Teaching James's “The Will to Believe”

Teaching Philosophy 24 (4):325-345 (2001)
Many readers have viewed William James's "The Will to Believe" as his most distinctive and resonating lecture. Yet for all the scholarly attention it has received, the complexities of the "pragmatic defence," and the issues it raises concerning evidential and pragmatic reasoning are still often misunderstood. In this paper I explicate a neglected "core" argument tied closely to James's thesis statement, and provide charts and other tools useful in presenting James' lecture in the philosophy classroom. This argument, based on the Ought-Implies-Can principle, is useful for highlighting differences between James's pragmatist and Clifford's evidentialist perspective. I first reconstruct this implicit Ought-Implies-Can argument in modus tollens form, and follow this with a Chart intended to clarify various steps James takes in support of the crucial second premise. My purpose is primarily to explicate this neglected argument in a reconstructed, "bare-bones" fashion for classroom study and evaluation
Keywords William James  The Will to Believe  Education  ethics of belief
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DOI 10.5840/teachphil200124448
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Max Carl Otto (ed.) (1942). William James. Madison, the University of Wisconsin Press.
Brian Zamulinski (2002). A Re-Evaluation of Clifford and His Critics. Southern Journal of Philosophy 40 (3):437-457.
Graham Bird (1986). William James. Routledge & Kegan Paul.

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