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From the Great Hall of the Cooper Union in New York City. National Educational radio presents the Cooper Union forum series on peace love and creativity the hope of mankind. These programs were recorded by station WNYC. Here now is the chairman of the Cooper Union forum Dr. Johnson. Eat Fairchild. Oh thank you very much. Good evening ladies and gentlemen welcome to the Cooper Union for you Jeremy Johnson a very tour I was speaking to you from the great hall of the Cooper Union where we are continuing with our program devoted to love creativity and the hope of reading this particular section which we are involved in the philosophical approach and the discussion of the moment to lose the will to believe. James Arthur done to provoke the loss of Columbia University. His background I have to do with Michigan Wayne University
Columbia University he was a Fulbright. Well when he is taught in such places as the University of Colorado. Mostly in Columbia University and has received numerous Grant has written numerous papers. He is author of analytical philosophy of history. Co-author of philosophy of science. Many articles and many learned of suicide is delighted to welcome back to the Cooper Union Dr. Dunn to do that. Thank you very much. I want tonight to talk about William James. There I will believe me. But I'll be talking about in the contact.
Certain notions about belief rather than in connection with any facts about Williams himself as a person although I will be mentioning certain facts about James law now in the end the world believe James laid down my set of conditions under which if we hold a certain belief then we have a right to hold that belief. The further condition James laid down is exceedingly stringent because it's not Jamie's intention to issue a critic sometimes have accused him of wanting to do an unrestricted line for wishful thinking that is not suggesting anything why believe what you will or believe as you will.
And to begin with the option to believe in James's pungent idiom be a law that is we must and believe must in fact have a strong inclination to believe the proposition in question. That we should have a right to believe only if we do already believe or at least have a strong impulse to believe your cure. For it might seem of the right to determine independently of what men are doing that is to say there are many things I have a right to do which I never asked because I never do the thing in question. And what's curious in James discussion is that I have a right to believe only if I do in fact believe. I will say however that very crucial for the FAQ and the option. To believe it must be a form.
In the sense that it might choose either to believe nor to do but if I choose to suspend judgment even to take an extra Arnel which in effect is to take note on the question of why certain James argue this in certain cases I tend to do not take a stand in effect to take a negative and not to believe is in effect to believe not. So one option is when and only when no neutral position. And that again is a curious condition largely because if there are no fourth options then James's theory have no application whatsoever and it's at least arguable that there are no more.
Finally the belief in question must be it must make an immense difference in the universe if the belief in question is true or it might in effect be a different universe depending upon whether the belief is it must finally make an immense difference to me whether the belief for the believer is wrong with my belief. If I believe that it's raining in the now it makes some difference to the universe. Whether or not perfectly true but it doesn't make a difference. It wouldn't be a bad a different universe depending upon which way it went. And so it can't really matter to me I whether it's
raining in New Jersey and although it might matter to me some. So to sum it up if I'm back believe a proposition whose truth for the would indicate only different universe then if suspending judgment were the famous supposed to believe in question. Oh I have a right to hold the beliefs in question. But James. There is however one further condition which must be mentioned here. If I believe that it's raining in New Jersey I can find out whether this is a true believe or it's not unreasonable to ask him and suspend judgment pending the outcome of such an investigation. And I met the man. What is your believing one way or another. It's a matter only of
making a phone call at somebody and then you can believe as the evidence indicates. I don't write again but it wouldn't make a lot of difference to the man if it believes should go one way or the other but only the difference it might make would hardly be enough reason for him to believe one way or the other when you know it's one which can be fed by routine a fact well Jame wished to consider a question which and I quote the intellect of the individual cannot resolve. In other words a question whose answer cannot be furnished by the road map and a factual resolution.
And I think it might be that the proposition would be moments or it wouldn't be a bad or a different universe depending upon whether the proposition in question were true or false only you know whose truth or falsity could be set by routine methods of investigation with such propositions alone. James concerned to establish our right to believe them. If we do leave them for the pride of holding belief that a deal is exactly the same as the price of the belief thing for for example the belief in Christ. Jim is a religious belief. Then the price of Agno them is of great pride to believe. But because of the urge to have such beliefs for those to whom
I am no expert should be under obligation to pay that price. So to say that you are not obliged to believe is equivalent would say that if you do believe you are entitled to do so the price in effect is to live in a different universe than the one you want to live in and it beyond our power to determine which universe we do and live in the difference in our lives. If sufficiently moment to jump are living in that universe. I believe if the option is not alive for you it will not make a difference in the universe you live in. And there is no question to decide. But let me proceed cautiously at this point and provide some back. For I thought about James
Beard for after all. James is almost in it and of what you have to describe. It would make an immense difference whether James theory were true through James theory were true we would in effect be entitled to live in that universe which gave us the greatest comfort and for those who suffer from the sort of woman to which James address himself in his book The variety of religious freaks. James Beard would bring relief. We must not forget by training and profession a doctor his writings have a therapeutic intent. Then they are to be time for those who are suffering.
