Streams of William James 6 (1):23-27 (2004)

Henry Jackman
York University
Those sympathetic to the naturalistic side of James hope that his critique of ‘philosophical materialism’ can be separated from those elements of his thinking that are essential to his pragmatism. Such a separation is possible once we see that James’s critique of materialism grows out of his views about its incompatibility with the existence of objective values. Objective values (as James understands them) are incompatible, however, not with materialism in its most general form, but rather with materialism that understood the ‘material world’ in terms of the sciences of the late nineteen hundreds. In particular, one could not defend the potential objectivity of value in the way that James hoped if one endorsed the particular ‘pessimistic’ cosmology characteristic of the sciences at the turn of the last century. Consequently, if one rejects certain ‘empirical assumptions’ associated with the science of James’s day, the possibility of a type of ‘melioristic materialism’ opens up, and this sort of materialist could still understand value in the way that James proposes.
Keywords William James  Pragmatism  Cosmology
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