Alexander Klein
McMaster University
Do the same epistemic standards govern scientific and religious belief? Or should science and religion operate in completely independent epistemic spheres? Commentators have recently been divided on William James’s answer to this question. One side depicts “The Will to Believe” as offering a separate-spheres defense of religious belief in the manner of Galileo. The other contends that “The Will to Believe” seeks to loosen the usual epistemic standards so that religious and scientific beliefs can both be justified by a unitary set of evidentiary rules. I argue that James did build a unitary epistemology but not by loosening cognitive standards. In his psychological research, he had adopted the Comtian view that hypotheses and regulative assumptions play a crucial role in the context of discovery even though they must be provisionally adopted before they can be supported by evidence. “The Will to Believe” relies on this methodological point to achieve a therapeutic goal—to convince despairing Victorians that religious faith can be reconciled with a scientific epistemology. James argues that the prospective theist is in the same epistemic situation with respect to the “religious hypothesis” as the scientist working in the context of discovery.
Keywords James  religion  science  pragmatism  context of discovery  discovery
Categories (categorize this paper)
Reprint years 2015
DOI 10.1086/680371
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

PhilArchive copy

 PhilArchive page | Other versions
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

The Principles of Psychology.William James - 1890 - Dover Publications.
Collected Papers.Charles S. Peirce - 1931 - Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.
The American Pragmatists.Cheryl Misak - 2013 - Oxford University Press.

View all 46 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Idealism, Pragmatism, and the Will to Believe: Charles Renouvier and William James.Jeremy Dunham - 2015 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 23 (4):1-23.
Was James Ward a Cambridge Pragmatist?Jeremy Dunham - 2014 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 22 (3):557-581.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Klein on James on the Will to Believe.Cheryl Misak - 2015 - Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 5 (1):118-28.
Why Can't There Be a Logic of Discovery?Mehul Shah - 2004 - Dissertation, City University of New York
Pragmatism, Realism, and Religion.Michael R. Slater - 2008 - Journal of Religious Ethics 36 (4):653-681.
Evolutionary Debunking Arguments Against Theism, Reconsidered.Jonathan Jong & Aku Visala - 2014 - International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 76 (3):243-258.
Explaining Scientific Discovery.Aleksandar Jokic - 1991 - Dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara
Local and Normative Rationality of Science: The 'Content of Discovery' Rehabilitated. [REVIEW]Peter P. Kirschenmann - 1991 - Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie 22 (1):61-72.


Added to PP index

Total views
759 ( #7,072 of 2,426,581 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
46 ( #17,495 of 2,426,581 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes