James and Bradley’s Absolutism

Southern Journal of Philosophy 43 (4):603-620 (2005)
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The influence of James’s anti-intellectualism on his reading of Bradley is clearest in his “Bradley or Bergson?,” an article James contributed to the Journal of Philosophy in 1910. The fact that the article appeared late in James’s career makes it an important document. But aside from this, the article is also important for the light it casts on the assumptions behind James’s portrait of Bradley as an intellectualist. As the article intimates, James is fully aware of the affinity between him and Bradley. Indeed, for the most part one finds James celebrating the so-called affinity. But he is also aware of the divergence between them, except that one gets the impression that James is at a loss as to why such a divergence should exist. As far as I can see, the article evinces a dual level narrative: an “is” discourse, as distinguished from an “ought” discourse. An “is” discourse articulates what is the case without the implication of a prescriptive burden, while the hallmark of an “ought” discourse is its prescriptivism, in the sense that it not only articulates a promise, but also implies that the prevalent order does not measure up to the prescribed ideal. It is just this type of discourse that we find in “Bradley or Bergson?” Both levels of discourse are integrated into a unified narrative to the extent that the entire story is aimed at advancing a supposedly paradigmatic interpretation of the relation between Bradley’s philosophy and James’s. If “Bradley or Bergson?” is a complex and tricky document the clue lies in its prescriptivism, which gravitates on the implicit dual level narrative that drives it. Perhaps also it is the key to unravelling the truth about the logic of James’s rejection of Bradley’s Absolutism.



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Damian Ilodigwe
Ss Peter And Paul Major Seminary, Ibadan

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