, regulate every act and thought accordingly. But to go away from among men, if there are gods, is not a thing to be afraid of, for the gods will not involve thee in evil; but if indeed they do not exist, or if they have no concern about human affairs, what is it to me to live in a universe devoid of gods or devoid of Providence?

But in truth they do exist, and they do care for human things, and they have put all the means in man's power to enable him not to fall into real evils. And as to the rest, if there was anything evil, they would have provided for this also, that it should be altogether in a man's power not to fall into it.

http://classics.mit....ions.2.two.html

Pascal

Dawkins has rewritten Pascal, too, but the case is different from Marcus Aurelius. As with "Occam's" Razor, which has nothing to do with the scholarship of William of Occam, the lie about Pascal was well entrenched before Dawkins was born. "The wager" which is attributed to Pascal is a strawman, plain and simple.

Thoughts was compiled after Pascal's death, from notes he had made. The particular note ponders some difficulties for probability and decision theory, fields which Pascal and Fermat revolutionized. Pascal does not solve the chief difficulty he considers in decision theory. The solution doesn't come until the Twentieth Century, and even today, not everyone is fully satisfied with the usual solution. It is a ladydog of a problem, and it is a secular problem.

Like other Jansenists, Pascal did freely intermix his mathematical, scientific and religious thinking. We simply would not do that today. And Pascal did not do it in this case "for publication." These are his notes, compiled and edited after his death, not his finished prose.

In any case, you are looking for section 233. Here is an English translation in a variety of formats, some of them free:

http://www.ccel.org/...al/pensees.html

Here's Pascal's conclusion, as opposed to the intellectual lightweight counterapologist's conclusion, about the famous wager (third to last paragraph of the note):

Quote

The end of this discourse.--Now, what harm will befall you in taking (the pious option)? You will be faithful, humble, grateful, generous, a sincere friend, truthful. Certainly you will not have those poisonous  pleasures, glory and luxury; but will you not have others? I will tell   you that you will thereby gain in this life, and that, at each step you take on this road, you will see so great certainty of gain, so much nothingness in what you risk, that you will at last recognise that you have wagered for something certain and infinite, for which you have given nothing.

It is better to live a good life than a cushy life, for its own sake. And what has come before that in the note, which bears on the adoption of any religious belief?

Pascal does not propose that you can choose a belief, so he does not propose that you choose the belief with "the higher pay-off." What he proposes is that you can justify exposing yourself to the possibility of belief change, something which you might be reluctant to do.

Of course you can justify it, that's rational behavior. You shouldn't protect your opinions about uncertain facts from the possibility of being refuted. But the theory of rationality which teaches that principle didn't exist back then. It exists today, in part, because Pascal did the foundational work necessary for others to build on his work and produce a coherent picture of rational belief.

To take the pioneering work of Blaise Pascal, rewrite it, and place the dumbed-down version in the mouths of imbeciles must be great fun. It probably levels the playing field. However, anhiliating a strawman makes no contribution to understanding the question of God.

The non-existent "flaw" of analyzing the two-outcome partial problem

It is perfectly reasonable to project a multi-outcome decision problem to two of its outcomes, in order to eliminate one of the alternatives as dominated by the other. Today, a decision analyst might call that "pruning," and the procedure is both routine and also can be rigorously justified within modern formal decision theories.

The actual principle relied upon by Pascal is (today) obvious. If an option is inferiior to any one alternative, it is necessarily not the best solution to the decision prblem. That is what Pascal actually argued, that unthinking irreligion is not the solution.

It does not follow, nor did Pascal advocate, that you should "choose" to believe the truth of any uncertain proposition. Since Pascal did not believe it was possible to choose a belief, that was not even an option within the wager. Pascal may have been overly confident about the persuasiveness of his religion, but his conclusion from the wager was not to live your life with blinders on. The conclusion is sound, and the method used to arrive at it is valid.

Edited by eight bits, 19 February 2013 - 09:48 AM.

