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James on Skepticism

From William James' The Will to Believe:
"We cannot escape the issue by remaining skeptical and waiting for more light, because, although we do avoid error in that way if religion be untrue, we lose the good, if it be true, just as certainly as if we positively chose to disbelieve. It is as if a man should hesitate indefinitely to ask a certain woman to marry him because he was not perfectly sure that she would prove an angel after he brought her home. Would he not cut himself off from that particular angel-possibility as decisively as if he went and married some one else? Skepticism, then, is not avoidance of option; it is option of a certain particular kind of risk. Better risk loss of truth than chance of error. [...] To preach skepticism to us as a duty until 'sufficient evidence' for religion be found, is tantamount therefore to telling us that yielding to our fear of error is wiser and better than yielding to our hope that it may be true. It is not intellect against all passions, then; it is only intellect with one passion laying down its law."
"To take a trivial illustration: just as a man who in a company of gentlemen made no advances, asked a warrant for every concession, and believed no one’s word without proof, would cut himself off by such churlishness from all the social rewards that a more trusting spirit would earn, — so here, one who should shut himself up in snarling logicality and try to make the gods extort his recognition willy-nilly, or not get it at all, might cut himself off forever from his only opportunity of making the gods' acquaintance. This feeling, forced on us we know not whence, that by obstinately believing that there are gods (although not to do so would be so easy both for our logic and our life) we are doing the universe the deepest service we can, seems part of the living essence of the religious hypothesis. If the hypothesis were true in all its parts, including this one, then pure intellectualism, with its veto on our making willing advances, would be an absurdity; and some participation of our sympathetic nature would be logically required. I, therefore, for one, cannot see my way to accepting the agnostic rules for truth-seeking, or willfully agree to keep my willing nature out of the game. I cannot do so for this plain reason, that a rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if those kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule. That for me is the long and short of the formal logic of the situation, no matter what the kinds of truth might materially be."
(Hat tip to JAM.)


Searle on the Overriding Question

From Searle's Freedom & Neurobiology:
"There is exactly one overriding question in contemporary philosophy. [...] How do we fit in? [...] How can we square this self-conception of ourselves as mindful, meaning-creating, free, rational, etc., agents with a universe that consists entirely of mindless, meaningless, unfree, nonrational, brute physical particles?

For the scientific naturalist, the answer is, 'Not very well.'"

(Hat tip to CoW.)


The Sorrow of God

Courtesy of BW3, a beautiful and simple Cockney poem called The Sorrow of God: A Sermon in a Billet. My favorite parts:
But what if 'E came to the earth to show,
By the paths o' pain that 'E trod,
The blistering flame of eternal shame
That burns in the heart o' God?
For the voice of the Lord, as I 'ears it now,
Is the voice of my pals what bled,
And the call of my country's God to me
Is the call of my country's dead.


Chesterton on the Way Things Are


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