The Will To Believe Essay, Research Paper
The Will to Believe Human passions are stronger than technical rule. (James pg.129) Throughout the history of mankind, there has always been a great dispute over religious beliefs. As time has passed, and as society has developed, religious skepticism has broadened the disagreement between human intellectualism and human opinion. Faith and opinion are the basis to religious belief, whereas solid proof, logic and facts are the basis for science. Science disagrees with religious belief because in order for something to be true, one needs proof and reason behind it and religion relies on blind faith. There have been many essays and responses written to this dispute. Take The Will to Believe by William James. James goes through his argument for religious belief and also deals with arguments by other philosophers such as W.K. Clifford and Blaise Pascal. James begins his essay with some technical definitions. He defines hypothesis as, anything that may be proposed to our belief. (James pg.124) Hypotheses are either live or dead according to James. A live hypothesis is one that produces a real possibility, for example, if someone asked to me to believe in Christianity. In this case the hypothesis is alive to me because Christianity is my belief, but is also alive to non- Christians such as Jews, because it is among their possibilities. However, if I were asked to follow Islam, the hypothesis would be dead because Islam in no way is a part of my faith and it is not even considered an option. This shows that the deadness and liveliness of a hypothesis are not inherent, but instead relate to a person s thought and actions. The decision between two hypotheses is called an option, and options are identified in three ways; living or dead, forced or avoidable, and momentous or trivial. When an option is living, forced and momentous, it is known as a genuine option. A living option is one in which both hypothesis are living, that is both options appeal to you, and a dead option is one that makes no appeal to you. A forced option is one in which you must make a decision, and there is no room for indifference. For example, if someone said, either take this test, or fail, you are forced to make a decision, take the test or fail. An avoidable option is one in which you are not forced, for example if someone said, like or don t like it, you can avoid it and remain indifferent. Lastly, a momentous option is one that is unique, in which you will probably never again have the opportunity to choose that option, and an option is trivial when the stakes are not significant and you will have the opportunity to reverse the decision if wished. When we look at certain facts, it seems as if our passional and volitional nature lay at the root of all convictions and when we look at others, it seems as if they could do nothing when the intellect once had its say. (James pg.125) This statement serves as a framework for James argument for human opinion. He is saying that all of our beliefs and convictions are based upon the emotional and discretionary nature that humans have. Our opinions are made not on facts, but on faith alone. The truths of intellect are different than those of opinion. Once the intellect has its say, it s a fact and its concrete, whereas when it s an opinion, our will can either help or impede our perceptions of the truth. Our opinion and what we want to believe are the entire foundation of the truths we actually believe in. Pascal s The Wager, reasons our truth through the chance of a game. The options of the hypothesis are living, forced and momentous, thus making it a genuine option. First of all, you must believe in God or not believe God, you have no choice, so therefore you re forced. Second, the option is without a doubt momentous because the decision is eternal and third it is definitely living because a game is going on between you and the nature of things. The day of judgement will bring either heads or tails and Pascal says that when weighing your gains and losses, you should definitely choose God s existence because if you win you gain eternal beatitude and if you lose, you lose nothing. If there were an infinity of chances, and only one for God in this wager, still you ought to stake your all on God. (James pg.125) According to Pascal, the reason to do this is because although there is a risk for a finite loss, there is also possibility for an infinite gain.
Although Pascal and James are on the same page, James also disagrees with Pascal. In response to Pascal s argument, James says that it is a final frantic attempt against the hardness of the unbelieving heart. Faith in masses and holy water adopted only after a mechanical calculation such as this does not hold the same reality as does faith without the supplied logic. These means of salvation provided Pascal are a dead, not living option, as there is no tendency to act on it. James response to Clifford is total disagreement. Clifford writes, It is wrong always, everywhere, and for everyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence. (James pg.126) This is a classic confrontation of science vs. religion. Clifford believes that it is sinful to believe in anything that is not yet proven. The pleasure of the believer is stolen if a belief has been accepted on insufficient evidence. James on the other hand believes in the opinion and does not need facts.James uses the term willing nature to describe the opinions that have grown into beliefs and that our opinions are settled not by intellectual insight and reason, but by our willing nature. Our faith is faith in someone else s faith. (James pg.127) Our non-intellectual nature does influence our convictions and reason and logic are not the only things that produce beliefs.Believe truth! Avoid error! Two laws that must be separated and ranked. Some find the avoidance of error imperative while others favor the discovery of the truth. Clifford s view is to believe nothing, and keep your mind in suspense forever rather than believe in something unproven. James disagrees with Clifford once again by saying that he d rather be fooled many times looking for the truth rather than going forever without belief. In search of the truth, one must consider the two steps once again, avoid dupery and gain truth. The most useful investigator, because the most sensitive observer, is always he whose eager interest in one side of the question is balanced by an equally keen nervousness lest he become deceived. (James pg.129) In science, the truth is searched for by the scientific method and science is so dependent on this theory that the only truth that is seen is the truth that is technically verified. As a counter to the intellectual way of investigation, James says, The heart has its reasons which reason does not know. (James pg.129) The faith in religious belief comes from the heart, and that cannot be identified by intellectual reason. The heart is also what must be consulted to determine the worths of what exists. Science can determine what exists, but not what is good or bad. And where faith in a fact can help create the fact, that would be an insane logic which should say that faith running ahead of scientific evidence is the lowest kind of immortality. The desire for truth, brought out by science, suggests logic over faith once again, this time as the lowest form of immortality. Religious hypotheses say two things; one is that Perfection is eternal and the other is to believe the first one. The hypothesis that James gives is similar to Pascal s, but not quite the same. It is a momentous option because it is eternal, it is forced because you cannot afford to remain skeptical because even if religion were untrue you would avoid error, but still lose the good, and of course this option is living, not dead. I would say that I have to agree with James on all his arguments. I am a religious person and I think he is right. I cannot be obedient to the science options. If religion is true, but there still be no evidence, I do not wish to give up my beliefs because of lack of evidence and to avoid error. Nor do I believe that a person should believe in faith just because of the advantages of agreeing with the existence of God, as Pascal says. Fake faith is just as bad as no faith in my opinion, and one should not believe just for the infinite reward. In response to the religious skepticism of the world, blind faith totally overpowers logic and reason in my book and opinions of faith are more powerful than intellectual reason. Human passions are stronger than technical rules and the heart has its reasons which reason does not know. Le coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connait pas. (James pg.129)