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Essays in Radical Empiricism [Kindle Edition]

William James

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This book was converted from its physical edition to the digital format by a community of volunteers. You may find it for free on the web. Purchase of the Kindle edition includes wireless delivery.

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About the Author

Fredson Bowers is Linden Kent Professor of English, Emeritus, at the University of Virginia. Ignas K. Skrupskelis is Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 293 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004TS16TI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Enhanced Typesetting: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #20,670 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 2.8 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It's Missing Some Material 20 Aug. 2011
By R. Pfau - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This General Books version is missing the Table of Contents and the Index. The content is also printed on pages that don't match the original (i.e., 90 pages versus 282 pages). The BiblioLife reprint of the book that I ordered after receiving this version seems to be an authentic reproduction of the original James book and costs about the same.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars No proofreading! 29 Oct. 2008
By Anonymous - Published on
This version of "Essays in Radical Empiricism" had so many mistakes! Random punctuation, no punctuation at all, tons of typos and spelling errors. It was distracting and made it very hard to cite the text in academic essays!!
17 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Radical Excursion into Extreme Empiricism 2 May 2002
By J.W.K - Published on
For the serious James scholar, this book is indispensible. For those of you who are not too familiar with Jame's ideas and their background, this book is probably too much - and too boring at that. Even for scholars of epistemology, this book can be rather frustrating. Originally written for his grad students at Harvard, the book lacks much in the way of context, and it is completely theoretical. Furthermore, it is filled with many untranslated passages, from German to Latin. I gave the book four stars because it could use some editing. This is the modern era: Latin is dead - even for the most serious philosopher - and German is no longer the language of Philosophy. The passages should be translated, and some of the more abstract essays should come with introductions. That said, the book is still a valuable contribution to empirical epistemology, laying out James of view of "radical empiricism" - where subjects and objects collide. Indeed, the book itself is a pure experience!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I tried, but needed to read a synopsis before coming back to read this book 6 July 2015
By Patrick Moore LMT Educator - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
James means something completely different by Empiricism than other authors mean. I originally dismissed this book and didn't read it because I thought I wasn't interested in empiricism.

by "Empiricism," many authors mean that nothing exists, unless it can be sensed with a human's five senses or measured with instruments made by humans. That is not what James meant by "Empiricism," at least not by "Radical Empiricism".

Honestly, I had difficulty understanding James by reading this book. I got about twenty pages in and had to refer out to summaries of James' thought.

My daughter, the philosophy major, insists on reading the authors in their own words rather than accepting the explanations of later "experts." I do that when I can. But in the case of James, I had to look him up on the "Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy" or SEP.

From that brief overview of James' Philosophy, I understood far more about him than I got from attempting this book. Now that I get where he was trying to go, now I will attempt reading James' own writing again.

I also gained some insight about James from the book, 50 Psychology Classics, which I downloaded the audio free from my local library and listened to on my earbuds. But this treatment was much lighter than the S.E.P. That survey covered James' textbook on Psychology

50 PHILOSOPHY Classics, I also got from my library Overdrive as audio, has a great synopsis of James' book Pragmatism. I know many people think these summary books are cheesy and biased and maybe they are. In the case of James, I really gained something from this overview. It explains the difference, in James' mind, between Pragmatism and Empiricism:

In his book Pragmatism, James explains that Empiricism dismisses anything that can't be sensed with a human's five senses or measured by a machine made by a human. Pragmatism dismisses nothing, including religious experience, as long as it helps, as long as it serves. Is it useful for humans to believe in higher beings? Empiricism would say no because we can't measure them. Pragmatism would say maybe -- some religious beliefs are useful to serve us, and others are not. At least that is the difference that 50 Philosophy Classics told me.

Now that I've read a few summaries of James' thought, I feel I am ready to go back and finish "Essays in Radical Empiricism."

By the way I have heard that William James and H.G. Wells corresponded...
By Steven H Propp - Published on
William James (1842-1910) was an American philosopher (noted for his influence on Pragmatism) and psychologist (the first educator to offer a psychology course in the U.S.; see his Principles of Psychology); he was also the brother of the novelist Henry James. He wrote many other books, such as Pragmatism and The Meaning of Truth, The Will to Believe, Essays in Radical Empiricism, The Varieties Of Religious Experience, etc. [NOTE: page numbers correspond to a 283-page hardcover edition.]

