Paper Example on William James' Will to Believe Essay: Impact on Pragmatism

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  4
Wordcount:  860 Words
Date:  2023-01-26

It is important to note that the essay the Will to Believe was published in the year 896 by William James who was by then one of the leading philosophers who also taught various psychology courses in the United States. Also, it is imperative to note that James immensely contributed in the development of pragmatism, which was an important school of thought that majorly focused in the practical application of things such as culture, language as well as science. However, this was a contradicting point of view with most idealist thinking who believed that science and natural laws are things that are too complex for human beings to clearly and fully understand. James took the challenge to explain his ideas as well as views of his thoughts.

Is your time best spent reading someone else’s essay? Get a 100% original essay FROM A CERTIFIED WRITER!

Some of the philosophical themes that The Will to Believe focus on are our capacity to hold given beliefs without any tangible evidence about their truthfulness. He uses an example to the theme of religious belief which examines the willingness of the society to believe in religion despite lacking enough proof of its existence. Therefore, the central argument of the essay focusses on James argument that some beliefs have to be embraced even without evidence before looking for those supporting evidence. However, the author reiterates that some level of confidence is required and accepting or believing something before evidence about its existence must not always be irrational.

Firstly, James commences his work by suggesting that hypothesis has two properties to the individual who is considering that hypothesis. In his case, it is either living or dead. In his explanation, a live hypothesis is one that appeals as a real possibility to the personal with whom it is proposed. The author illustrates this by putting an argument of believing in Mahli where he states that a belief in the Mahli is an example of a dead hypothesis to his students who are Christians whereas to Arabs, "this is one of the possibilities of the mind" [226]. A forced option can be either avoidable, which is to say that any proposition given may be completely avoidable such as "be a Muslim or a Buddhist" for example, is an avoidable option where one needn't to pick either. A forced option is a set of logical choices with no alternatives is a forced option. Another set of options are either momentous or trivial. In this aspect, options presented can either be of a big magnitude or be trivial, thus there can be a set of options where you could go to the north pole or not, alternatively, you could go to the candy store or not. As James explains, "we may call an option a genuine option when it is forced, living and momentous kind" [225]

After a discussion on the nature of the dead and living hypothesis, he further states that in between these two possibilities, there exist some other options. In understanding the options, James talks of avoidable or forced while the other option is trivial or momentous [225]. It is important to note that a forced option can either be avoidable, to mean that any proposition put forward may be avoided completely, for example, one can choose to be a Christian or Muslim or avoid both. However, a forced option is a group of logical concepts with no alternatives. As stated above, another set of an option can either be trivial or momentous. In this scenario, James puts it that there exist sets of options from which one can choose from or not. Furthermore, "an option can be genuine when it is forced, momentous, and living kind" [225].

Additionally, the author mentions a belief in the religion as one of the rights to believe because it is one of the genuine options. As I have mentioned above, a genuine option is that which accords a person to have a forced, momentous and a living option. The premise of religion is one is which "perfection is eternal" [234] and because religion offers all the genuine options; where the first one states that it is a living option and therefore there exist some mental consideration in our mind, the next is forced and it lacks logical corollary that can make people avoid believing in the religion and finally, this premise is momentous to a person and it outlines a set of rules that they have to follow to reap a favorable afterlife.


In conclusion, the arguments of William James in his essay, The Will to Believe has some validity in part. This is because by looking at the belief in the religion for example, as one of the rights to believe as a genuine option, it is true because religion always offers all the genuine options and before choosing your religion, there are some mental considerations which classify it as a living option. In this manner, it is true that some beliefs have to be embraced even if they lack substantial evidence and a belief in the religion even without proof is one of the premises that qualifies this work of William James.

Work Cited

James, William. The will to believe: And other essays in popular philosophy. Longmans, Green, and Company, 1896.

Cite this page

Paper Example on William James' Will to Believe Essay: Impact on Pragmatism. (2023, Jan 26). Retrieved from

Free essays can be submitted by anyone,

so we do not vouch for their quality

Want a quality guarantee?
Order from one of our vetted writers instead

If you are the original author of this essay and no longer wish to have it published on the ProEssays website, please click below to request its removal:

didn't find image

Liked this essay sample but need an original one?

Hire a professional with VAST experience!

24/7 online support

NO plagiarism