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James's Faith-Ladder JAMES C. S. WERNHAM JAMES WROTE OFTEN of a "faith-ladder."' What he said about it has drawn some side-glances from critics, but not yet any sustained and careful look.' That is surprising, for what he says is puzzling enough to invite inquiry. It is also important enough to deserve it. His presentations of the ladder show significant variation, so it is useful to look at a generous sample. In the interest of brevity the following six passages have been extracted from contexts which sometimes have an important bearing on them. The unquoted contexts will get attention as needed. 1. "The inner process is a succession of 'synthetic judgments'. What is so good, may be, ought to be, must be, shall be,--so far as I am concerned, I won't admit the opposite. ''s 2. "[W]e have a conception which being opposed by another is only probab /e. But we feel, it is so good that it isfit to be true, it ought to be true, it must be true etc. And then we say it shall be true for me, it/s true. ''4 3- "Its [faith's] natural logic is the Sorites: fit to be, ought to be, may be, must be, shall be, is etc.''5 4. "The following steps may be called the 'faith-ladder': ~. There is nothing absurd in a certain view of the world being true, nothing self-contradictory; ' To the best of my knowledge, the name "faith-ladder'"does not occur before 19o6. It occurs in "Faith and Reason" and in "Faith and the Right to Believe," both written in that year. But expositions of the thing predate the name. They are found as early as 1899, and in close connection with the will-to-believe doctrine. 9 Levinson's discussion is a partial exception. His treatment is more extended than most. See H. S. Levinson, $c/ence, Metaphysicsand the Chan~e of Salvation (Missoula, MT: Scholars Press, 1978), 161--67; also his The Religious Investigations of Wdliam James (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 198 0, 231-34. s Letter to Baldwin, quoted in'R. B. Perry, The Thoughtand Characterof WilliamJames, 2 vols. (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1935), 2: 243. 4 Letter to Marshall, Feb. 9, 1899, quoted in Perry, Thought and Character,2: 24~. 5 William James, A Pluralistic Universe (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard Universit~t Press, 1977), 199. [1o5] lO6 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 28" 1 JANUARY I990 2. If might have been true under certain conditions; 3- It may be true even now; 4. It isfit to be true; 5- It ought to be true; 6. It must be true; 7- It s/m//be true, at any rate true for me. ''6 5. "Faith's form of argument is something like this: Considering a view of the world: 'It isfit to be true', she feels; 'it would be well if it were true; it might be true; it may be true; it ought to be true', she says; 'it must be true', she continues; 'it shall be true', she concludes, 'for me; that is, I will treat it as if it were true so far as my advocacy and actions are concerned'. ''7 6. "A conception of the world arises in you somehow, no matter how. Is it true or not? you ask. It might be true somewhere, you say, for it is not self-contradictory. It may be true, you continue, even here and now. It is fit to be true, it would be well if it were true, it ought to be true, you presently feel. It must be true, something persuasive in you whispers next; and then--as a final result--it shall be held for true, you decide; it shall be as if true, for you. ''s 9. Between these statements there are clear similarities and clear differences too. Some of them deserve to be noted, some to be noted and explored. a. In these accounts of it the ladder varies in the number of its rungs. By James's own count in one place, it has as many as seven. In...


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