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Abstract

This article explores “pragmatic arguments” for theistic belief – that is, arguments for believing in God that appeal, not to evidence in favor of God’s existence, but rather to alleged practical benefits that come from belief in God. Central to this exploration is a consideration of Jeff Jordan’s recent defense of “the Jamesian wager,” which portrays itself as building on the case for belief presented in William James’s essay “The Will to Believe.” According to Jordan, religious belief creates significant gains in this-worldly happiness (i.e. gains in “secular utility,” I shall say), and provided the individual does not have decisive evidence against God’s existence, these gains give the individual sufficient reason to strive to believe in God. In its exploration of this argument, the article presents an overview of recent social scientific work on the this-worldly effects of religious belief. It canvases several challenges to pragmatic arguments, namely, a challenge according to which happiness rooted in false belief is worth less than that rooted in truth, a perfectionistic challenge alleging that one should strive for personal excellence rather than happiness, and a challenge alleging that any happiness gains of religious belief are outweighed by the potential harms brought about by religious belief.