The Will to Believe and the Pragmatic Theory of Truth

  • A. J. Ayer


In a famous passage in the first of his lectures on Pragmatism, James declares his opinion that ‘the history of philosophy is to a great extent that of a certain clash of human temperaments’.1 He has in mind a fundamental difference in outlook which he thinks is also exhibited in other fields, such as politics or literature. In philosophy it comes out as the distinction between Rationalists and Empiricists, or as James more picturesquely puts it, between the tender- and the tough-minded. The tender-minded philosopher is not only Rationalistic, going by ‘principles’, whereas the tough-minded is Empiricist, going by ‘facts’, but also Intellectualistic while the other is Sensationalistic, Idealistic as opposed to Materialistic, Optimistic as opposed to Pessimistic, Religious as opposed to Irreligious, Free-Willist as opposed to Fatalistic, Monistic while the tough-minded is Pluralistic, and Dogmatical while the tough-minded is Sceptical. Though it is doubtful whether any great philosopher satisfies all the criteria on either side, this is a fair summary of two persistently opposing tendencies in philosophy, going back to the almost wholly tender-minded Plato and the tough-minded Sophists whom Plato sought to discredit. No doubt the models whom James chiefly had in mind were Hegel and his followers on the one side and Hume, James Mill and John Stuart Mill on the other.


Moral Judgement True Belief Religious Experience Moral Truth Aesthetic Judgement 
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Copyright information

© A. J. Ayer 1968

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. J. Ayer
    • 1
  1. 1.University of OxfordOxfordUK

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