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William James Essays On Faith And Morals

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"It has sometimes crossed my mind that James wanted to be a poet and an artist, and that there lay in him, beneath the ocean of metaphysics, a lost Atlantis of fine arts: and that he really hated philosophy and all its works, and pursued them only as Hercules might spin or as a prince in a fairy tale sorts seeds for an evil dragon, or as anyone might patiently do some careful work for which he had no aptitude."

John J. Chapman, a friend of William James

  Material at this site

  • Chronology and photographs of William James.
  • Introducing The Psychologist Malgré Lui, by Morton Hunt.
  • William James: Our Father Who Begat Us, book chapter by Frank Pajares.
  • First chapter of Linda Simon's Genuine Reality: A Life of William James.
  • William James' Shaky Sojourn in Stanford, a delightful essay by Albert Bandura.
  • Three of his students write their impression of James.
  • James defines Psychology.
  • Passages from William James
    • on the teaching art,
    • on interest,
    • on how an individual settles into a new opinion,
    • on truth (theory, reality),
    • on genius,
    • on memory, and,
    • of course, on habit.
    • Talks to Teachers - chapter by chapter, with comments and notations.
  • A special bit of Jamesian wisdom.
  • William James and Hobbes. Great minds think alike.
  • James, Dewey, beliefs, and knowledge acquisitions - a model.
  • A model of truth and pragmatism.
  • Outline and study guide of "The Self," Chapter 3 from the Principles (Briefer Course).
  • James on the goal of psychology - a modest little slide show.
  • A thought provoking passage on tenderness in education.
  • As William James said . . . a few quotable quotes.
  • Portion of letter from Carl Jung on meeting James.
  • Great Paths Cross: Freud and James at Clark University, 1909 - an article by Robert Simon.
  • A Boy's Recollections of William James, by Sidney Lovett, from the Boston Daily Globe, 1954. Delightful.
  • Study questions used at Emory for Chapter 3 of the Jimmy (The Self).
  • Some excellent advice for professors and researchers.
  • See some of James's sketches. And some sketches of James.
  • Some of James's actual letters.
  • Would you like to see some photos of William James Hall at Harvard University?
  • Or the classes at Emerson Hall where James taught.
  • Courses that William James taught at Harvard.
  • How about William James's autograph?

