Current Papers

1. “James’s Philosophy of Science and Science of Philosophy”
[phil of science; hist. of psych; reasoning]

James is treated by philosophers as a rogue scientist who said some interesting things in philosophy. James is treated by psychologists as a major figure who went and waxed philosophical instead of sticking around for the experimental stuff. But a growing body of recent philosophical scholarship is starting to take James’s status as a scientist seriously. But many questions often left unanswered are those which fall under the umbrella of “what was James’s philosophy of science?”.

In this paper, I argue that James’s pragmatism is implicitly an attempt to reshape philosophy in the image of a science. Key to this argument will be a thorough analysis of James’s philosophy of science. I argue that James’s philosophy of science has two main components: disciplinary autonomy; and, methodological pluralism. I use two case studies to explicate these points: the science of religion provided in The Varieties of Religious Experience; and, the science of the paranormal found in his psychical research. I will conclude that, in practice, James’s pragmatism would reshape philosophy into a special science.

2. “Closer to the Heart: James and Affect in ‘The Sentiment of Rationality'”
[hist. of psych.; rationality; William James]

This paper presents a new interpretation of William James’s ‘The Sentiment of Rationality’. I argue that James makes three main points: first, the sentiment of rationality indicates that one does not need to apply cognitive resources towards incorporating a concept into one’s belief structure; second, that we misuse the sentiment of rationality as a heuristic for how rational a concept is; and, that philosophy is distinct  from other practices only in the questions it asks, not how one goes about answering those questions. I support this interpretation by viewing ‘The Sentiment of Rationality’ through the lens of James’s psychology rather than his philosophy. Such an approach requires considering James’s accounts of sentiments and cravings, while paying attention to the adaptive function both elements perform for an organism attempting to adapt to its environment. I conclude that James’s work in “The Sentiment of Rationality” ought to be read as an early articulation of the affect heuristic. As such, James’s purpose in writing ‘The Sentiment of Rationality’ was to argue that even philosophical discourse is largely motivated by the same affective processes evident in other problem-solving endeavours.

3. “Mood Thinking: James’s Approach to Public Philosophy”
[rationality; rhetoric; William James]

William James opens “The Dilemma of Determinism” with a curious admission; namely, that his intention is not to provide a conclusive defense of free will, but to merely set the mood for his audience to accept his position as a practical postulate without requiring a “coercive demonstration” of its truth. The rhetorical tactic is peculiar: do not argue for p, but instead hope to convince the audience to consider acting as though p might be true, so that they are more open to accept p without argument.

In this paper, I will discuss this rhetorical tactic and evaluate its appropriateness for public philosophy. It will proceed in the following manner. First, I will argue that this tactic is intentional, and that the fact that it only appears in James’s lectures is significant. Second, I argue that the key to understanding James’s purpose is his treatment of Pascal’s Wager in “The Will to Believe.” Lastly, I consider what these revelations entail for understanding the nature and limits of popular philosophy.