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Since its first publication one hundred years ago, William James's essay 'The Will to Believe' has been criticized as providing 'an unrestricted license for wishful thinking' in religious matters. The criticism is based on the assumption that James is attempting to justify belief in traditional theism. A careful reading of this essay, and other works by James in which he addresses the issue of religious faith, reveals that the religious question for him is not whether a theistic God exists, but whether the universe offers us possibilities of meaning and fulfilment, whether life is worth living. James's argument is that we have a right to believe that this is so -- an argument that is more cogent and convincing than it is often thought to be.
Religious Studies © 1997 Cambridge University Press