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Teaching James's 'The Will to Believe"

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CONTRIBUTORS:
  Author Axtell, Guy (University of Nevada, Reno)
JOURNAL:
  Teaching Philosophy, 24(4), 325 - 345.
YEAR: 2001
PUB TYPE: Journal Article
SUBJECT(S): William James; pedagogy; pragmatism; reason and faith; the rationality of religious belief; epistemology
DISCIPLINE: Philosophy
HTTP:
LANGUAGE: English
PUB ID: 103-416-673 (Last edited on 2005/09/09 14:43:08 GMT-6)
SPONSOR(S):
 
ABSTRACT:
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.
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