Securing the Main Chance: Prudential Belief from Tillotson to Defoe

Many 17th-century arguments over the validity of belief turn from the ontological problem of God's existence toward the consequences of believing versus disbelieving, and the benefits and risks of either choice. Insistence on the necessity of making a choice, and the application of worldly thou...

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Bibliographic Details
Published in:Literature and theology
Main Author: Starr, G. A. ca. 20./21. Jh.
Format: Electronic Article
Language:English
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Published: Oxford Univ. Press [2019]
In:Literature and theology
Year: 2019, Volume: 33, Issue: 1, Pages: 69-89
Online Access: Volltext (Resolving-System)
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Summary:Many 17th-century arguments over the validity of belief turn from the ontological problem of God's existence toward the consequences of believing versus disbelieving, and the benefits and risks of either choice. Insistence on the necessity of making a choice, and the application of worldly thought-processes to an otherworldly theological question, is most familiar through the Pascalian wager. Yet many English writers before and after Pascal approached the question of belief from a similarly prudential standpoint, and brought to bear arguments and images drawn from various forms of worldly gambling, such as investing, insuring, and mercantile activity. There were numerous sermons on Matthew 16:26: 'For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?' Distinguished preachers like John Tillotson and philosophers such as John Locke made 'direct appeal to a calculating precautionary self-interest'. This article surveys how English divines marshal the language and mentality of wagering and risk-taking in the service of religious belief, thus pursuing traditional sacred ends by modern profane means.
ISSN:1477-4623
Contains:Enthalten in: Literature and theology
Persistent identifiers:DOI: 10.1093/litthe/fry037