Correction and Clarification on the Views of William James

It has been brought to my attention that in the most recent blog essay, “Understanding the Anti-Animal Rights Viewpoint” (on Monday , November 12, 2007), I misrepresented William James’ pragmatism when I said “’The Will to Believe’ is derived from James’ radical pragmatism whereby the epistemological standard of truth of a belief is measured by how well it benefits us personally (i.e. from a self-interested viewpoint) to hold the belief as true. If this is our standard of truth, then according to James’ pragmatism, we can ignore contradictory evidence to a self-benefiting belief and “will” ourselves to hold that belief.” I should have said that this was James’ standard in the absence of evidence and said “a lack of evidence regarding” instead of “contradictory evidence to”, because James clearly held that where there is sufficient evidence, we cannot “will” ourselves to believe contrary to the evidence. I have edited the original essay accordingly (by re-writing the paragraph referring to James and pragmatism in general) so as not to misrepresent James’ views or pragmatism. I sincerely apologize for the error.

Since animal exploitation advocates often ignore evidence of the morally relevant similarities between human and nonhuman beings, and even ignore evidence that nonhumans are beings and not “things”, their “will to believe” is dishonest and far more radical than William James would have likely endorsed.

I would also like to clarify that William James did not view self-interest as the only motivation for “willing” a belief, although it was one of the motivations. Other motivations included the acceptance or rejection of propositions with insufficient evidence because of the real or perceived urgency or momentousness of making a decision.

To let William James speak for himself, here is his essay called “The Will to Believe”.

I extend a big thank you to the reader who pointed this mistake out to me and, as always, constructive comments are welcome.

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