William James’ Philosophy
William James argues in his book that our nature to be passionate helps us decide between options, in cases where these options are genuine but challenging to be decided upon on intellectual grounds; he, however, agrees that this deciding between proposition is not lawful, or conventional. This paper will analyze this statement and find out what it means, especially in relation to the arguments of Pascal Wage and William Clifford.
James argues that when individuals look at some facts, it seems as if their volitional and passional nature lay at the root or forms the basis of their convictions. When it comes to other facts, however, it seems as if nothing could be done to them further when intellect has decided on them. By the prior statement James seems to be indicating that our feelings or emotions rule and drive some of the decisions that we make, and especially those decisions that are difficult to decide on using our intellect. It seems like he is pointing out that passional reasoning is only possible when intellectual reasoning has been defeated and is impossible.
With this, I believe that the arguments of Pascal Wager about religion are such options that can be decided upon using our passional nature. One of his many passages that have widely become celebrated is the passage about Christianity, religion and God. In his passage he tries to argue that we must accept Christianity, as well as, the presence and existence of God. Pascal argues that we must either believe or not believe the existence of God. Meaning that our understanding should be either that God exists or He does not. But how can we know for a fact that God is or if He exists with our human reasoning? We cannot be able to do so. This is definitely one of the options that James was talking about of how we can use our passional nature to decide on whether to believe that God exists or not. Some believe that God exists because of their faith or passional nature and not because it has been proved by science that God exists. Because we cannot verify through our intelligence such matters, we leave them to our passional nature to make decisions for us on what we will believe in.
This evaluation of Pascal’s arguments conflicts with the evaluations made by Clifford of the same passage. Though the two bases their arguments on the fact that people decide on matters of Christianity through their emotions, Clifford’s arguments seem to be based on some anti- Christian thoughts or arguments. It seems that to him, Christianity is a hypothesis that is dead to him from the start. He argue against the passage of Pascal based on the fact that he does not agree with Christianity unlike James whose arguments are based on the argument that Pascal cannot force his believes on us; his arguments are on the basis of objectivity.
William James really believes in making decisions or choosing between options based on passional nature, as according to him, this is the only way through which men can be reflective. Though he thinks intellect and objectivity are essential factors in formulating our arguments, he does not believe in them because they are rear to find.
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