Peirce’s “Paradoxical Irradiations” and James’s The Will to Believe

This essay argues that Peirce’s vexing 1898 lecture “Philosophy and the Conduct of Life” is best read as an oblique criticism of positions William James espoused in The Will to Believe.  Looking at the letters Peirce and James exchanged about the book and the drafts for the lecture, I argue that Peirce was objecting to James’s pluralism, to his rationalistic radicalism, and to his view of the relationships among belief, the sentiments, and rationality.  Peirce, in contrast, endorses monism, sentimental conservatism, and endorses a theory scientific rationality in which the sentiments are given no weight even if they have a role to play.