  Essays, excerpts, letters, and reviews

  • "Address at the Annual Meeting of the New England Anti-Imperialist League." Boston: New England Anti-Imperialist League, 1903.
  • "Are We Automata?" 1872, Mind, 4, 1-22. Also here.
  • "The Chicago School," 1904, Psychological Bulletin, 1, 1-5. Also here and here.
  • "The Consciousness of Lost Limbs," 1887, Proceedings of the American Society for Psychical Research, 1, 249-258. Also here.
  • The Dilemma of Determinism. [and here, and here as pdf document]
  • "Does Consciousness Exist?" 1904, Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods, 1, 477-491. Mirror and here..
  • "The Energies of Men." 1907, Science, N.S. 25 (No. 635), 321-332. [James' Presidential Address to the American Philosophical Association.] Also here [from google books] and here.
  • "The Gospel of Relaxation" - Chapter 1 of Talks to Students on Some of Life's Ideals.
  • "Great Men, Great Thoughts, and the Environment" 1880, Atlantic Monthly, 46(276), 441-459. From Cornell University Library.
  • "The Hidden Self." 1890, Scribner's Magazine, 7(3). From Cornell University Library. Also here.
  • "Human Immortality: Two Supposed Objections to the Doctrine." the Ingersall Lecture, 1897. Also here, here, and here.
  • Full text of Human Immortality from Google Book Search.
  • The Letters of William James, Volume 1, from Internet Archive.
  • The Letters of William James, Volume 2, from Internet Archive.
  • Memories and Studies. Seventeen wonderful essays. Published posthumously. From google books. Includes "Louis Agassiz," "Address at the Emerson Centenary in Concord," "Final Impressions of a Psychical Researcher," "The Social Value of the College Bred," "A Pluralistic Mystic," three essays on "The University and the Individual," and others.
  • "The Moral Equivalent of War." Speech given at Stanford University, 1906. Also here and here. And audiobook here.
  • "On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings" - Chapter 2 of Talks to Students on Some of Life's Ideals. [here from google books]
  • "The Ph.D. Octopus," first published in the Harvard Monthly, March 1903 . Also here.
  • "The Philippine Tangle," Boston Evening Transcript (March 1, 1899). Also here.
  • "Pluralism, Pragmatism, and Instrumental Truth", 1907, from A Pluralistic Universe and Pragmatism.
  • "Rationality, Activity and Faith", 1882, from The Princeton Review, Vol. 2. [also here from google books]
  • "Remarks at the Peace Banquet" given on the closing day of the World Peace Congress, 7 October 1904. Also here and here.
  • "Secretary Taft a Biased Judge," Boston Transcript (May 2, 1904). Also here.
  • "The Sentiment of Rationality," from Mind, Vol 4, 15, pp. 317-346. July 1879.
  • "Social Value of the College-Bred" Adress delivered November, 1907. Also here.
  • Some Problems of Philosophy, 1911, with review by Doug Renselle. [here at google books]
  • "The Stream of Consciousness," 1892, Psychology (chapter XI). Cleveland & New York, World. Mirror.
  • "Subjective Effects of Nitrous Oxide" - essay by James. Also here.
  • "What is an Emotion?" 1884, Mind, 9, 188-205. Also here and here.
  • "What is an Instinct?" 1887, Scribner's Magazine, 1(3), 355-366. From Cornell University Library.
  • "What Makes a Life Significant?" - Chapter 3 of Talks to Students on Some of Life's Ideals. [here from google books]
  • "What the Will Effects." 1888, Scribner's Magazine, 3(2), 240-250. From Cornell University Library. Here as a pdf file.
  • "A World of Pure Experience," 1904, Journal of Phil., Psych., and Scientific Methods, 1, 533-543, 561-570. Mirror.
  • James's review of "The Anaesthetic Revelation and the Gist of Philosophy,"Atlantic Monthly, November, 1874.
  • Familiar Letters of William James published by the Atlantic Monthly [subscription required]
    • Volume I - early correspondence.
    • Volume II - written prior to publication of the Principles of Psychology.
    • Volume III - written during the last ten years of James's life.

  From Talks to Teachers

Talks to Teachers in HTML
  • Excerpts and highlights - chapter by chapter, with comments and notations. [pdf document]
  • Excerpts - chapter by chapter. [html]
  • On the role that psychology plays in education.
  • "The Gospel of Relaxation" - Chapter 1 of Talks to Students on Some of Life's Ideals.
  • "On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings" - Chapter 2 of Talks to Students on Some of Life's Ideals.
  • "What Makes a Life Significant?" - Chapter 3 of Talks to Students on Some of Life's Ideals.
  • Full text of Talks to Teachers from the Guttenberg Project. Available as html or txt file.
  • There are also two versions available from google books: here and here.
  • Four of the talks were published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1899. Cornell University provides scans of the original lectures on
  • Editions of TTT: Dover, Arc Manor, Elibron Classics, Dodo, Book Jungle, BiblioBazaar [here in large print], Library of America.

  The Principles of Psychology


Professor Christopher Green, of York University, has created a Classics in the History of Psychology internet resource site that includes the full text of The Principles of Psychology. The Classics Site has a mirror at Arizona State University that also houses The Principles.

