William James has been characterized as “the major whipping boy of the later Wittgenstein,” and the currency of this impression of the relation between James and Wittgenstein is understandable. Reading Wittgenstein and his commentators can leave one with the impression that James was a badly muddled “exponent of the tradition in the philosophy of mind that [Wittgenstein] was opposing.” There have been recent attempts to resist this trend, but even these tend to focus on the affinities between the two philosophers, still accepting the prevailing view that Wittgenstein was often critical of James, and that in such cases Wittgenstein was always right and James was always wrong. By contrast, by focusing on Wittgenstein’s discussion of James’s “if-feeling”, it will be argued that Wittgenstein’s criticisms of James are often not as damaging, or even as extensive, as has often been assumed
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