William James' main argument in “The Will to Believe” against evidentialism is that there are facts that cannot come to be without a preliminary faith in their coming. James primarily makes this case with the argument from friendship. I will critically present James' argument from friendship and show that the argument does not yield a counter-example to evidentialism and is in the end unsound.
William James’ Principles of Psychology, in which he made famous the ‘specious present’ doctrine of temporal experience, and Edmund Husserl’s Zur Phänomenologie des inneren Zeitbewusstseins, were giant strides in the philosophical investigation of the temporality of experience. However, an important set of precursors to these works has not been adequately investigated. In this article, we undertake this investigation. Beginning with Reid’s essay ‘Memory’ in Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, we trace out a line of development of ideas about (...) the temporality of experience that runs through Dugald Stewart, Thomas Brown, William Hamilton, and finally the work of Shadworth Hodgson and Robert Kelly, both of whom were immediate influences on James (though James pseudonymously cites the latter as ‘E.R. Clay’). Furthermore, we argue that Hodgson, especially his Metaphysic of Experience (1898), was a significant influence on Husserl. (shrink)
This commentary was suggested to me in part by a colleague's remark that it would be nice if we could make William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience "respectable." The implication was that though there was something redeemable about the book, it somehow wasn't philosophically or scientifically proper. The remark awakened me to—or at least reminded me of—the fact that this has been a traditional take on James's text. As Julius Bixler points out, ridicule began soon after the book was (...) published: "The Varieties of Religious Experience, appearing at about the same time as Ernest Thompson Seton's book of animal stories, was soon nicknamed 'Wild Religions I Have Known'" (1926, 1). My awakening to this attitude—a prevalent if not a pervasive one among contemporary intellectuals—led me to consider that it would be better, and crucially important to James himself, to keep James "unrespectable." James may have been a renegade and... (shrink)
In 1905 William James wrote an essay in McClure's Magazine recalling the importance to his own work of the Scottish-born philosopher Thomas Davidson. In the essay, James states that Davidson was "essentially a teacher." What is interesting when one looks at Davidson's life and work is that, for Davidson, teaching does seem to be an essential feature of what it means to be a philosopher. Here, I develop how Davidson construes this linking of philosophy and teaching with a concluding emphasis (...) on the two schools he established: Glenmore, a summer philosophy program in the Adirondacks and the "Breadwinners' College," an open school he began for working persons in New York City. I offer this as a discussion paper so that James's recollection of Davidson's importance to his own work may provoke us to consider how we presently understand the linking of teaching and philosophy. This seems especially appropriate for an academic culture such as ours in which much of our time is spent teaching and in which we are often primarily evaluated by a separate category of professional "research." The American tradition has "lost" any number of its important... (shrink)
There are many books on the market about religion in American thought and history, but the idea for a collection of essays focused directly upon pragmatist reconstructions of religious belief and sentiment is overdue. Stuart Rosenbaum’s reader admirably fills this need, and is bound to bring fresh insights to students and advanced researchers alike.
Many readers have viewed William James's "The Will to Believe" as his most distinctive and resonating lecture. Yet for all the scholarly attention it has received, the complexities of the "pragmatic defence," and the issues it raises concerning evidential and pragmatic reasoning are still often misunderstood. In this paper I explicate a neglected "core" argument tied closely to James's thesis statement, and provide charts and other tools useful in presenting James' lecture in the philosophy classroom. This argument, based on the (...) Ought-Implies-Can principle, is useful for highlighting differences between James's pragmatist and Clifford's evidentialist perspective. I first reconstruct this implicit Ought-Implies-Can argument in modus tollens form, and follow this with a Chart intended to clarify various steps James takes in support of the crucial second premise. My purpose is primarily to explicate this neglected argument in a reconstructed, "bare-bones" fashion for classroom study and evaluation. (shrink)
William James undertook to steer his way between a rationalistic system that was not empirical enough and an empirical system so materialistic that it could not account for the value commitments on which it rested. In arguing against both the absolutists (gnostics) and the empiricists (agnostics), he defined a position of pluralistic moralism that seemed equally distant from both, leaving himself vulnerable to the criticism that he had rescued morality from scientism only by reducing religion to morals. Such criticism, however, (...) ignores distinctions James made between religion and theology and between monistic theology and dualistic theology. When these distinctions are taken into account, it becomes evident that James can be criticized for reducing religion to morality only from the point of view of either absolute monism or religious humanism and that radical empiricism not only embraces a significant number of nonmoral religious experiences but also leaves open the possibility of belief in the particular historical God of traditional Christianity. (shrink)
First of all, I just want to say that in my opinion this is an interesting and thought-provoking book, and a badly needed corrective to certain mistaken assumptions about James. I find myself very much in sympathy with many of its main points. Some of the things I have to say in the following may— or perhaps may not—be thought to disagree with some of what Professor Brown has argued in his book. If that is so, it should be taken (...) only as an indication of the degree to which William James on Radical Empiricism and Religion stimulates philosophical thought. Similarly, the essay I found myself preparing for this occasion seems in the end to have a lot more to do with what I think about James than, on the surface, it does with Professor Brown’s book: again, I would wish this to be seen as a compliment to the high quality of his work (which is certainly the way I see it), since everything I might have come up with here is in response to my reading of his book. (shrink)
One of the aspects of consciousness deserving of study is what might be called its subjective unity - the way in which, though conscious experience moves from object to object, and can be said to have distinct ‘states', it nevertheless in some sense apparently forms a singular flux divided only by periods of unconsciousness. The work of William James provides a valuable, and rather unique, source of analysis of this feature of consciousness; however, in my opinion, this component of James’ (...) theory of the mind has so far gone under-emphasized in the scholarly literature. This paper undertakes some philosophical geography, trying to draw out and elucidate some of the relevant ideas from James’ corpus, and also subjects those ideas to some analysis to try and assist in judgements of their current importance. (shrink)
William James' Radical Empiricist essays offer a unique and powerful argument for direct realism about our perceptions of objects. This theory can be completed with some observations by Kant on the intellectual preconditions for a perceptual judgment. Finally James and Kant deliver a powerful blow to the representational theory of perception and knowledge, which applies quite broadly to theories of representation generally.
