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William James and the Art of Popular Statement

Paul Stob
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 370
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  • Book Info
    William James and the Art of Popular Statement
    Book Description:

    At the turn of the twentieth century, no other public intellectual was as celebrated in America as the influential philosopher and psychologist William James. Sought after around the country, James developed his ideas in lecture halls and via essays and books intended for general audiences. Reaching out to and connecting with these audiences was crucial to James-so crucial that in 1903 he identified "popular statement," or speaking and writing in a way that animated the thought of popular audiences, as the "highest form of art." Paul Stob's thought-provoking history traces James's art of popular statement through pivotal lectures, essays, and books, including his 1878 lectures in Baltimore and Boston, "Talks to Teachers on Psychology," "The Varieties of Religious Experience," and "Pragmatism." The book explores James's unique approach to public address, which involved crafting lectures in science, religion, and philosophy around ordinary people and their experiences. With democratic bravado, James confronted those who had accumulated power through various systems of academic and professional authority, and argued that intellectual power should be returned to the people. Stob argues that James gave those he addressed a central role in the pursuit of knowledge and fostered in them a new intellectual curiosity unlike few scholars before or since.

    eISBN: 978-1-60917-370-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxviii)

    On May 1, 1903, William James sat at his desk catching up on correspondence. One of the letters he wrote that day was to his close friend and philosophical ally Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller. James addressed a number of topics in the letter—a recent essay Schiller had published, page proofs of a book notice James had written, gossip about mutual friends, the chance of James teaching at Oxford, and James’s plan to retire from Harvard. He also discussed how intellectually rewarding it had been to deliver the Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh. The lectures, which James had...

  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xxix-xxx)
  6. CHAPTER ONE Eloquence and Professionalism in the Nineteenth Century
    (pp. 1-38)

    Born in January 1842, William James grew up in uncertain times. Politically, socially, culturally, economically, and intellectually, the world of his youth would little resemble the world of his adulthood. Perhaps Henry Adams—James’s contemporary, friend, and fellow intellectual—captured the changes best when he wrote: “The American boy of 1854 stood nearer the year 1 than to the year 1900.”¹ The Civil War was the defining event of James’s generation, but the war affected his career less directly than did the changes in the pursuit of knowledge that shaped his upbringing.

    During the nineteenth century, intellectual culture underwent a...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Engaging Science and Society
    (pp. 39-72)

    The late 1860s and the early 1870s forced William James to confront one of the prickliest truths about the culture of professionalism: Institutional affiliation was practically necessary for aspiring intellectuals. Because specialized training and academic credibility were considered markers of scholarly ability, the backing of an institution—particularly a research institution—was almost essential.¹ So aside from whatever grand ideas of moral purpose and visionary eloquence James may have had, he needed a job. The practice of medicine was out of the question, as the life of a physician had long repelled him.² But ever since studying at Harvard, a...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Talking to Teachers
    (pp. 73-110)

    By the end of the 1870s, William James had realized how much he enjoyed discussing science and society with the American people. In fact, in February 1879, a few months after completing his first series of lectures at the Lowell Institute, he wrote to Augustus Lowell about giving another course of lectures there. Hoping to “the Theory of Evolution as applied to Mind,” James proposed talks would be “expository and critical of recent speculations in mental especially Mr. Spencer’s. They will contain a considerable amount of entirely original material, and . . . their tendency will be ‘conservative.’”¹ Even though...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Speaking Up for Spirits
    (pp. 111-148)

    On July 9, 1885, Herman James, the eighteen-month-old son William James, died as a result of complications from whooping cough. Two days later, James and his wife buried the child, whom they had affectionately called “Humster” during his short time earth. His death was devastating to the entire James family, and William lamented that he “had hardly known or seen” the boy “at all.”¹

    Although the child was dead, a peculiar turn of events raised possibility that little Humster was not so far away after all. In September 1885, William James’s mother-in-law, Elizabeth Gibbens, visited Boston psychic named Leonora Piper,...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Religious Experience and the Appeals of Intellectual Populism
    (pp. 149-188)

    William James was agitated in May 1898. Confrontations over psychical research were fresh in his mind, prompting him to tell James McKeen Cattell just how he felt: “I must say that the ‘Scientist’ mind seems to me to be characterized by as sectarian a spirit as any. . . . It suggests to me the priggish sectarian view of science, as somethingagainstreligion,againstsentiment, etc.” He was particularly upset with the priggish Scientists who “proceeded to demolish psychical researchers.”¹ Cattell’s response to the letter is not known, but James’s agitation did not abate. A mere four days later,...

  11. CHAPTER SIX Empowering a Pragmatic Public
    (pp. 189-226)

    When William James looked back onThe Varieties of Religious Experiencea year after the Gifford lectures were over, he knew that his performance on the Edinburgh stage had played a central role in the book’s success. In fact, the act of lecturing had been so central that James considered retiring from Harvard spend more time speaking to general audiences in America and abroad. Why? Because, as he told F. C. S. Schiller on May 1, 1903, popular statement was “the highest form of art.”¹ It was a revealing statement from someone who had once studied to be a painter....

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 227-242)

    One month before his death, knowing that the end was near, William James reflected on his career and perceived a problem. His “system,” he believed, was “too much like an arch built only on one side.”¹ If it was an arch built only on one side, which side was completed and which side needed more work? James knew, as did those around him, that he had given expression to a new way of looking at the world. With eloquence and conviction, he had outlined a system of knowledge that extended from the perceptions and experiences of ordinary people. But many...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 243-300)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 301-328)
  15. Index
    (pp. 329-339)