Should we believe beyond evide

Essay by EssaySwap ContributorCollege, Undergraduate February 2008

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This section provides us with two selections from the essays of William K. Clifford (1845-1879) and William James (1842-1910). Clifford's essay, The Ethics of Belief, is based on the concept of evidentialism. This concept "holds that we should not accept any statement as true unless we have good evidence to support its truth" (Voices of Wisdom, 346). James wrote his essay, The Will to Believe, as a response to Clifford's essay where he endorsed a philosophy called pragmatism.

Pragmatism is described in the book as a method for settling philosophical disputes. It is based on the pragmatic theory of truth. This theory says that a "proposition p is true if and only if the belief that 'p is true' works" (Voices of Wisdom, 346). In order to get a better understanding of the pragmatic theory of truth, the theory is contrasted against two other theories, the correspondence theory of truth and the coherence theory of truth.

James disagreed with these theories because "they present truth as a static property existing prior to and independent of human experience and investigation". James viewed truth as a constant movement of ideas, which guide human beings into more and more satisfying experiences every time.

Clifford holds that you should not believe any proposition just because it will give you eternal happiness when in fact there is a lack of evidence which should lead you to doubt the proposition. James, on the other hand, gives us three conditions to believe beyond evidence. "First, when you are confronted with what he calls a 'genuine option' that cannot be decided on evidential grounds, you have a right to decide the issue according to your 'passional nature'. Second, when faced with a situation when belief in a fact is necessary for the existence of that fact, you have...