  • Introduction to The Principles, by Robert Wozniak.
  • Commentary on The Stream of Consciousness, by Dr. C. George Boeree.
  • James defines habit in the Manufacturer and Builder, Vol. 19(5), p. 116, May 1887.
  • William James's Narrative of Habit, by Renee Tursi
  • See the Atlantic Monthly's review of the book, published April 1891, Vo. 67(402). From Cornell University Library.
  • Outline and study guide of "The Self," Chapter 3 from the Principles (Briefer Course).
  • Full text of The Principles, from Google Book Search. Monday, June 25, 2007
  • The Rise of Empiricism: William James, T. H. Green, and the Struggle over Psychology, by Alexander Klein, University of Toronto.
    • Alex focuses on the philosophical aspects of the Principles, arguing that during the late 1870-80s, James was engaged in a philosophical struggle over the idea of empirical psychology, and this struggle shaped the work. Klein asks: What evidence is there to support the idea that perceptual experience is fundamentally stream-like rather than atomic?
  • Purchase The Principles.
  • Download the full text of The Principles: The Briefer Course from google books.

  Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking


From the Mead Project at Brock University. Transcribed by Lloyd Gordon Ward and Robert Throop. Table of Contents.

About Pragmatism
  • Full text of Pragmatism from the Guttenberg Project. [txt file]
  • Full text of Pragmatism from Wikisource.
  • The Pragmatism Cybrary - the most authorative site on this subject.
  • James's Pragmatism and American Social Thought, 1907-2007, video lecture by James Kloppenberg, Harvard.
  • Early American Pragmatism, by Prof. Paul Redding, University of Sydney. Includes excellent links.
  • What Pragmatism Ain't, delightful essay by Philip Nobel. Also here.
  • American Pragmatism, from the Radical Academy.
  • Pragmatism, excellent entry from the Catholic Encyclopedia.
  • Notes on the lecture and Essays on Pragmatic Humanism from Prof. J. Wesley Robbins.
  • Swedenborgian Roots of American Pragmatism:The Case of D. T. Suzuki, by Eugene Taylor.
  • Natural Selection, Scientific Method, and Philosophical Populism in William James�s Pragmatism, by Alex Klein.
  • Questions and Commentary from Prof. William O'Meara of James Madison University.

  The Meaning of Truth


From the Mead Project at Brock University. Transcribed by Lloyd Gordon Ward and Robert Throop. Table of Contents.

  The Will to Believe


  • Complete essay from Marc Fonda.
  • Complete essay from James Madison University.
  • Full text of The Will to Believe, from Google Book Search.
  • The Dilemma of Determinism. [and here, and here as pdf document]
  • The Ethics of Belief, edited by A. J. Burger (also here), includes
  • And see Quotations on the Ethics of Belief by Peter Suber, Philosophy Department, Earlham College
  • Teaching James's "The Will to Believe," by Prof. Guy Axtell, University of Nevada, Reno.
  • Notes from Prof. Robbins, Indiana University.
  • Notes from Prof. Browning at University of Texas, Austin.
  • Notes from Princeton philosophy course.
  • "What is This Place?" William James and Religious Certainty, by Br. Tom.
  • William James and the Logic of Religious Belief, by W. Richard Comstock, 1967.
  • William James, Faith, and the Placebo Effect, by Franklin Miller. [requires edu server]
  • William James's "The Will to Believe" and the Ethics of Self-experimentation, by Jennifer Welchman, University of Alberta.
  • "The Book of James: William James's lectures on religion, a century later," by Joseph Leconte for The Heritage Foundation
  • William James: Still Salient After All These Years.   
  • An outline with commentary provided by Bob Corbett.


  Essays in Radical Empiricism


From the Mead Project at Brock University. Transcribed by Lloyd Gordon Ward and Robert Throop. Table of Contents.


