James begins his speech by comparing possible reactions to one hypothesis over another. He uses the scientific term of hypothesis to make a point that that anything which a man strives to prove is, after all, a hypothesis which can never really be proven. Choices as to which hypothesis will be chosen are referred to as an option. According to James, there are three types of options: it is either living or dead, forced or avoidable, momentous or trivial. Which option is chosen depends upon who it is being proposed to. A live option is one which must make some kind of appeal to personal appeal. A forced option is one in which the chooser must make a choice as opposed to avoiding the circumstance altogether. A momentous option is one which presents a unique opportunity which has the potential to be life-changing.
James states that some beliefs are just that: they are faith-based and they are believed regardless of scientific fact or evidence. His examples, such as that of whether or not we believe that pictures of Abraham Lincoln prove his existence or that we are sick when lying abed stricken with rheumatism, point to the finding that most of what we believe is, after all, really subjective. This dovetails with his next point, which is that we tend to believe what leaders and other authority figures tell us is so. In other words, we take on faith what has not been proven only because we trust the source. Of course, it is our own free will which would allow us to believe or not.
James strives to make the point that pure logic is never the sole reason for our beliefs. He defines a “terroristic skeptic” as one who has doubts about things that are normally taken at face value. What he is saying is that in this occurrence a person does not have a sufficient answer to justify his beliefs when faced with such doubt.