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The Metaethics of Belief: An Expressivist Reading of “The Will to Believe”

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Abstract:

We argue that an expressivist interpretation of “The Will to Believe” provides a fruitful way of understanding this widely-read but perplexing document. James approaches questions about our intellectual obligations from two quite different standpoints. He first defends an expressivist interpretation of judgments of intellectual obligation; they are “only expressions of our passional life”. Only then does James argue against evidentialism, and both his criticisms of Clifford and his defense of a more flexible ethics of belief presuppose this independently-defended expressivism. James puts forward his ethics of belief as healthy or appropriate, rather than as correct.

Keywords: Ethics of Belief; Evidentialism; Expressivism; James; Metaethics

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/02691720500512341

Publication date: January 1, 2006

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