The Will to Believe

The Will To Believe

The Will to Believe

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"The Will to Believe" is a lecture by William James, first published in 1896,First published in The New World, Volume 5 (1896): which defends, in certain cases, the adoption a belief without prior evidence of its truth. In particular, James is concerned in this lecture about defending the right to religious faith despite a lack of sufficient evidence of religious truth.

James' central argument in "The Will to Believe" hinges on the idea that our access to the evidence for whether or not certain beliefs are true depends crucially upon first adopting those beliefs without evidence. As an example, James argues that it can be rational to have unsupported faith in our own ability to accomplish tasks that require confidence. Importantly, James points out that this is the case even for pursuing scientific inquiry. James then argues that like belief in one's own ability to accomplish a difficult task, religious faith can also be rational even if one at the time lacks evidence for the truth of one's religious belief.

The lecture

Today, James' "The Will to Believe" continues to be widely read and debated. It and William K. Clifford's essay "The Ethics of Belief" are touchstones for many contemporary debates over evidentialism, faith, and overbelief. James' “The Will to Believe” consists of introductory remarks followed by ten numbered but not titled sections. In his introductory remarks, James characterizes his...
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