William James and the Will to Alieve

In: Contemporary Pragmatism
Author: John Capps1
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  • 1 Department of Philosophy, Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY, USA, john.capps@rit.edu

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William James’ “The Will to Believe” (1896/1979) continues to attract scholarly attention. This might seem surprising since James’ central claim—that one may justifiably believe p despite having inconclusive evidence for p—seems both very clear and also very wrong. I argue that many of the interpretive and substantive challenges of this essay can be overcome by framing James’ thesis in terms of what Tamar Gendler defines as “alief.” I consider two readings of James’ position (one charitable, the other super-charitable) and conclude that the “will to believe” rests on a misnomer. “The Will to Alieve” is more accurate—though the “Right to Alieve” is even better still.

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