Thursday, June 12, 2014

New Paper on Epistemic Contextualism and James's "The Will to Believe"

Holley, David M. "Practical Considerations and Evidence in James's Permission to Believe", Religious Studies (forthcoming).

Here's the abstract:
Philosophers often read ‘The will to believe’ as defending the substitution of non-epistemic reasons for inadequate epistemic reasons. I contend that a more charitable reading of James's argument is to understand him as proposing a contextualist account of the kind of evidence needed for responsible believing. On my reading, James claims that evidential support that might be insufficient in a purely theoretical context may be good enough when there is a pressing need to decide on a course of action.

For my own part, I'm not concerned about the issue of how to properly interpret James's argument. I'm interested in the fundamental insight, pointed out by Aaron Rizzieri et al. and now Holley, that recent research on contextualism and pragmatic encroachment blurs -- and perhaps obliterates -- the traditional distinction between pragmatic/prudential reasons for belief in God (Pascal's Wager, James's Will to Believe, etc.) and epistemic reasons for belief in God. I think this is an important and significant insight.

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