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Wagering on an Ironic God
Pascal on Faith and Philosophy

By Thomas S. Hibbs

Wagering on an Ironic God
Hardback, 216 pages $44.95
Published: 1st March 2017
ISBN: 9781481306386
Format: 9in x 6in

Subjects: All Philosophy, All Theology

“Philosophers startle ordinary people. Christians astonish the philosophers.”

—Pascal, Pensées  

In Wagering on an Ironic God Thomas S. Hibbs both startles and astonishes. He does so by offering a new interpretation of Pascal’s Pensées and by showing the importance of Pascal in and for a philosophy of religion.  

Hibbs resists the temptation to focus exclusively on Pascal’s famous “wager” or to be beguiled by the fragmentary and presumably incomplete nature of Pensées. Instead he discovers in Pensées a coherent and comprehensive project, one in which Pascal contributed to the ancient debate over the best way of life—a life of true happiness and true virtue.  

Hibbs situates Pascal in relation to early modern French philosophers, particularly Montaigne and Descartes. These three French thinkers offer distinctly modern accounts of the good life. Montaigne advocates the private life of authentic self-expression, while Descartes favors the public goods of progressive enlightenment science and its promise of the mastery of nature. Pascal, by contrast, renders an account of the Christian religion that engages modern subjectivity and science on its own terms and seeks to vindicate the wisdom of the Christian vision by showing that it, better than any of its rivals, truly understands human nature.  

Though all three philosophers share a preoccupation with Socrates, each finds in that figure a distinct account of philosophy and its aims. Pascal finds in Socrates a philosophy rich in irony: philosophy is marked by a deep yearning for wisdom that is never wholly achieved. Philosophy is a quest without attainment, a love never obtained. Absent Cartesian certainty or the ambivalence of Montaigne, Pascal’s practice of Socratic irony acknowledges the disorder of humanity without discouraging its quest. Instead, the quest for wisdom alerts the seeker to the presence of a hidden God.  

God, according to Pascal, both conceals and reveals, fulfilling the philosophical aspiration for happiness and the good life only by subverting philosophy’s very self-understanding. Pascal thus wagers all on the irony of a God who both startles and astonishes wisdom’s true lovers.

Part One. Irony, Philosophy, and the Christian Faith

Section 1. Pascal and the Ancient Quarrel over the Best Way of Life

Section 2. Irony Rehabilitated

Section 3. The Figure of Socrates in Early Modern Philosophy: Montaigne, Descartes, and Pascal

Section 4. Divine Irony as an Alternative to Deism and Voluntarism


Part Two. Socratic Immanence: Montaigne’s Recovery of Philosophy as a Way of Life

Section 1. Socratic Self-Knowledge

and the Art of Living

Section 2. Against Speculative Philosophy

Section 3. Montaigne’s Confessions

Section 4. Death, Diversion, and the Supernatural


Part Three. The Virtue of Science and the Science of Virtue: Descartes’ Overcoming of Socrates

Section 1. The Arts of Writing and the Science of Living

Section 2. Recovering and Overcoming Socrates

Section 3. Descartes’ New Science of Virtue

Section 4. Theology, Philosophical Irony, and the Arts of (Re-)Writing


Part Four. The Quest for Wisdom: Pascal and Philosophy

Section 1. Socrates and the Quest for the Good Life

Section 2. Ironic Reversal: The Reduction of Cartesian Certitude to Socratic Amazement

Section 3. Philosophy Deconstructed? Pascal Deconstructed?

Section 4. The Restless Heart: Pascal’s Residual Teleology

Section 5. Pascal’s Methods and the Quest for a Synoptic Vision


Part Five. Wagering on an Ironic God

Section 1. Rereading the Wager

Section 2. Wagering as Self-Emptying

Section 3. The Problem of Hope

Section 4. Neither Deism nor Voluntarism

Section 5. Christ as Eucharistic Cipher

"This is the most profoundly relevant book I’ve read in years. Hibbs, with a rigorous and meticulous marshalling of all the available evidence, shows us how to live as if the truth and my particular life really matter. The ‘Christian Socratism’ of Hibbs and Pascal is the most wondrous and dialogic form of inquiry around these (and all) days, and we can hope it saves many—including most professors of philosophy—from their dreary restlessness in the midst of prosperity."

—Peter Lawler, Dana Professor in Government, Berry College

"This exceptionally rich book will challenge the way many people understand modern philosophy by showing the often unnoticed continuities with ancient philosophy as the Socratic quest for the best way of life. In reconstructing the trialogue between Montaigne, Descartes, and Pascal, Hibbs also presents the claims of both philosophy and of Christianity with the radical immediacy often obscured by the common interpretations of these thinkers and by the characteristic prejudices of our time."

—V. Bradley Lewis, Associate Professor of Philosophy, The Catholic University of America

"Tom Hibbs’ new book invites the reader into a fascinating debate about Socratic irony among three great French thinkers—Montaigne, Descartes, and Pascal. With many fresh insights for the scholar, Wagering on an Ironic God will draw in any reader responsive to Socrates' challenge to live the examined life."

—David O’Connor, Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame

"Towards the end of Wagering on an Ironic God, Thomas Hibbs asks his reader: 'How much more rewarding would our discussions (dare we say our lives?) be if they were informed by the writings of Montaigne, Descartes, and Pascal?'. Wagering reads like an invitation to such a discussion with Hibbs, and evidences many of the delights and peculiarities of such a conversation."

—J. Columcille Dever, Modern Theology

“An original and probing interpretation of Pascal’s wager, reconstructed along the line of Socratic ignorance."

—John J. Conley, S.J., International Philosophical Quarterly

“…Thomas Hibbs is intent on bringing Pascal and his distinctive thought to the fore. In doing so, he makes a signal contribution to our understanding of modern philosophy itself. He not only rehabilitates Pascal, but sheds important light on his philosophical interlocutors, Montaigne and Descartes. This book could be profitably read merely for its treatments of Montaigne and Descartes. But the triangle of Montaigne, Descartes, and Pascal is historically apposite and philosophically quite illuminating.”

—Paul Seaton, The Review of Politics

Thomas S. Hibbs is Dean of the Honors College and Distinguished Professor of Ethics and Culture at Baylor University.

Publication Details:

 Hardback , 216 pages
 9in x 6in

  PHI022000, REL051000, REL067000
 Baylor University Press

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