William James on Risk, Efficacy, and Evidentialism

Episteme 19 (1):146-158 (2022)
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Abstract

William James’ argument against William Clifford in The Will to Believe is often understood in terms of doxastic efficacy, the power of belief to influence an outcome. Although that is one strand of James’ argument, there is another which is driven by ampliative risk. The second strand of James’ argument, when applied to scientific cases, is tantamount to what is now called the Argument from Inductive Risk. Either strand of James’ argument is sufficient to rebut Clifford's strong evidentialism and show that it is sometimes permissible to believe in the absence of compelling evidence. However, the two considerations have different scope and force. Doxastic efficacy applies in only some cases but allows any values to play a role in determining belief; risk applies in all cases but only allows particular conditional values to play a role.

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P. D. Magnus
State University of New York, Albany

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