Varieties of Ockham’s Razor and Pascal’s Wager

From Sober’s Parsimony Arguments in Science and Philosophy:

    “When philosophers think about parsimony, they often think of it as a guide concerning what one should believe. Ockham’s razor, according to the old slogan, is the admonition to not postulate entities beyond necessity. In fact, there are two razors that need to be distinguished.

    Razor of denial: If your evidence does not discriminate between ‘X exists’ and ‘X does not exist,’ you should deny the former and affirm the latter.

    Razor of silence: If your evidence does not discriminate between ‘X exists’ and ‘X does not exist,’ you should suspend judgment about both.

    I take it that the ‘should’ in both razors indicates what is rational (in the sense of required by reason). Since each says that lack of discriminating evidence suffices to settle what your state of belief should be, both razors deny a role to prudential considerations of the kind that figure in Pascal’s wager. (p. 14)”

From Groothuis’s Wagering Belief: Examining Two Objections to Pascal’s Wager Wagering Belief: Examining Two Objections to Pascal’s Wager:

    Although the prudential results of the wager turn on whether one believes in God or not, to limit Pascal’s position to this factor would be misleading because theological assent alone cannot be artificially divorced from the entire religious life Pascal is advocating. He is arguing that one who makes the wager and comes to faith is in a unique position to receive spiritual and ethical benefits not otherwise available, both in this life and in the next. Pascal says,

    Now what harm will come to you from choosing this course? You will be faithful, honest, grateful, full of good works, a sincere, true friend… It is true you will not enjoy noxious pleasures, glory and good living, but will you not have others?

    Believing in God is not simply an isolated act of assent divorced from the contours of one’s overall life. Faith in God is, according to Pascal, rather seen as a means to the end of changing one’s entire existence — an end that is otherwise unavailable.

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