  On The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study of Human Nature

  • Full text of the Varieties from Psych Web by Prof. Michael Nielsen.
  • Full text of the Varieties from the Guttenberg Project.
  • Hypertext Version from American Studies at UVA.
  • Full text of The Varieties of Religious Experience, from Google Book Search.
  • Full text of the Varieties from Wikisource.
  • Lecture Summaries, by John Durhan.
  • Notes from Marc Fonda - Part 1 and Part 2.
  • Commentary on the Varieties, by Carol Zaleski, Smith College.
  • Glyn Hughes' Squashed Version of the Varieties.
  • The Science of Religion, a lecture by Russell McNeil also from Malaspina.
  • James's Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion, delivered at Edinburgh in 1901-1902, provided by the Council on Spiritual Practices. These lectures comprise the entire text of The Varieties of Religious Experience, but they are nicely organized.
  • The Council on Spiritual Practices offers The William James Awards, Funding for Masters' Theses and Doctoral Dissertations on Primary Religious/Spiritual Experience.
  • A brief commentary by Sandra Stahlman.
  • Introductory lecture to the Varieties by Ian Johnston, Malaspina University.
  • "The Book of James: William James's Lectures on Religion, a Century Later," by Joseph Loconte
  • Robert D. Richardson speaks about James and the Varieties.
  • Twice-born men: A footnote in narrative to Professor William James's "The varieties of religious experience, by Harold Begbie.
  • Conversion. Using violin and electronics, composer Baljinder Sekhon mimics the psychological process described in the Varieties.

  A Pluralistic Universe

  Other sites on the Net related to William James

  • William James entry at Wikipedia - actually very good. And James quotes from Wikiquote.
  • The William James Cybrary, a wonderful new site put together by James Medd.
  • Works by William James available at the Guttenberg Project.
  • William James and Josiah Royce a Century Later: Pragmatism and Idealism in Action. Lowell Lecture Hall, Harvard, May 2007.
  • William James entry from MIT Cognet (excellent site, but requires access through edu server or a subscription).
  • William James, from PBS.
  • James site from Garth Kemerling with excellent links.
  • Episteme has fine links to philosophy-related sites. Here is the link to James.
  • More links, these from Mythos and Logos. These pages are worth checking in case I miss something.
  • William James page from ErraticImpact.com. Check out their Philosophy Research Base.
  • William James page from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Excellent overview.
  • European William James Project, from the Pragmatism Cybrary.
  • William James: Still Salient After All These Years.
  • William James Studies, a new, open-access journal of articles related to the life, work and influence of William James.
  • Search for William James at FindArticles.com.
  • The Philosophy of William James, from The Radical Academy.
  • William James, from Genius in the Family Cameo Biography, PBS.
  • Some quotes by James. No end to them. Ane here is a nice set from the Philosopher's Magazine.
  • William James Award Competition, from APA Eastern Division.
  • The William James Society.
  • A bit macabre, but here is James's tombstone at the Cambridge Cemetery.

