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Even if philosophically interesting matters such as freedom vs. determinism cannot be scientifically resolved, some sort of epistemological methodology is needed if we are to avoid arbitrary conclusions. Whatever approach is chosen, it is clear that James repudiates rationalism, with its notions of a priori existential truths. He is particularly hostile to , which he identifies especially with Hegel and which he attacks in many of his essays (this identification leads him to be remarkably unfair to Kant, an earlier German idealist). As he makes clear in “The Sentiment of Rationality,” the personality of the would-be knower and various practical concerns are far too relevant to allow for such abstract intellectualism. The tradition of modern empiricism is more promising, yet too atomistic to allow us to move much beyond the knowledge of acquaintance to genuine comprehension (Will, pp. 63-67, 70, 75-77, 82-86, 89, 92). Fortunately, James had already learned about the pragmatic approach from .

James is arguably the most significant American philosopher of religion in intellectual history, and many of his writings, in addition to the obligatory “Will to Believe” essay and his book on The Varieties of Religious Experience, offer provocative insights into that area.

By the next year, James’s heart trouble left him so plagued by fatigue that normal activities became quite difficult. He was attempting to complete his textbook on Some Problems of Philosophy, but died on August 26, 1910. In 1911, his textbook, edited by his son Henry, and his Memories and Studies were posthumously published. In 1912, his Essays in Radical Empiricism was published, followed, in 1920, by some of his Collected Essays and Reviews and The Letters of William James, edited in two volumes by his son Henry. His writings have survived in part because of the provocative honesty of his ideas, but also because of the vibrant, sometimes racy, style in which he expressed them. In A Pluralistic Universe, he castigates philosophers who use technical jargon instead of clear, straightforward language. He practiced the spontaneous thinking and freshness of expression he advocates there (Universe, pp. 129-130). It has been said (by the novelist Rebecca West) that, while Henry James wrote fiction as though it were philosophy, his older brother, William, wrote philosophy in a colorful style typical of fiction.

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In einem einleitenden Essay skizziert Peter Sloterdijk William James als »natürlichen Verbündeten derer, die Gründe haben, sich durch Interesse an der Religion von der Religion selbst zu emanzipieren«.

William James: The Moral Equivalent of War

In other (much belated) news, Philip K. Dick’s essay “Schizophrenia and the Book of Changes” has had what is on my count its fourth publication in On Acid: A Field Guide to Altered States, edited by John Moeller and William Rauscher (Italy: CCC Editions, 2011). Limited to a run of only 1000 editions, this softcover volume reproduces a diverse selection of short essays (and excerpts of essays) apropos acid and altered states, including work by Antonin Artaud, Timothy Leary, and William James. Here are some photos of the volume, which is available :

The Moral Equivalent of War William James 1910 Introduction

James states in his Pragmatism that abstract arguments are only important if choosing one or the other leads to a real difference. If no real difference is discernible, than there's no real difference in the arguments; more just a difference in terminology. In this essay he begins with the notion of Hypothesis. A hypothesis is "anything that may be proposed to our belief" - this is in accordance with the standard public-school notion of hypothesis. Now, a hypothesis is measured in importance by being "live or dead" - live meaning that the hypothesis is of some importance to you and your willingness to act on them.

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Philosopher and psychologist William James was the best known and most influential American thinker of his time. The five books and nineteen essays collected in this Library of America volume represent all his major work from 1902 until his death in 1910. Most were originally written as lectures addressed to general audiences as well as …

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In making his argument, James discusses the nature and limitations of rationality and of what many people today term scientism -- the belief that only the physical sciences allow us to know what is true. The essays rely on James's psychology in showing the selective character of human awareness and perception. We see and focus upon reality in accordance with the questions we bring to it. James objects to the "monistic" view of reality which sees everything as part of a single interconnected fact or "block". He argues for pluralism and for attention to specific facts and detailed. Reality is not, for James, either an absolute block or a mere sand-heap of unconnected particulars. Rather, it exhibits loose interconnections and a spirit of, in words he would use again in his final essay of 1916, "ever not quite". Arguing against a mechanically deterministic universe, James argues for the possibility of chance using specific and homely examples. It is possible, James argues, that I could walk home down one street rather than another. It is possible, he claims, that a man who had brutally murdered his wife might have done something else, and that some other result would have been morally better than the killing. In understanding reality, James argues, we need to look forward rather than back, and use the energy and activity that may make our lives purposeful. If a person is caught on a cliff and needs to jump to safety, he will be more likely to do so if he believes he is able to do so. If he approaches the moment with trepidation, doubt and fear, fail he will. Thus, based upon a variety of considerations, James argues in these essays that it is rational for to adopt a believing attitude towards a transcendent source in reality and to take the ethical and metaphysical risks attendant upon such a belief. James does not always help himself in his choice of language, and his teaching has been subject to misunderstanding and ridicule. It is a difficult, challenging teaching which takes time to unpack and consider.


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The essays in "The Will to Believe" originated as lectures which James delivered to philosophical or theological clubs at various universities. The book is dedicated to James's friend, the philosopher Charles Peirce, to whom James says he owes "more incitement and help than I can express or repay." I was struck by how many of James's lasting themes had been developed in this relatively early book -- including his pluralism and what he calls in the Preface to the book his radical empiricism. The book illustrates James's efforts to weave together insights from psychology, philosophy, and religion without great regard for narrow lines of professional specialization.