The matter of the will to believe is one we may be reluctant to swallow. But resistant to cure is not an characteristically part of the disorder. When the illness is an illness so much the sort of free therapeutic I've explaining this with the question is whether James A.I. is one we can do we have a right to the right which James wants to confirm. And James have a right to confer with you. The same is no right to believe under the conditions James sat down. Well here I want to examine some of our beliefs about him and when I say I believe the beliefs about beliefs which I think we all share.
Like our beliefs about our beliefs about belief have a decidedly moral character. There are them under what's with the all that an action is obligatory and a man who undergo that action under the serpent that is their life and of duty and subject automatically to blame but so are the serpent under which a man is only in his rational duty if we believe differently than under those conditions. He ought to believe and know that when action is obligatory. Is not believing. When belief is obligatory it equally with acting differently in believing.
When I. And when we leave our obligatory we have an end of a fourth option in French I believe must be counted as the same as a positive violation of duty. Now was that the violation. Only if you accept the code of action under which this is obligatory or the code of believe under which to believe is obligatory in other words. Only if you subscribe to a code of action or to a code of belief. Are you in any way obliged to believe or to act in the wind with the cold. There are forms of them both of action and of belief which can really be more reality in joining an obligation that we suspend
suspend belief but in fact. To take them if only to make one subject to another big suspension of action in the form of action and the Bhagavad recognize and then believe because you feel you want and believe it implicitly to subscribe to a code in which you believe namely you believe that you ought not to believe or do believe from among the given problem in brief and you know beyond the morality you really are any rational. The on the morality of that is exactly and ironically only a different moral than there is no right vision which is not in effect a moral and so rational skepticism that would have no skepticism with
regard to rationality itself. Is a curiously self-defeating position. So let's accept what we must and work within those confines. Since no rational alternative. Let me now distinguish between what sometimes will be called in contrast with what would be called for and a distinction which has an exact analog in the domain of the elite. A man might hold a belief because something on him hold that he had been taught them or indoctrinated it's been operated upon by some mad doctor who implant the belief in him. He believes he may explain his holding that he leaves with just the same sort of explanation that would be
appropriate. Working there I think I bear that because I suffer too. I hold that belief because I was told he would simply indicate what caused him to have that belief and in similar way. But an action is a rational action only if it done wrong. We might add a good reading and ability in the wrong will be late only if the believer has a reason for holding it as a tool and as rational. So far we have. Not only to have the right choice and I believe but him as possible and to affirm in the light of some idea of what constitutes a good reason.
Now here are explanation in terms of research involves not explaining the fact. Namely that I do believe or that I have but to do a job. For having chosen to act or to believe. And in doing that in just buying my belief rather than merely explaining why I happen to hold the belief I'm fully committed with which duty and obligation in the domain of property there or. The world thought that we often have very little time to deliberate after which action is the proper. Or which proposition is a proposition to believe. In view of that we've survived the poem. There's something to be said for simply yielding to a belief that your poem to have.
My way. But we are in many and perhaps the whole just to believe we ought to hold and the belief that we're home. Are the very early we would have held had we arrived. If that were so then there would be some just occasion for holding a belief that there would be some justification to be found for holding a belief simply in the fact that you do it in the manner in other words what you might call and side with what ought to be in the matter. OK one believe perhaps one would be me. We might in the general case believe what if we were rational we would anyway have chosen to believe.
Now with that suggestion of a sort of average harmony which is analogous to the theory of a market mechanism if you live in economic and classical economic theory I have a certain measure of. But wait because I'm not certain that we can. In economics follow a policy that I don't believe we can follow. In general a policy of laissez faire in the domain of belief or action. And so we have from time to time to interfere with them and to disagree with which we might become a whole. Nevertheless I think we all right now that if we had to build up our belief by rational appreciation in other words that the only belief you held were beliefs which you were decided on rational grounds you might have a fairly impoverished.