The Editor's Preface states, "The present volume is an attempt to carry out a plan which William James is known to have formed several years before his death. In 1907 he collected reprints in an envelope which he inscribed with the title `Essays in Radical Empiricism'; and he also had duplicate sets of these reprints bound, under the same title, and deposited for use of students in the general Harvard Library... Whether he would have nevertheless have carried out his original plan, had he lived, cannot be certainly known... In preparing the present volume, the editor has therefore been governed by two motives. On the one hand, he has sought to preserve and make accessible certain important articles not to be found in Professor James's other books... On the other hand, he has sought to bring together in one volume a set of essays treating systematically of one independent, coherent, and fundamental doctrine."

In his famous article, "Does `Consciousness' Exist?" he cites another philosopher who says, "The existence of consciousness, although it is the fundamental fact of psychology, can indeed be laid down as certain, can be brought out by analysis, but can neither be defined nor deduced from anything but itself.' ... This supposes that the consciousness is one element, moment, factor... of an experience of essentially dualistic inner constitution, from which... the consciousness will remain revealed to its own eye... the usual view is, that by mental subtraction we can separate the two factors of experience in an analogous way---not isolating them entirely, but distinguishing them enough to know that they are two.... Now my contention is exactly the reverse of this. Experience, I believe, has no such inner duplicity; and the separation of it into consciousness and content comes, not by way of subtracting, but by way of addition... Just so, I maintain, does a given undivided portion of experience, taken in one context of associates, play the part of a knower, of a state of mind, of `consciousness'; while in a different context the same undivided bit of experience plays the part of a thing known, of an objective `content.' In a word, in one group it figures as a thought, in another group it figures as a thing. And, since it can figure in both groups simultaneously we have every right to speak of it as subjective and objective both at once." (Pg. 9-10) He presents his thesis: "Consciousness connotes a kind of external relation, and does not denote a special stuff or way of being. The peculiarity of our experiences, that they not only are, but are known, which their `conscious' quality is invoked to explain, is better explained by their relations---these relations themselves being experiences---to one another." (Pg. 25)

In another essay, he states, "Now the immensely greater part of all our knowing never gets beyond this virtual stage. It never is completed or nailed down... To continue thinking unchallenged is, ninety-nine times out of a hundred, our practical substitute for knowing in a completed sense. As each experience runs by cognitive transition into the next one, and we nowhere feel a collision with what we elsewhere count as truth or fact, we commit ourselves to the current as if the port were sure... Our experience, inter alia, is of variations of rate and direction, and lives in these transitions more than in the journey's end." (Pg. 68-69)

He observes, "Now if we must de-realize our immediately felt activity-situations for the benefit of either of these types of substitute, we ought to know what the substation practically involves. What practical difference ought it to make if, instead of saying naively that `I' am active now in delivering this address, I say that a wider thinker is active, or that certain ideas are active, or that certain nerve-cells are active, in producing the result? This would be the pragmatic meaning of the three hypotheses." (Pg. 176)

He argues, "I conclude, then, that real effectual causation as an ultimate nature, as a `category,' if you like, of reality, is just what we feel it to be, just that kind of conjunction which our own activity-series reveal. We have the whole butt and being of it in our hands; and the healthy thing for philosophy is to leave off grubbing underground for what effects effectuation, or what makes action act, and to try to solve the concrete questions of where effectuation in this world is located, of which things are the true causal agents there, and of what the more remote effects consist. From this point of view the greater sublimity traditionally attributed to the metaphysical inquiry, the grubbing inquiry, entirely disappears. If we could know what causation really and transcendentally is in itself, the only USE of this knowledge would be to help us to recognize an actual cause when we had one, and so to track the future course of operations more intelligently out. The mere abstract inquiry into causation's hidden nature is not more sublime than any other inquiry equally abstract." (Pg. 186)

James is associated most closely with Pragmatism, and religious philosophy, of course; but this collection reminds us that he also did "pure" philosophy of a pathbreaking sort, at times.
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