William James' "The Will to Believe"

1096 Words5 Pages
William James aims to provide a justification of faith with his essay “The Will to Believe.” He presents many ideas on what influences a person’s beliefs. He believes one of these influences to be our passion or our will. He later describes specific examples that explain his psychological theory about how beliefs are acquired. But he first defines a set of terms in the way he will use them in his essay, ignoring their use in ordinary language. The first vocabulary distinction he gives us is hypothesis. He defines this as anything that may be presented for us to believe. He will speak of a hypothesis as either live or dead. A live hypothesis is one that we have at least a slight tendency to believe. A belief in God for an American would be a live hypothesis because it is one of the mind’s possibilities for us. A dead hypothesis is one that does not appear to be a real possibility to the person it is presented to. A belief in Ala would be a dead hypothesis for an American because it is not a possibility for our culture’s mind. An option is the choice between two hypotheses. James then describes three categories of options: living or dead, forced or avoidable, and momentous or trivial. A living option is one in which both hypotheses are live ones. A dead option is one in which neither hypothesis is a live one. A forced option is one in which there is no alternative live options to chose from. An avoidable option is one that leaves a choice besides the two hypotheses given to choose from. A momentous option is one that provides a unique opportunity or one that is irreversible. A trivial option is one in which the opportunity is not unique or when the decision can be reversed at a later time. Finally, a genuine option is one that is forced, living, and momentous. An example of a genuine option in today’s society is whether or not to go to college. It
Open Document