The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy

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Harvard University Press, 1979 - Philosophy - 490 pages
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The Will to Believe addresses several of the most important and perplexing problems of philosophy. In ten lucid essays James deals with such subjects as causality and free will, the definition of the good life and the Good itself, the importance of the individual in society, and the intellectual claims of scientific method. Linking all these essays, most of which were delivered as lectures to popular audiences, is James's deep belief that philosophy does not operate in a vacuum but is influenced by our passional and volitional natures.

As Edward H. Madden points out in his substantial introduction, these essays, written over a span of seventeen years, represent not so much a fixed system of ideas as a patient searching, an organic development of James's thought in response to his own criticism and that of others.

This is the sixth volume to be published in The Works of William James, an authoritative edition sponsored by the American Council of Learned Societies.

  

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Contents

THE WILL TO BELIEVE
13
Is LIFE WORTH LIVING?
34
GREAT MEN AND THEIR ENVIRONMENT
163
THE IMPORTANCE OF INDIVIDUALS
190
ON SOME HEGELISMS
196
WHAT PSYCHICAL RESEARCH HAS ACCOMPLISHED
222
A Note on the Editorial Method
289
The Text of The Will to Believe
299
The Editorial Problem
341
Appendixes
419
Journal Extracts Omitted from the Historical Collation
426
Notes for Great Men and Their Environment
436
REFLEX ACTION AND THEISM 90
442
Gizycki and James on The Dilemma of Determinism
444
General Index
469
Key to the Pagination of Editions
489

THE SENTIMENT OF RATIONALITY 57
300

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About the author (1979)

William James, oldest of five children (including Henry James and Alice James) in the extraordinary James family, was born in New York City on January 11, 1842. He has had a far-reaching influence on writers and thinkers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Broadly educated by private tutors and through European travel, James initially studied painting. During the Civil War, however, he turned to medicine and physiology, attended Harvard medical school, and became interested in the workings of the mind. His text, The Principles of Psychology (1890), presents psychology as a science rather than a philosophy and emphasizes the connection between the mind and the body. James believed in free will and the power of the mind to affect events and determine the future. In The Will to Believe (1897) and The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902), he explores metaphysical concepts and mystical experiences. He saw truth not as absolute but as relative, depending on the given situation and the forces at work in it. He believed that the universe was not static and orderly but ever-changing and chaotic. His most important work, Pragmatism (1907), examines the practical consequences of behavior and rejects the idealist philosophy of the transcendentalists. This philosophy seems to reinforce the tenets of social Darwinism and the idea of financial success as the justification of the means in a materialistic society; nevertheless, James strove to demonstrate the practical value of ethical behavior. Overall, James's lifelong concern with what he called the "stream of thought" or "stream of consciousness" changed the way writers conceptualize characters and present the relationship between humans, society, and the natural world. He died due to heart failure on August 26, 1910.

Frederick Burkhardt, formerly a professor of philosophy and then a college president, is President Emeritus of the American Council of Learned Societies.

Fredson Bowers is Linden Kent Professor of English, Emeritus, at the University of Virginia.

Ignas K. Skrupskelis is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina and a lecturer at Vytautas Magnus University, Kaunas, Lithuania.

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