In an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the CDC has recommended that everyone wear a mask or other cloth face covering when in close proximity with others, especially in indoor spaces where social distancing cannot be maintained. But many people, for a variety of reasons, choose to ignore this recommendation and fail to wear masks in public.
Pascal’s Wager is a philosophical argument that contends that human beings ought to believe in God. Pascal frames this as though human beings were using their eternal fates to bet on God’s existence. If you believe in God and act as though God exists, and if you are right, you will receive eternal life. If you are wrong, you lose nothing except the chance to have been right. If you choose to bet against God, however, and you are wrong, you risk eternal damnation. If you are right, all you win is the satisfaction of being correct. Therefore, Pascal argued, the smarter wager is to believe in God.
While Pascal’s Wager traditionally applies to theological debate, the framework it provides can be used to examine a multitude of complex issues.
This same logical framework can be applied to the controversy over whether or not to wear a mask. If you choose to wear a mask and it turns out you are right about the importance of mask-wearing, you have potentially limited the exposure of countless people to COVID-19 and have saved innumerable lives. If it turns out that you are wrong, and masks do not slow the spread of COVID-19, then all you have risked is some mild discomfort, a risk which is infinitesimally small when compared to the value of a human life. On the other hand, if you choose not to wear a mask, and you are wrong, then you have potentially exposed everyone you have come in contact with to a dangerous virus, risking their lives and the lives of everyone they interact with. If you are right, however, all you will have gained is the satisfaction of being correct, a reward which pales in comparison to the potential risk to human life. When examined under the logical framework of Pascal’s Wager, the only bet that makes sense is to wear a mask.