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William James - the right to believe
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  1. William James - the right to believe • William James (United States, 1842-1910) • Degree in medicine from Harvard • 1865-66 - accompanies Louis Agassiz on a scientific expedition to Brazil • 1872 - instructor in physiology at Harvard • 1875 - begins teaching psychology at Harvard James on the right to believe ~ slide 1

  2. William James • in Brazil • June 1865 James on the right to believe ~ slide 2

  3. William James - the right to believe • 1879 - teaches philosophy at Harvard • One of the co-founders of pragmatism, together with Charles Saunders Peirce & John Dewey James on the right to believe ~ slide 3

  4. William James • ca. 1885 James on the right to believe ~ slide 4

  5. Henry & William James • in England, 1901 • on the occasion of William James’ Gifford Lectures James on the right to believe ~ slide 5

  6. William James - the right to believe • “The Will to Believe” (1896) • Thesis: It is rational to believe in religious claims even though empirical & logical evidence is not compelling. We do not have a right to believe in all matters in which empirical & logical evidence is not compelling. We only have this right in some areas of knowledge. James on the right to believe ~ slide 6

  7. William James - the right to believe • The importance of will in building knowledge; established via a critique of Pascal & Clifford • Pascal -- the wager has no bite without a predisposition to believe • Conclusion: Our will influences our convictions very much. Pure reason never settles matters. James on the right to believe ~ slide 7

  8. William James - the right to believe • Clifford -- emphasizes the avoidance of error above all. But this results in often losing the truth; it risks closing off certain realms of knowledge & experience. Importance of will in this. • Areas where one is justified in going beyond compelling evidence & logic • (1) morals James on the right to believe ~ slide 8

  9. William James - the right to believe • (2) personal relations • (3) religious faith • In all of these areas, faith in the fact may help create the fact James on the right to believe ~ slide 9

  10. William James - the right to believe • Another set of restrictions (second) in which making acts of the will (faith) which go beyond knowledge & evidence • The situation must present an option which is • (1) living • (2) forced • (3) momentous James on the right to believe ~ slide 10

  11. William James - the right to believe • Scientific options usually does not meet these three conditions. • Under these two sets of conditions, one is justified in exercising an act of faith, in the sense of making an act of the will which goes beyond logic & evidence. • In religious faith, extending one’s self may unveil knowledge which otherwise would have remained hidden. James on the right to believe ~ slide 11

  12. William James - the right to believe • Critical comments • Is James arguing that in religious faith, one is justified in going beyond all evidence & logic? • Is James arguing that we can create facts? James on the right to believe ~ slide 12