  Essays/books about William James

  • A Boy's Recollections of William James, by Sidney Lovett, from the Boston Daily Globe, 1954.
  • The Book of James: William James's lectures on religion, a century later. by Joseph Leconte for The Heritage Foundation
  • Essays philosophical and psychological in honor of William James, by E. L. Thornkike, from Internet Archive.
  • Feeling William James's But, by Mark Johnson, University of Oregon
  • The God of Abraham, Isaac, and (William) James, by David Paulsen
  • Great Paths Cross: Freud and James at Clark University, 1909 - an article by Robert Simon.
  • Mind and Body: Descartes to William James, by Robert Wozniak of Bryn Mawr.
  • Natural Selection, Scientific Method, and Philosophical Populism in William James's Pragmatism, by Alexander Klein.
  • The Nitrous Oxyde Philosopher, by Dmitri Tymozko. Interesting reading.
  • Introduction to The Principles of Psychology, by Robert Wozniak. Mirror here.
  • Oh Those Fabulous James Boys - William and Henry, by Eugene Taylor. Also here.
  • Present Philosophical Tendencies [synopsis of James's philosophy], by Ralph Barton Perry.
  • Pure Experience, the Response to William James: An Introduction, by Eugene Taylor and Robert Wozniak.
  • Realism and Imagination in the Thought of Henry and William James, by Jonathan Levin and Sheldon M. Novick.
  • A Review of James' Some Problems of Philosophy, by Doug Renselle.
  • The Rise of Empiricism: William James, T. H. Green, and the Struggle over Psychology, by Alexander Klein, University of Toronto.
  • Sartre and James on Freedom, by William O'Meara.
  • "Speaking Terms": William James on Intelligence, by Tom Murphy.
  • Tools and Techniques for Teaching James�s The Will to Believe, by Guy Axtell, University of Nevada, Reno
  • "What is This Place?" William James and Religious Certainty, by Tom Murphy.
  • Why William James Still Matters, by Charles Taylor.
  • Wilhelm Wundt and William James, by Dr. C. George Boeree. And see this commentary on The Stream of Consciousness.
  • William James and American Functional Psychology, by Eugene Taylor.
    • Professor Taylor's essay in Spanish.
  • William James and Moral Objectivity, by Ruth Anna Putnam.
  • William James and the NLP Model, by Michael Hall.
  • William James and Other Essays on the Philosophy of Life, by Josiah Royce, from Internet Archive.
  • William James and Rudolph Steiner, by Robert McDermott.
  • William James: Our Father Who Begat Us, by Frank Pajares. [incredibly profound]
  • William James, an obituary published in the Atlantic Monthly by James Jackson Putnam, 1910.
  • William James and the Tradition of American Public Philosophers, by Cushing Strout, for the Partisan Review.
  • William James et la psychologie exp�rimentale, by Vincent Guillin (in French).
  • William James on an Unseen Order, by Wayne Proudfoot, from Harvard Theological Review. Is the universe moral or unmoral?
  • William James's Narrative of Habit, by Renee Tursi, from findarticles.com. [may require edu domain access]
  • William James's Selective Individualism, by James O. Pawelski, Albright College.
  • William James' Shaky Sojourn in Stanford, by Albert Bandura, from the APS Observer (scroll down - the page is misaligned).
  • Full text of The Philosophy of William James, by Theodore Flournoy, 1917, from Google Book Search.
  • Full text of Life and Personality of William James, by �mile Boutroux, 1913, from Google Book Search.
  • Full text of William James and the Philosophy of Life, by Josiah Royce, 1911, from Google Book Search.

  Bibliographic information

  • Russell McNeil keeps a superb William James Consolidated Database at Malaspina University-College, British Columbia. It includes the Library of Congress Catalog and HTML citations, National Library of Canada Citations, the UK's COPAC citations, and tie-ins to Amazon, Blackwell's, and AAUP. One-stop bibliographic information. Visit their Great Books site.
  • Annotated bibliography of the writings of William James, by Ralph Barton Perry, from Internet Archive.
  • Amazon list of available books about William James.
  • Here is my list of books about James (more carefully alphabetized than Amazon's).
  • William James's papers at Harvard University
  • New books about William James
  • BooksPrice.com, AddAll Book Search and Bublos.com will compare prices of new books. So will DirectTextbook.com.
  • AddAll.com will also compare prices of used books. Excellent. Nope, I don't get a commission. Just trying to be helpful.
  • Book collector or interested in rare books and first editions? Visit the following.

  Some Book Reviews


Blogs, Discussion Groups, and Chats about William James

  • Yahoo Discussion Group on William James.
  • You can subscribe to an e-mail discussion group on William James by sending an email message to LISTSERV@austincc.edu. In the message, write: SUBSCRIBE WILLIAMJAMES-L [Your-First-Name Last-Name]
  • You can also subscribe to an e-mail discussion group on William, Henry, Alice, and other members of The James Family. To do this, send an e-mail message to: listserv@wvnvm.wvnet.edu. In the message area, write: SUBSCRIBE JAMESF-L [Your-First-Name Last-Name]
    • You will receive instructions about accessing the archive and posting your own messages.
  • The William James Lecture Hall is "devoted to all contemplations, musings, and queries concerning William James." It's a discussion group.
  • Join the William James Live Recitation.
  • Professor Phil Oliver shares his musings on James and others at Delight Springs and Up@Dawn