And in James we would perforce be living in a very different world than the one in which we do live in one of the rather non deliberate and spontaneous way in which we've come to believe what we've been told. For him a rational is an action performed in the light of a rational belief in God we believe our actions make a difference to the world in which we live but are not and would make a difference. Well and the difference between acting and not acting in any given case is exactly the difference in the world which would be made by our decision only to hold what it's right for the whole and the accumulation of such cases which are many indeed will in the end come to rather an amount to now if we are pressed for some accom one we ought
to believe we would very likely introduce some notion of evidence. Well either it's rational to believe a proposition when the evidence for that proposition is of a certain strength or when the evidence for that proposition is stronger than the evidence against that proposition or when the evidence for that proposition is stronger than the evidence for some proposition incompatible with that set. Now both are matters which are very much under contemporary debate in philosophy. It's a deep and difficult for the softball matter to determine under what conditions a proposition is acceptable. That is which is which is a proper rule of acceptance for that proposition. And not really. But there's also considerable difficulty in knowing how we would apply such a rule how we could tell when
evidence reaches a certain degree of strength et cetera et cetera. Certainly income and why I believe we have very innings that notion of the matter which would perhaps be another indication of the aggregate benign of the system under which I believe get implanted in it. But I think we all have a fairly strong intuition concerning qualitative attitude having to do with both point beyond which it's no longer really for a person to believe a certain proposition. It's of course true that we're seldom in evidence seldom in possession of evidence which is going to force a certain proposition to come out logically fault.
And it's always possible with the evidence that we generally are able to. Yeah but the proposition is true no matter how strongly the evidence seems to run again. Yeah I think it would be reckless for a certain individual to continue to believe a proposition on the grounds that it's truth is always possible when the evidence is running strongly against it because that simply to put yourself beyond the pale of evidence. It's always possible by and large for a proposition to be true. Logically no matter what the evidence is so that constitutes simply a decision not to pay any attention to the evidence rule. And if you were to generalize that attitude if you allow everybody bad attitude well that would mean that anyone had a right to believe anything he wanted to believe.
Which since that would mean simply anarchy in the domain of belief is not something a rational man would wish. So a rational man would be obliged. But there are points beyond which it wouldn't be reasonable for an individual any longer to hold to believe it would be logically possible but that belief should be true. However strong the evidence against might be so that you would if you confess your irrationality by persisting in such a belief path that intuitively felt wherever that might come. Now there is a quality of courage in men who hold onto their belief when the world arrayed against them. But for every rational martyr There's a regiment of rank and. But oil. Should have been
right. In believing a proposition which might have appeared irrational at that time. Well that limb grounds for indoor thing any given present irrational belief. Unless you have some better ground that you're like Galileo than the mere fact that like them you hold beliefs which seem at the moment irrational in the main. I think mankind of justified in rejecting out of hand propositions because of inconsistent with what appear to be well supported believe relative to believe the real God of the rational to believe and have a matter of duty to believe. It's become an extremely perplexing matter for us to understand. In fact believe it or persist in believing
a proposition in the face of increasing contravening evidence. It simply is not to do that sort of thing. Not because we lack courage but if I might put it that way because of the structure of our mind. I mean we often wonder how it would be absolutely possible for a man to hold such a belief. And we wonder whether he could continue in his heart with to believe as he claims he does. In other words we think that if he protests that he believes that he must in some way be in from fear if he is not you know and I mention that because I want to amplify that it's one of our beliefs about belief that men are generally to change when they see evidence of their strength. That evidence
often can train evidence. Often we leave the dialog with which many of you be familiar. Often virtually being run through argument of evidence out of an incorrect belief and the effort is almost genuine political observers in the Republic is described as breaking into perspiration when he in effect can be the crux of SOCRATES He is a different man in terms of having law or surrender his belief. He's a different person almost literally because his world of the different world income of his belief having changed because we after all refer to the world. We don't require our belief merely to our wealth as something which we
believe we refer them to the world for to believe proposition is to believe that proposition is true and to say that truth is the world in one way rather than another. Now one reason it's hard to give up belief I think because we very often care about the way the world is.
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Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind
The will to believe: William James, part one
Producing Organization
WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program presents the first part of a lecture by Arthur Danto, Professor of Philosophy, Columbia University.
Series Description
This series presents lectures from the 1968 Cooper Union Forum. This forum's theme is Peace, Love, Creativity: The Hope of Mankind.
Media type
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Producing Organization: Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art
Speaker: Fairchild, Johnson E.
Speaker: Danto, Arthur C., 1924-2013
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 68-10-23 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:30:05
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Chicago: “Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind; The will to believe: William James, part one,” 1968-05-10, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed June 10, 2023,
MLA: “Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind; The will to believe: William James, part one.” 1968-05-10. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. June 10, 2023. <>.
APA: Peace, love, creativity: Hope of mankind; The will to believe: William James, part one. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from