Your assignment is to prepare and submit a paper on absolute proof vs religious faith. The notion of an option, a choice to be made between two alternatives, is qualified very carefully. James is not using the term option generally. quite the contrary, he is using this term very deliberately and very specifically. Only a genuine option is relevant. James creates a three-part test for determining whether an option is, in fact, genuine. This three-part test requires that an option be living, forced, and momentous to be genuine.
As an initial matter, there must be two alternatives. To be genuine, the option must be living. This means that the individual in question will consider seriously each of the alternatives. It must be possible that he will choose either of the options. In this respect, the genuine option becomes extraordinarily individualistic. The test is not applied to groups, whether large or small, but the smallest possible unit. The test is applied to the decision-maker. This has significant implications. An option may be living for one person but not for another. In a very basic way, the person must be thoughtful, open-minded, and undecided for the option to be living. Assuming that the option is living, the second part of the test requires that an option must be forced.
The forced element demands that an alternative be chosen. There can be no hedging. There can be no qualifications for the choice. There is a sense of completeness and irrevocability demanded by this element of the genuine option. You have faith or you do not have faith. You like a person or you do not like a person. There is, in short, a conflict and it must be resolved.
The final part of the test concerns the uniqueness of the option. James refers to this as the momentous option. In his view, this option presents itself as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To be momentous, the option must transcend trivial issues. The option must involve truly significant matters, the decision must be irrevocable, and the decision must be unique. This limits the discussion to very fundamental issues, such as deeply moral questions, religious questions, and personal relations.