  Related Links

  Search the Web, Emory University, York University, Brock University, PsychWeb

Search Hints: Use key words, and place quotation marks around terms you do not want separated: "william james" avoids meaningless returns for "william" and for "james." You do not neet to type articles or most prepositions. Simply specify the key terms: "william james" habit. If you want to know when William James was born: "william james" born. Google's smart and usually places the most relevant pages up front. Questions work, but only because key words are read by the search engine. Better just to use key terms. If you're looking for passages, enter, within quotation marks, the piece of the passage you think you know. For example, what was it James said about "becoming perfect teachers"? There is no need to use capitals. Searching the various universities will include the full domain, so please be as specific with your search terms as possible.

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"On ne voit bien qu'avec le cœur. L'essentiel est invisible pour les yeux."

Michael Slater has written a valuable, thorough, and thought-provoking book about William James's views on ethics, religious faith, and the mutually-dependent relations between them. A sensitive interpreter of James, Slater argues that religious belief informs and enriches both theoretical ethics and practical morality in James's philosophy and, conversely, that considerations about the theoretical status of morality provide a certain form of justification for religious belief.

One of Slater's central and most significant contentions is that James's pragmatic account of religion incorporates both an ethical view of the function of religion and a realist view of the objects of religious belief and experience. To establish these claims, he provides a close study of James's views on ethics and the ethics of belief, including his "will to believe" and "right to believe" doctrines in "The Will to Believe" (Chapters 1 and 2); James's analysis of the foundation of morality in "The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life" (Chapter 3); and James's views of the practical value of religious belief in his less frequently discussed work, "Is Life Worth Living?" (Chapter 4). In Chapter 5, Slater analyzes the relationship between religion and morality in The Varieties of Religious Experience and shows how, in Varieties, James holds that leading a religious life is a requirement of maximal human flourishing. In Chapter 6, he examines James's pragmatic philosophy more generally, and focuses on James's epistemological, metaphysical and religious views in Pragmatism, The Meaning of Truth, and Varieties. Here (as he states succinctly in the introduction) Slater argues that

In spite of certain tensions and the occasional inconsistency in his views … James's pragmatism nevertheless manages to preserve a commitment to metaphysical realism, including a commitment to religious realism (16).

Slater concludes his book with an "Epilogue" that assesses the broader ethical and epistemological implications of James's ethics and philosophy of religion and points to their relation to those of other, more recent thinkers, such as John Hick, John Rawls, and Robert Audi. He concludes that

the most innovative aspect of James's philosophy of religion is its attempt to reconcile a commitment to religious realism with what we might call a commitment to religious humanism -- that is, to combine a realistic view of the objects of religious belief with the view that human interests and purposes ineluctably shape our conceptions of and manner of relating to those objects (233).

As this summary suggests, Slater's project is an ambitious one. He analyzes both the substantive tenets of James's philosophy and its underlying methodological premises and motivations, including James's most personal philosophical commitments. This is a particularly appropriate approach in a study of James, since -- both for philosophical reasons and reasons of personal style -- the theoretical and personal are often interdependent in James's philosophy. Nevertheless, as I shall discuss below, there also times when James insists on their being kept distinct.

It is a mark of both the fecundity of James's philosophy as well as its flaws that there is room for reasonable disagreement about the nature of his considered views. While I do not have the space in a review of this size to go into detail about my agreements and disagreements with Slater's interpretations of James, I will briefly discuss those I think are most central to James's philosophy and to Slater's understanding of him. The major area of interpretation about which Slater and I disagree concerns the meaning of "realism" in James's philosophy and the extent to which James is a "realist." This is a highly controversial topic among James interpreters, having led to numerous opportunities for reply and counter-reply. Slater argues that "James had a metaphysical commitment to religious realism" (12; see also 56-7). He holds that "James thinks that the objects of religious experience really exist, and like all realities their content is not exhausted by the ways in which we take or conceive them" (134), as well as that "James was (1) committed to metaphysical realism and (2) that his theory of truth was a type of correspondence theory" (185). He therefore rejects interpretations according to which James believes that the truth of religious claims is reducible to their practical value (3). Nevertheless, even in the context of James's putative realism, Slater sees James as giving a pragmatic justification of religious belief -- one which is perspectivalist and humanistic.

