Perception, Cognition, and Volition: The Radical and Integrated Individualism of William James

Dissertation, The Pennsylvania State University (1997)

Although William James claims be a "rabid individualist" and although his commentators agree that his individualism is central to his philosophical views, neither he nor they give an explicit account of that individualism. My goal in this dissertation is to provide such an account. ;In the first three chapters, I discuss the main contexts in which James's individualism arises: the political context, in which James contends that the contributions of individual geniuses are the catalysts of social change; the psychological context, where James argues that psychology is properly the study of finite, individual minds; and the religious/metaphysical context, in which James claims that individuals are irreducible constituents of spiritual reality. ;In the fourth chapter, I present my integration thesis, which argues for a way of minimizing the ambiguities and inconsistencies that plague James's writings on individualism. This thesis claims that James experienced a gradual philosophical conversion in the last ten years of his life and that this conversion allowed him to integrate his earlier beliefs. In his later works, James reconciles active moralism and passive religion, softens his strong anti-intellectualism, and modifies his anti-institutionalism. ;These changes result in an integrated individualism that is also radical. James's individualism is more radical, for example, than that of Emerson or Kierkegaard. On the metaphysical level, Emerson holds individuality to be illusory, and Kierkegaard holds it to be derivative: only James defends its primacy. ;The final chapter consists of a further development of James's views. In it, I present structured wholeness, my theory for applying James's radical and integrated individualism to epiphanal experience. Human experience includes both feelings of wholeness and the structure of everyday, ordinary existence . Structured wholeness claims that the stoic rejection of epiphany and the romantic rejection of mundanity are both pathological. It insists, instead, on the volitional integration of epiphany and mundanity in a process of unlimited personal progress
Keywords James, William   Individualism
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