Summary of "The Will to Believe" by William James

by Rebecca Mayglothling

William James authored "The Will to Believe," a philosophical essay regarding the basis of belief in religion. James discussed the concepts of genuine choice and forced belief. He also argued that individuals have choices to believe; however, certain concrete facts are forced beliefs. William James discussed religious hypotheses and the concept of belief without reason.

Genuine Choice

William James discusses genuine choice and highlights three criteria for genuine choice: the choice must be live, forced and momentous. A live choice carries emotional appeal to the chooser. A forced choice is presented with an either/or answer. Finally, a momentous choice is one which is a matter of significant import. Mr. James explains genuine choice at length in his essay.

Choosing to Believe

James argues next that people do not choose to believe, but are inherent believers. Examples follow, such as a person sick in bed believing he is well and moving about. The person can claim to be well; however, he cannot believe he is well because the illness is upon him. He inherently believes that he is ill, according to James's arguments.

Belief Without Reason

James claims that people, in general, believe without reason, looking to leaders and politicians for beliefs. James discusses free will briefly here, but he spends more time discussing passion over pure logic in controlling our beliefs. The general population believes without understanding why; therefore, we hold our beliefs without scientific reasoning, according to James.

Religious Hypotheses

James arrives at a conclusion in his discussion on religious hypotheses. He argues that agnosticism does not work, as it does not consider other truths. He continues to propose that people believe in two different forms: concrete and abstract. The concrete belief will only cover living objects which the intellect by itself cannot resolve, and the abstract belief will cover our right to believe any live hypothesis.

About the Author

Rebecca Mayglothling has worked directly with toddlers and preschoolers for more than three years. She has published numerous lesson plans online as well as parenting and teaching advice. She continues to keep ahead of parenting methods and is eager to share them through her professional writing.

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