William James is remembered as the philosopher of pragmatism, but he was principally the founder of modern scientific psychology. During the period of his most intense scientific involvement James developed a trenchant critique of science. This was not a rejection of science but an attempt to identify limitations of the contemporary conceptualization of science. In particular, James emphasized the failure of science to understand its basis in human emotions. James developed a scientific theory of emotions in which the importance of (...) emotion in cognition and decision-making is central. James’ appreciation of the significance of emotions in science has continuing value. Nevertheless, his characterization of science in terms of its method introduces tensions in his account that an emphasis on the social dimensions of science, which he implicitly acknowledged, tends to resolve. (shrink)
With this book, Jacques Barzun pays what he describes as an "intellectual debt" to William James—psychologist, philosopher, and, for Barzun, guide and mentor. Commenting on James's life, thought, and legacy, Barzun leaves us with a wise and civilized distillation of the great thinker's work.
Some hold that W.K. Clifford's arguments are inconsistent, appealing to the disvalue of likely consequences of nonevidential belief-formation, while also insisting that the consequences are irrelevant to the wrongness of so believing. My thesis is that Clifford's arguments are consistent; one simply needs to be clear on the role consequences play in the "Ethics of Belief" (and, for that matter, in William James's "The Will to Believe"). The consequences of particular episodes of nonevidential belief-formation are, as Clifford insists, irrelevant to (...) the epistemic, and so moral, status of believing. The moral matter is that adopting a policy of nonevidential belief-formation constitutes commitment to antithetical principles, viz. (i) our antecedent moral obligation to minimize the risk of harming ourselves and others and (ii) the flagrant disregard for (i) entailed by employing a policy of risk, i.e. nonevidentialism. Clifford's arguments should be read as demonstrating that a nonevidentialist approach to belief-management constitutes the kind of risk that, in fact, is at odds with this antecedent moral obligation - hence the discussion of likely consequences, despite his claims that they are irrelevant to the moral status of the beliefs yielding them. They are irrelevant to the moral status of nonevidentialism but not irrelevant to the fact of risk. The moral impermissibility of nonevidentialism inheres in the inconsistency of it and our antecedent moral obligations, not in the value or disvalue of the particular consequences of that belief-management style. (shrink)
Pragmatism is America’s distinctive contribution to the history of philosophical thought, though there has always been some dispute about exactly what doctrine it is supposed to name. The philosopher and psychologist William James, in a lecture given at Berkeley in 1898, attributed the view to..
Here is my copy of William James's The Varieties of Religious Experience . This classic book was first published in 1902, and has remained in print ever since. The basic issues James discusses here remain of vital concern to people in psychology and religion today. I encourage you to go to your local bookstore and buy a copy of this interesting book. (It is in the public domain, and quite reasonably..
At Columbia University in 1906, William James gave a highly confrontational speech to the American Philosophical Association (APA). He ignored the technical philosophical questions the audience had gathered to discuss and instead addressed the topic of human energy. Tramping on the rules of academic decorum, James invoked the work of amateurs, read testimonials on the benefits of yoga and alcohol, and concluded by urging his listeners to take up this psychological and physiological problem. What was the goal of this unusual (...) speech? Rather than an oddity, Francesca Bordogna asserts that the APA address was emblematic—it was just one of many gestures that James employed as he plowed through the barriers between academic, popular, and pseudoscience, as well as the newly emergent borders between the study of philosophy, psychology, and the “science of man.” Bordogna reveals that James’s trespassing of boundaries was an essential element of a broader intellectual and social project. By crisscrossing divides, she argues, James imagined a new social configuration of knowledge, a better society, and a new vision of the human self. As the academy moves toward an increasingly interdisciplinary future, William James at the Boundaries reintroduces readers to a seminal influence on the way knowledge is pursued. (shrink)
All our conscious experiences, linguistic and nonlinguistic, are bound up with and dependent on a background that is vague, unexpressed, and sometimes unconscious. The combination of William JamesÕs concept of "fringes" coupled with Aaron GurwitschÕs analysis of the field of consciousness provides a general structure in which to embed phenomenal descriptions, enabling fringe phenomena to be understood, in part, relative to other experiences. I will argue, drawing on examples from Drew LederÕs book, The Absent Body, that specific and detailed phenomena (...) can and should be interrelated through JamesÕs and GurwitschÕs analyses. I am proposing first that phenomenological descriptions in general could benefit from explicit consideration of the context of the phenomena within the totality of the field of consciousness, and second, that establishing that context requires a general structural model of that field, similar to that provided by Gurwitsch. (shrink)