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Clifford's Principle and James's Options

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Abstract:

In this paper I discuss William J. Clifford's principle, “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence” and an objection to it based on William James's contention that “Our passional nature not only lawfully may, but must, decide an option between propositions, whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds.” I argue that on one central way of understanding the key terms, there are no genuine options that cannot be decided on intellectual grounds. I also argue that there is another way to understand the terms so that there are cases of the sort James describes, but then, as an objection to Clifford, the argument is needlessly complex, invoking concepts such as genuine options and intellectual undecidability, that play no crucial role.

Keywords: Epistemic Evaluations; Evidence; Justification; Suspension of Judgment; The Ethics of Belief; William J. Clifford; William James

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/02691720600631645

Publication date: 2006-01-01

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