Saturday, January 10, 2015

Wish to Believe

"...Suppose there are signs of the existence of a hitherto undiscovered planet. He at once follows up the clue, not with a mere wish to know the truth in the abstract, but with a very strong wish to find more clues, and ultimately to find convincing reasons for believing that the planet exists. His love of truth is directed to a hope for discovery in this particular matter. This it is which stimulates his efforts. And this is, as I say, the wish to believe if reasonable belief is possible—a wish for conviction that what seems probable is true. The only reason why the wish to believe has ever been opposed to the wish for truth is because it is so frequently an insincere wish—a wish to maintain or hold a thing, and not the wish to know it to be true—that we are unaccustomed to think of it in this latter aspect. It is in reality the concrete form which the abstract wish for truth constantly takes."

Wilfrid Philip Ward, "The Wish to Believe", Witnesses to the Unseen, and Other Essays, p. 268. Walton, the character speaking, soon after amends 'wish for truth' to 'wish for knowledge' in the hope that it will be less misleading.


  1. Hi Brandon

    I apologise for using this method to email you (and please delete this comment from your record afterwards). I very much enjoy your blog and also your insightful comments at other venues such as Ed Feser's blog and I wanted to ask your opinion as a professional philosopher and educator.

    I was wondering if your could recommend a suitable introductory book on philosophy, suitable for a (mid-) teenager. While I have a genuine but amateur interest in the subject and enjoy reading the efforts of those more skilful than myself argue about philosophical topics, I do not have the breadth or depth of knowledge to suggest an introductory text that would do justice to non-materialist (idealistic, hylemorphic, ...) views on subjects like metaphysics. Or do you advocate an approach to the subject based on the writings of the Greats even at the introductory level?

    Any advice on the subject would be gratefully received.

    Thanks in advance and best wishes.


  2. branemrys5:34 PM

    Not a problem at all! Introductory texts are very tricky; even good ones are often doing one specific thing that might not be useful to everyone, and often aren't. But I can recommend two very accessible older ones that deal with very general basics:

    Jacques Maritain, Introduction to Philosophy
    Mortimer Adler, Ten Philosophical Mistakes

    Each has its limitations, but they are good for stimulating thought. Pierre Hadot's What Is Ancient Philosophy? is an excellent introduction to that particular period.

    It's never too early to dip into the Great Books, but it is often difficult to know where to begin; certainly some of them require a great deal of background to begin with. Xenophon's Socratic works are very good, and easier to jump into than Plato; the Penguin Classics collection of them, called Socratic Converstions, is fairly good. Another good one is Boethius's Consolation of Philosophy; for a young early starter I would recommend David Slavitt's translation -- it's a bit loose, but very readable. Peter Kreeft's Summa of the Summa and Christianity for Modern Pagans are good first steps into Aquinas and Pascal respectively.

    I hope this gives some help!


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