Evidentialism and the Will to Believe

Evidentialism and the Will to Believe

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Work on the norms of belief in epistemology regularly starts with two touchstone essays: W.K. Clifford's "The Ethics of Belief" and William James's "The Will to Believe." Discussing the central themes from these seminal essays, Evidentialism and the Will to Believe explores the history of the ideas governing evidentialism.

As well as Clifford's argument from the examples of the shipowner, the consequences of credulity and his defence against skepticism, this book tackles James's conditions for a genuine option and the structure of the will to believe case as a counter-example to Clifford's evidentialism. Exploring the question of whether James's case successfully counters Clifford's evidentialist rule for belief, this study captures the debate between those who hold that one should proportion belief to evidence and those who hold that the evidentialist norm is too restrictive.

More than a sustained explication of the essays, it also surveys recent epistemological arguments to evidentialism. But it is by bringing Clifford and James into fruitful conversation for the first time that this study presents a clearer history of the issues and provides an important reconstruction of the notion of evidence in contemporary epistemology.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 240 pages
  • 156 x 234 x 12.95mm | 345g
  • Bloomsbury Academic
  • London, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1474265839
  • 9781474265836
  • 1,817,830

Table of contents

Copyright Acknowledgments
1. The objectives of commentary
2. Three themes
3. Five evaluative theses
Chapter 1: Reading Clifford's "The Ethics of Belief"
William Kingdon Clifford and the Metaphysical Society
Section I - The Duty of Inquiry
1. The ship owner case
2. The island case
3. Beliefs and actions
4. Beliefs and their consequences
5. Ethics and belief
6. Endorsing evidentialism
Section II - The Weight of Authority
1. Anti-skepticism
2. Testimonial evidence
3. Miraculous testimony
4. The publicity requirement
5. The sacred tradition of humanity
Section III - The Limits of Inference
1. A burnt child dreads the fire
2. Regulative principles
3. Three norms
Chapter 2: Reading James's "The Will to Believe"
William James and "The Will to Believe"
Section I - Hypotheses and Options
1. Introduction and definitions
2. Live and dead options
3. Forced options
4. Momentous options
5. Religion as a genuine option
Section II - Pascal's Wager
1. Four stages of "The Will to Believe"
2. Voluntarism and its limits
3. The wager
4. Clifford's veto
Section III - Psychological Causes of Belief
1. A concession to evidentialism
2. Truth and other useful ideas
3. Pascal is a regular clincher
Section IV - The Thesis of the Essay
1. A thematic transition
2. The thesis
Sections V and VI - Absolutism and Empiricism
1. Two forms of faith
2. Objective evidence and its discontents
3. Truth for Empricism
Section VII - Two Different Sorts of Risks in Believing
1. The two commandments
2. The case for the Truth Norm
3. Two critical points
Section VIII - Some Risk Unavoidable
1. Applying the meta-epistemology
2. Interested inquiry
3. Two analogies
Section IX - Faith May Bring Forth Its Own Verification
1. Moral and scientific questions
2. Moral skepticism
3. The argument from friendship
4. The argument from social coordination
5. Doxastic efficacy and the will-to-believe
Section X - Logical Conditions of Religious Belief
1. The overall form of James's argument
2. Religion's dual essence
3. Religion as live and momentous
4. Religion as forced
5. The conversion fallacy
6. Religion as doxastically efficacious
7. Evidentialism as irrational
8. Religious tolerance
Chapter 3: The Ethics of Belief and Philosophy of Religion
Question 1: Must evidentialism be an ethical doctrine?
Question 2: Can practical reasons trump theoretical reasons?
Question 3: Can religion be pragmatically reconstructed?
Question 4: What about the power of positive thinking?

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Review quote

[Aikin] writes with clarity and verve, and his discussion is uniformly insightful. The book is filled with telling examples, useful distinctions, trenchant arguments, and good humor. I recommend it with enthusiasm. -- Andrew. D. Cling, The University of Alabama, US * Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews * Evidentialism and the Will To Believe is refreshingly humorous and informal ... Aikin's blend of casual and technical language offers readers respite and entertainment; fellow analytical philosophers should take note ... An essential primer for those wishing to understand the Clifford-James debate -- Raphael Lataster * SOPHIA * Aikin critically evaluates William James's famous influential essay "The Will to Believe" (1897) and W. K. Clifford's lesser-known "The Ethics of Belief" (1877), which the former critiqued. This is the first complete book to analyze and contrast these two important theories of belief in epistemology ... Aikin's clear writing style enables readers to better understand them. This reviewer has taught these essays many times but still learned from this volume. It will be very useful for courses in epistemology and related subjects. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students and researchers/faculty. -- M. P. Maller, Wilbur Wright College * CHOICE * Aikin's book is a detailed, meticulous, and thought provoking comparative study of two seminal papers on the ethics of belief: William Clifford's 'The Ethics of Belief,' which enjoins us always to believe in accordance with the evidence, and William James' 'The Will to Believe,' which defends our right to believe in some carefully circumscribed circumstances, even when the evidence is insufficient ... It makes good sense to discuss the two papers together. After all, James was responding to Clifford. And the detailed discussion acquaints the reader with the two thinkers' stances toward a host of issues that together make for comprehensive views concerning evidentialism. -- Ruth Weintraub, Tel-Aviv University * The Review of Metaphysics * The positions of both James and Clifford are presented in a thorough and sensitive manner. * Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal * Scott Aikin has produced an excellent, comprehensive, and much-needed account of the still vital Clifford-James debate on the ethics of belief and the will to believe. -- Cheryl Misak, Professor of Philosophy, University of Toronto, Canada I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting a reliable introduction to these classic works on the ethics of religious belief. It provides a careful, patient and entertaining companion to these classic texts by Clifford and James on evidence, belief, and especially religious belief. It would make the basis of a great short course. -- Stephen Law, Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, Heythrop College, University of London, UK Scott F Aikin has provided an invaluable guide to the writings of Clifford and William James, on the Ethics of Belief and James's defence of 'The will to believe'. Their debates are fundamental to the history of pragmatism, and Aikin's commentary provides an illuminating guide to the arguments that were employed. -- Christopher J. Hookway, Professor of Philosophy, University of Sheffield, UK Scott Aikin brings clarity, fairness, and critical insight to bear on the Clifford-James controversy over what we may believe without adequate evidence. People who want to understand the dispute should read Evidentialism and the Will to Believe before they read anything else. -- Brian Zamulinski, Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Saskatchewan, Canada This is the first book-length treatment of what is arguably the most important and influential epistemological debate from dawn of what we consider the 'contemporary' philosophical era.

Written in a clear and lively fashion, Aikin's book is not only the best account of the James/Clifford debate ever to appear in print, but also an ideal introduction to the topic of evidentialism itself. -- Henry Jackman, Associate Professor of Philosophy, York University, Toronto, Canada
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About Scott Aikin

Scott F. Aikin is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University, USA.
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