The apparent problem with Slater's interpretation is that it appears to land James directly in a contradiction. For on the face of it, perspectivalism and pragmatism are contradictory to "metaphysical realism," the view that there are objects and states of affairs that exist prior to and independent of human beliefs about them, and which our beliefs, to be true, must represent. While pragmatism and metaphysical realism seem clearly incompatible, the major contention of Slater's book is that "James defends and successfully combines a realistic interpretation of religion with a pragmatic religious epistemology" (16). This, of course, is a challenging hypothesis to try to prove. Has Slater succeeded?

One possible way to resolve the apparent incompatibility between "pragmatism" and "realism" is to forgo metaphysical realism, in favor of internal realism, and one way of doing this is to define "realism" and "reality" itself in pragmatic terms. This, I believe is largely what James (at least in his pragmatic writings) attempts to do. Defined pragmatically, "reality," however independent it may be of any individual thinker at any particular time, is not independent of inquiry on the whole. At important philosophical junctures James argues, following Peirce, that reality, like absolute truth, is solely a regulative ideal, an ideal outcome of inquiry. In my opinion, such a projection of the end point of inquiry is as far as a humanist or pragmatist consistently can go in their understanding of reality as independent of human purpose and belief. It is worth noting, however, that James posited different (if complementary) accounts of reality in his various works. In The Principles of Psychology, he argues that the sole "reality" unaffected by human judgment is the "blooming, buzzing confusion" experienced by infants (PP 462). In Essays in Radical Empiricism, however, he interprets this stream of experience metaphysically, as the sole ultimate reality. In that work, James contends that this underlying reality is metaphysically neutral -- neither mental nor physical -- and is open to either mental or physical interpretations depending on our purposes and interests. Thus, in Essays in Radical Empiricism, with regard to the status of ordinary empirical objects and events, James can best be categorized as an internal realist.

This having been said, it is worth noting that James does make some metaphysical realist claims in Varieties and elsewhere. I believe that this is attributable to the fact that James personally believed in the existence of a divine reality, a "wider self through which saving experiences come" (VRE 405). I believe, however, contrary to Slater, that although James was trying to do what he could to open up his readers to the possibility of apprehending this reality, he was not trying to philosophically establish the existence of the divine. He acknowledges that this belief in the reality of the divine is his own "overbelief," i.e., his unproven personal opinion. He also acknowledges that there is no sufficiently conclusive philosophical or empirical proof of God's existence. Even in his discussion of mystical experience -- that experience which James sees as the paradigm of the achievement of religious knowledge -- he argues that while the experience of the mystic is, and is justifiably, authoritative over the mystic him/herself, there is no (epistemic or moral) obligation for non-mystics to consider it so (VRE 335-6). The important point to note here is that James is very careful to refrain from making claims about objective religious reality. He makes it a point to concede that what appears to the subject to be an independent divine reality may be nothing more than his/her sub-conscious self (VRE 405). It must be acknowledged, then, that however much James personally believed in a divine reality, and however much he argued that there were situations wherein individuals could be morally and even epistemically justified in holding beliefs about this reality, James himself did not feel philosophically justified in supporting a metaphysical commitment to religious realism.