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#5    Paranoid Android

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Posted 19 February 2013 - 09:41 AM

I don't always agree with you, 8bits, but I always find your posts informative and for the most part encompassing.

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#6    green_dude777

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Posted 20 February 2013 - 11:28 PM

I appreciate the responses, unfortunately the topic didn't create a discussion.


#7    J. K.

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Posted 21 February 2013 - 02:20 AM

View Postgreen_dude777, on 19 February 2013 - 12:30 AM, said:

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”


Are devoutness and virtuous living mutually exclusive?

Quote

There's been discussions recently on being 'good' or 'bad' or 'righteous' or 'evil'.  I've made the claim that those are just cultural constructs, and being either selfish or selfless is a better measurement for someone being 'good or bad'.


Don't selflessness and selfishness carry the connotation of good and bad?

One's reality is another's nightmare.

#8    eight bits

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Posted 21 February 2013 - 09:28 AM

Quote

I appreciate the responses, unfortunately the topic didn't create a discussion.

It might yet, but I would propose that you need to explain what you'd like to discuss, and on what basis. In your OP, the question to the house was

Quote

With that thought in mind, does anybody spot (at least what I would consider) the flaw in Pascal's Wager, and the beauty in the quote from Marcus Aurelius?

But the quote wasn't from Marcus Aurelius, it was from Richard Dawkins, or whereever he got it from. And there is no flaw in Pascal's actual wager.

Presumably what you actually wanted to discuss was "that thought,"

Quote

There's been discussions recently on being 'good' or 'bad' or 'righteous' or 'evil'.  I've made the claim that those are just cultural constructs, and being either selfish or selfless is a better measurement for someone being 'good or bad'.

Maybe instead of some lines from Richard Dawkins playing at being Marcus Aurelius, you need a quote from Ayn Rand. If you wanted to stay with Pascal, this is close:

“Man's basic vice, the source of all his evils, is the act of unfocusing his mind, the suspension of his consciousness, which is not blindness, but the refusal to see, not ignorance, but the refusal to know.”
― Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness

Where, of course, Pascal and Rand would disagree what you would see when you focus. Or, if you preferred to drill down on self-attitude (same source):

“To love is to value. Only a rationally selfish man, a man of self esteem, is capable of love - because he is the only man capable of holding firm, consistent, uncompromising, unbetrayed value. The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone”

Perhaps we can put this beside Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 8, verse 2:

About every action of yours, ask yourself; "How will this, when it is done, agree with me?" Shall I have no occasion to repent of it? Yet a very little while and I am dead and gone; and all things are at end. What then do I care for more than this, that my present action, whatever it is, may be the proper action of one that is reasonable; whose end is the common good; who in all things is ruled and governed by the same law of right and reason by which God himself is?

I don't know; was something along those lines what you had in mind?

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#9    green_dude777

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Posted 21 February 2013 - 09:49 PM

View Posteight bits, on 21 February 2013 - 09:28 AM, said:

It might yet, but I would propose that you need to explain what you'd like to discuss, and on what basis. In your OP, the question to the house was



But the quote wasn't from Marcus Aurelius, it was from Richard Dawkins, or whereever he got it from. And there is no flaw in Pascal's actual wager.

Presumably what you actually wanted to discuss was "that thought,"



Maybe instead of some lines from Richard Dawkins playing at being Marcus Aurelius, you need a quote from Ayn Rand. If you wanted to stay with Pascal, this is close:

"Man's basic vice, the source of all his evils, is the act of unfocusing his mind, the suspension of his consciousness, which is not blindness, but the refusal to see, not ignorance, but the refusal to know."
― Ayn Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness

Where, of course, Pascal and Rand would disagree what you would see when you focus. Or, if you preferred to drill down on self-attitude (same source):

"To love is to value. Only a rationally selfish man, a man of self esteem, is capable of love - because he is the only man capable of holding firm, consistent, uncompromising, unbetrayed value. The man who does not value himself, cannot value anything or anyone"

Perhaps we can put this beside Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 8, verse 2:

About every action of yours, ask yourself; "How will this, when it is done, agree with me?" Shall I have no occasion to repent of it? Yet a very little while and I am dead and gone; and all things are at end. What then do I care for more than this, that my present action, whatever it is, may be the proper action of one that is reasonable; whose end is the common good; who in all things is ruled and governed by the same law of right and reason by which God himself is?

