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P.D. Magnus

William James on risk, efficacy, and evidentialism

This is an equal mix of history of philosophy (about Jamesian pragmatism), epistemology (about permissivism), and philosophy of science (about values and science).

Versions available


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.


	AUTHOR = {P.D. Magnus},
	TITLE = {William James on risk, efficacy, and evidentialism},
	JOURNAL = {Episteme},
	YEAR = {2020},
	DOI = {https://doi.org/10.1017/epi.2020.17}

The first on-line draft of this paper was posted 10aug2018.