It should also be noted that James is ambivalent about the epistemic status of religious belief. On some occasions he sees religious belief as being subject to the same confirmation conditions as ordinary empirical or scientific beliefs; on other occasions he argues that a religious system of belief embodies a distinctly different paradigm from a scientific one, and hence that these two systems are not subject to the same truth or justification conditions. What James does not do, in my opinion, is what Slater attributes to him -- namely, believe that metaphysical realism and pragmatism are compatible. While Slater sometimes tempers his position by calling James's commitment to realism a "modest" one (184), I do not discern any sustainable difference, in Slater's argument, between a modest version of realism and internal realism.

Another section of the book which I found particularly illuminating is Chapter 5, "Religion and Morality in The Varieties of Religious Experience." Slater considers James's view of the relationship between religion and morality from both psychological (practical) and philosophical (theoretical) perspectives. From a practical standpoint, he argues that for James,

morality cannot be finally separated from religion, because there are moral goods that only religious faith -- and in some cases, only the objects of religious faith -- can plausibly bring about (7).

I agree with Slater's contention that James believes that, from a psychological perspective, belief in the existence of God enables believers to approach what they see to be their moral commitments with a seriousness and strenuousness unavailable to non-believers (71). Slater also recognizes that there are genuine metaphysical issues at stake in James's position, not merely motivational ones. He recognizes that for James in "The Moral Philosopher," only God's existence can provide the theoretical and objective grounding required by James's ethical theory that the good is constituted by the satisfaction of demand. For, as James argues, it is only God who could play the role of a systematic unifier of all sentient beings' demands. Slater also recognizes that James holds (in apparent contradiction with the position just mentioned) that a naturalistic theory of ethics is possible (though perhaps not fully comprehensive) without God as its foundation. Slater does a very good job considering the subtle relationship between these various positions.

I think it is important to note that no amount of ethical motivation provided by religious belief can provide theoretical support for ethical theory -- James's or anyone else's. "Religion is the basis of ethics" might be a statement about practical morality, meaning that "being a religious believer is necessary to lead the most ethically committed life," or it might be a statement about theoretical morality, meaning that "religious propositions provide the foundation for an acceptable normative or meta-ethical theory." Slater makes the distinction himself between personal ethical commitment and ethical theory (86), but he may not sufficiently acknowledge its implications in trying to understand the relationship between religion and ethics for James. James does indeed personally believe, as is evident in Varieties in particular, that religious believers are likely to lead morally better lives than non-believers, and hence that the consequences of religious belief are on the whole morally salutary. But in Varieties he gives no alternative theoretical foundation of ethical theory on a par with the naturalistic satisfaction of demand theory in "The Moral Philosopher."

Even if James's contention that belief in God provides the strongest motivation for living the highest moral life, this by itself would not establish -- vis-à-vis the "metaphysics" of morals -- that ethical value itself has its foundation in religious or divine realities. Thus, I believe that James's promotion of Christian values in Varieties remains without theoretical ground in "The Moral Philosopher."

Among Slater's book's many strengths is the completeness with which he shows the many ways in which religion and morality are interrelated in James's philosophy. While I have expressed some significant disagreements with Slater's interpretation of James, I have found his analyses to be perceptive and well-considered and his arguments to be painstaking and nuanced. James would particularly approve of the fact that Slater appears to display a salutary personal stake in the issues discussed. This book is well worth reading for its insights into James and the immensity of the task James set for himself, as well as for its demonstration of, and attempt to resolve, a mass of seemingly contradictory tendencies in James's philosophy. While I do not think that this book rescues James from many of his apparent contradictions, it certainly brings out some of the richest aspects of James's philosophy and the enigmas it presents. If Slater's resolution is controversial, that only adds to the fruitfulness of his book as a spur to further research into the problems and promises of James's philosophy. I should also add: do not skip over the footnotes -- they are often very rich.


William James, The Principles of Psychology (PP), The Works of William James, Frederick H. Burkhardt, Fredson Bowers, and Ignas K.Skrupskelis (eds.), Harvard UP, 1981.

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (VRE), The Works of William James, Frederick H. Burkhardt, Fredson Bowers, and Ignas K.Skrupskelis (eds.), Harvard UP, 1985.

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