Proposed: William James

Course Description

William James has fascinated and stimulated his readers for over a century. Underneath his clear, lively prose one can find valuable insights about enduring philosophical problems. James’s influence can be found in a great deal of contemporary analytic philosophy, but yet he is rarely included in the analytic canon. In this course, we will study some of James’s most significant works and relate it to issues in contemporary analytic philosophy. Topics include: the pragmatic method; the ‘Will to Believe’ doctrine; and, the ‘Sentiment of Rationality’ doctrine. In each case, we will be relating our topics to contemporary analytic philosophy to show how live and relevant James’s work remains to this day.

Course Texts

  1. McDermott, John J. (ed.) The Writings of William James: A Comprehensive Edition. (University of Chicago Press, 1978)
  2. Various readings on reserve.

Course Requirements

  1. One presentation worth 30% on a selected reading.
  2. One commentary worth 20% on another student’s presentation.
  3. One take-home exam worth 35% on an assigned topic.
  4. Weekly participation, assessed on the quality and quantity thereof, worth 15%.

Tentative Course Schedule

Week Readings
01 Syllabus; Introduction to WWJ (xix-li)

The Pragmatic Method

02 James, W. “The Present Dilemma of Philosophy” (WWJ: 362-76)
03 James, W. “What Pragmatism Means” (WWJ: 376-90)
04 James, W. “Some Metaphysical Problems Pragmatically Considered” (WWJ: 390-405)

The ‘Will to Believe’ Doctrine     

06 Clifford, W. K. “The Ethics of Belief”
07 James, W. “The Will to Believe” (WWJ: 717-35)
09 James, W. “Faith and the Right to Believe” (WWJ: 735-40)

The ‘Sentiment of Rationality’ Doctrine

10 James, W. “The Sentiment of Rationality” (WWJ: 317-45)
12 James, W. “The Stream of Thought” (WWJ: 21-74)
13 James, W. “On A Certain Blindness in Human Beings” (WWJ: 629-45)