I don't know; was something along those lines what you had in mind?

Again, I appreciate the response, but it wasn't to be presumed what my question was... it was directly asked. "With that thought in mind, does anybody spot (at least what I would consider) the flaw in Pascal's Wager, and the beauty in the quote from Marcus Aurelius?"

These two quotes, whether actually cited correctly (in phrasing and who it should be attributed to), are the two most often quotes I see used on each side of the fence (believer vs. non believer).  What I've noticed with the quote championed by the non believers (again, whether Marcus Aurelius actually said or used is irrelevant to the question posed) encourages to live a good life regardless of a higher being or not.  The quote championed by the believers (again, whether Pascal said it in this context or not is irrelevant) encourages those to believe in a god, because it's the safer bet.

I personally know that neither one is correctly cited, and taken out of context.  With that said, those who keep using them (on social medias, internet forums, live discussion, etc.) tend to not, and only use the thought I have provided.  Evidence of this claim can be found in this thread, as a couple responses seem to be pre thought out because of past experience with each phrase; they are corrections provided for each quote.

Sean93 actually answered the proposed question with his thoughts.  This isn't a knock on the other responses, apparently it's been hashed out on here previously about the accuracy of one or both quotes.  That's not what I wanted to have a discussion about.  I was desiring a discussion about the intentions of the people that use these quotes.
I'm not trying to force a discussion that no one wants to have, and my reason for responding is out of courtesy;  you spent time in your life to respond to my question, I'll take the time to respond to yours.


#10    Mr Walker

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Posted 22 February 2013 - 08:13 AM

View Postgreen_dude777, on 19 February 2013 - 12:30 AM, said:

“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”

This seems to be a quote used by those on the non religious side quite often, and is attributed to Marcus Aurelius.

The philosophy uses the following logic (excerpts from Pensées, part III, §233):
  • "God is, or He is not"
  • A Game is being played... where heads or tails will turn up.
  • According to reason, you can defend either of the propositions.
  • You must wager. (It's not optional.)
  • 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. (...) 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. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.
This is the logic behind Pascal's Wager, and is often used by those of the western religions.


There's been discussions recently on being 'good' or 'bad' or 'righteous' or 'evil'.  I've made the claim that those are just cultural constructs, and being either selfish or selfless is a better measurement for someone being 'good or bad'.

With that thought in mind, does anybody spot (at least what I would consider) the flaw in Pascal's Wager, and the beauty in the quote from Marcus Aurelius?

MArcus Aurelius's quote has one major flaw The assumption that justice (or what is right) equals mercy )or allowing people to make critical mistakes without punishment or consequence.) You cannot actually have justice, with unconditional mercy.

  Another flaw is that  the gods will see your virtues as what they want from you not what you think of as virtue. Thus a very loving and just god may see people doing things they think are good but run contrary to the laws he has given them. Those laws are how to actually ensure that one does no harm or minimises it given the greater wisdom of such a god. So a god might say "Put all your  elderly to death." Someone might thnk they are doing the right thing by supporting their elderly, but in the end it causes the whole family to die of a food shortage while those who put their elderly down survive.


One flaw in pascals wager is that some people are more miserable/streesed/conflicted, acknowledging god than if they do not. In practical terms the wager makes sense  Science shows us that faith confers real and considerable tangible benefits on belevers (in any god) Living by many gods laws also provides practical health benefits for people. Hence believers and livers in faith, live longer and happier on average than non believers This occurs whether god exists of not. I tis a product of faith or belief in god Hence the wager holds unless a person is harmed psychologicaly or physically by the consequences of their belief.

You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world..

Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.




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