William James on Truth and Invention in Morality

In what follows I shall investigate how the notions of truth and invention inform our moral life. In particular, I will show how this idea has been explored by William James in his seminal essay The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life (MPML), by far his most clear-cut piece of moral philosophy. I will claim that the dialectics of the essay cannot be apprehended independently from the understanding of the moral psychology and epistemology James elaborates in his writings on pragmatism and the philosophy of mind. In fact, once framed in the relevant perspective, the essay conveys a very different and more radical position that the one usually acknowledged. In MPML James engages in an inquiry into the nature of moral thought and its ability to meet the difficulties of the moral life it should address. The essay criticizes a certain image of moral reflection by questioning its underlying assumptions about the nature of mindedness and the place of truth in the moral life. I shall thus articulate the discussion of James’ essay along two directions, one methodological and one substantive. They are, respectively, the anti-foundational and anti-theoretical character of moral reflection, and the rethinking of the relationship we have with our interiority that is relevant for ethics as informed by the notion of truth.
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William James (1891). The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life. International Journal of Ethics 1 (3):330-354.

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