The Will to Believe: 1897, W James, J Fieser

Tags: hypothesis, religion, religious faith, believing, James Fieser, option, square brackets, copyright holder, Brown Universities, scientific evidence, EDITORIAL CONVENTIONS, copyright notice, justification of faith, physical world, error, moral imperative, Leslie Stephen, absolutely true, justification by faith, personal God
William James The Will To Believe. 1897 Copyright 1995, James Fieser ([email protected]). See end note for details on copyright and editing conventions. This etext is based on the 1897 edition of published by Longmans, Green & Co. This is a Working Draft; please report errors.[1] **** The Will To Believe.[2] In the recently published Life by Leslie Stephen of I his brother, Fitz-James, there is an account of a school to which the latter went when he was a boy. The teacher, a certain Mr. Guest, used to converse with his pupils in this wise: "Gurney, what is the difference between justification and sanctification? Stephen, prove the omnipotence of God!" etc. In the midst of our Harvard freethinking and indifference we are prone to imagine that here at your good old orthodox College conversation continues to be somewhat upon this order; and to show you that we at Harvard have not lost all interest in these vital subjects, I have brought with me to-night something like a sermon on justification by faith to read to you, -- I mean an essay in justification of faith, a defense of our right to adopt a believing attitude in religious matters, in spite of the fact that our merely logical intellect may not have been coerced. I The Will to Believe,' accordingly, is the title of my paper. I have long defended to my own students the lawfulness of voluntarily adopted faith; but as soon as they have got well imbued with the logical spirit, they have as a rule refused to admit my contention I to be lawful philosophically, even though in point of fact they were personally all the time chock-full of some faith or other themselves. I am all the while, however, so profoundly convinced that my own position is correct, that your invitation has seemed to me a good occasion to make my statements more clear. Perhaps your minds will be more open than those with which I have hitherto had to deal, I will be as little technical as I can, though I must begin by setting up some technical distinctions that will help us in the end. 1. Hypotheses and Options. Let us give the name of to anything that may be proposed to our belief; and just as the electricians speak of live and dead wires, let us speak of any hypothesis as either or . A live hypothesis is one which appeals as a real possibility to him to whom it is proposed. If I asked you to believe in the Mahdi, the notion makes no electric connection with your nature, -- it refuses to scintillate with any credibility at all. As an hypothesis it is completely dead. To an Arab, however (even if he be not one of the Mahdi's followers), the hypothesis is among the mind's possibilities: it is alive. This shows that deadness and liveness in an hypothesis are not intrinsic properties,
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but relations to the individual thinker. They are measured by his willingness to act. The maximum of liveness in an hypothesis , means willingness to act irrevocably. Practically, that means belief; but there is some believing tendency wherever there is willingness to act at all. Next, let us call the decision between two hypotheses an

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