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William James On Radical Empiricism and Religion

William James On Radical Empiricism and Religion

Hunter Brown
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  • Book Info
    William James On Radical Empiricism and Religion
    Book Description:

    Hunter Brown shows that Henry James's views of religious experience do not in fact lapse into subjectivismor fideism that critics have accused him of but occasions hardships and self-sacrifice which James describes.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8351-8
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-10)

    ′Ever not quite.′ The phrase represents more succinctly than most the character of James′s philosophical outlook. That outlook is geared above all to carefully observing ′the character with which life concretely comes and the expression which it bears of being, or at least of involving, a muddle and struggle, with an ″ever not quite″ to all our formulas, and novelty and possibility forever leaking in.′¹ A good philosopher is vigilant above all, when creating theory, about protecting novelty and possibility from generalizations and abstractions. The business of the philosopher is, first and foremost, to remain attuned to the fact, as...

  4. 1 The Woodpecker and the Grub
    (pp. 11-28)

    Certain distinctive patterns stand out in the critical reception of William James′s thought over the last century. Prominent among these has been the accusation that his work is marred by the untenability of several features of pragmatism, and by some distinctive characteristics of his own form of pragmatism in particular. He confused the meaning of truth with the means of its pursuit, Bertrand Russell charged, for example, and the relationship between truth and utility which resulted from this confusion allowed him to accord to subjectivity a role in the formation of belief to which it is not entitled. Such a...

  5. 2 The Will to Believe
    (pp. 29-65)

    The Will to Believewas first presented by James to the Philosophical Clubs of Brown and Yale Universities in 1896. It was subsequently published inNew Worldin 1896,¹ then reprinted in 1897² and 1917.³ The general pattern of his argument in the essay emerges in a review by James ofThe Unseen Universeby P.G. Tait in 1875.⁴ In that review, James speaks about a ′duty′ to believe, holding that belief in a transcendent realm was not only permissible but something which one may be duty-bound to hold if it would, for the believer, be a source of commendable...

  6. 3 Subjectivity and Belief
    (pp. 66-93)

    One of the most widespread and serious charges against James′s philosophy of religion throughout this century has been the charge that it endorses wishful thinking. Accusations in this vein have been evoked above all by James′s advocacy of the involvement of passional nature in the life of belief, by his claim, that is, that a significant role in shaping belief ought to be given to ′our subjective nature, feelings, emotions, and propensities.′¹ It has been generally assumed that in the absence of clear evidential considerations, subjective states would enjoy a degree of autonomy in their influence on belief which is...

  7. 4 The Strenuous Mood
    (pp. 94-140)

    The widespread view throughout this century that, according to James, we are entitled to believe religiously in spite of insufficient evidence has been understood primarily in two ways. The first of these is prudential. Such a choice, it is said, would give rise to certain personally desirable consequences which it would be imprudent to ignore. John Hick is one of many who read James this way, and he was sharply critical of James for holding such a position. Hick charged that the prudential argument trivializes religion by reducing it to a self-interested toss of the dice which is comparable, in...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 141-146)

    Throughout the last century, James has been widely understood to have proposed a prudential argument sponsoring a fideistic movement ahead of evidence in the adoption of religious belief. I have argued that a closer analysis of liveness, of the details of exactly what consequences James held to flow from live theism, and the role of the subject within the context of immediate experience as a whole, seriously undermines such a reception of his position. James was concerned principally with what would constitute an appropriate response to an existing phenomenon, live theism, with the personal as well as the intellectual elements...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 147-170)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 171-178)
  11. Index
    (pp. 179-185)