Take a Leap of Faith

Mon, Mar 21

Maybe having good beliefs means sometimes believing even when there is not enough evidence either way? In this session we will consider whether we have control over our beliefs and whether it is ever a good idea to believe something before the evidence has come in. We will take a close look at William James's pragmatic defense of "leaps of faith" when it comes to choosing forms of life. 

By the end of class, you will:

  1. Understand the relationship between belief and the will, contrasting doxastic voluntarism with doxastic involuntarism
  2. Compare James's approach to faith and doubt with Pascal's pragmatism and Descartes' foundationalism
  3. Explain what is meant by the "ethics of belief" and identify James's three criteria for an ethical "leap of faith"
  4. Defend your own position on the question of whether pragmatic arguments for truth are rational or responsible.

Read This:


Interactive Essay: The Will to Believe (William James)

APPLICATION ARTICLES (Access on "Perusall" via Canvas):

Theranos Has Struggled with Its Blood Tests (WSJ)

Interview with "Bad Blood" Author John Carreyrou (TechRepublic)

Do This:

Complete these steps before you come to class

  • Consider the following prompts (you may want to write responses to these in your journal or talk about them with a friend):
    • Did Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos founder) meet James's conditions for rationally taking a "leap of faith" when she believed that her blood testing devices would be ready in time? If not, which condition didn't she meet?
    • Have you ever taken a "leap of faith"? Do you think it was rational? Why or why not?

After you've finished today's reading, make sure you complete the reading quiz, which you can access through your section's Canvas page.

Watch This: