- Paperback: 304 pages
- Publisher: Anchor Books/Doubleday; 1st edition (June 1, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385469411
- ISBN-13: 978-0385469418
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The Selected Letters of William James Paperback – June 1, 1993
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He admitted in a May 5, 1868 letter, "I have by this time dropped all hope of doing anything at psychology, for I'm not fit for laboratory work, and even if that were not the only reputable way of cultivating the science at all (which it is), it would be for ME with my bad memory and slack interest in the details, the only practicable way of getting any honest knowledge of the subject." (Pg. 57)
In a January 24-25 1869 letter, he says, "I have just been quit by Charles S. Peirce, with whom I have been talking about a couple of articles by him... which I have just read. They are exceedingly bold, subtle and incomprehensible and I can't say that his vocal elucidations helped me a great deal to their understanding, but they nevertheless interest me strangely. The poor cuss sees no change of getting a professorship anywhere, and is likely to go into the Observatory for good. It seems a great pity that as original a man as he is, who is willing and able to devote the powers of his life to logic and metaphysics, should be starved out of a career, when there are lots of professorships of the sort to be given in the country, to `safe,' orthodox men. He has had good reason, I know, to feel a little discouraged about the prospect, but I think he ought to hang on, as a German would do, till he grows gray..." (Pg. 77-78)
He reveals in a Jan. 1, 1886 letter, "I enjoy very much a new philosophic colleague, Josiah Royce, from California, who is just thirty years old and a perfect little Socrates for wisdom and humor." (Pg. 125)
On March 3, 1895, he wrote to the President of Cambridge University, "I want to propose to you no less a person than Charles S. Peirce, whose name I don't suppose will make you bound with eagerness at first, but you may think better of it after a short reflection... The better graduates would flock to hear him... and he would leave a wave of influence, tradition, gossip, etc. that wouldn't die away for many years. I should learn a lot for his course. Everyone knows of Peirce's personal uncomfortableness; and if I were President I shouldn't hope for a harmonious wind-up to his connection with the University. But I should take that as part of the disagreeableness of the day's work, and shut my eyes and go ahead, knowing that from the highest intellectual point of view it would be the best thing that could happen for the graduates of the Philosophical Department... and it would be a recognition of C.S.P.'s strength, which I am sure is but justice to the poor fellow." (Pg. 146-147)
On April 6, 1896, he sent a letter to his class, in which he admitted, "I now perceive on immense omission in my Psychology---the deepest principle of Human Nature is the craving to be appreciated, and I left it out altogether from the book, because I had never had it gratified till now." (Pg. 152-153)
On June 11, 1896, he revealed, "I had two days spoiled by a psychological experiment with mescal, an intoxicant used by some of our Southwestern Indians in their religious ceremonies, a sort of cactus bud, of which the U.S. Government had distributed a supply to certain medical men, including Weir Mitchell who sent me some to try. He had himself been `in fairyland.' It gives the most glorious visions of color---every object thought of appears in a jeweled splendor unknown to the natural world. It disturbs the stomach somewhat, but that, according to W.M., was a cheap price, etc. I took one bud three days ago, was violently sick for 24 hours, and had no other symptom whatever except that and the Katzenjammer the following day. I will take the visions on trust!" (Pg. 154)
He confessed in an August 30, 1896 letter, "I have definitely given up the laboratory, for which I am more and more unfit, and shall probably devote what little ability I may hereafter have to purely `speculative' work." (Pg. 161)
In a February 1,1897 letter, he explained, "As to true and false miracles, I don't know that I can follow you so well, for in any case the notion of a miracle as a mere attestation of superior power is one that I cannot espouse. A miracle must in any case be an expression of personal purpose, but the demon-purpose of antagonizing God and winning away his adherents has never yet taken hold of my imagination. I prefer an open mind of inquiry, first ABOUT THE FACTS, in all these matters; and I believe that the [Society for Psychical Research] methods, if pertinaciously stuck to, will eventually do much to clear things up. You see that, although religion is the great interest of my life, I am rather hopelessly non-evangelical, and take the whole thing too impersonally." (Pg. 166)
He said in an April 12, 1900 letter, "The problem I have set myself is a hard one: first, to defend (against all the prejudices of my `class') `experience' against `philosophy' as being the real backbone of the world's religious life---I mean prayer, guidance, and all that sort of thing immediately and privately felt, as against high and noble general views of our destiny and the world's meaning; and second, to make the hearer or reader believe, what I myself invincibly do believe, that, although all the special manifestations of religion may have been absurd (I mean its creeds and theories), yet the life of it as a whole is mankind's most important function. A task well-nigh impossible, I fear, and in which I shall fail; but to attempt it is my religious act." (Pg. 187)
He summarizes in a June 12, 1904 letter, "My philosophy is what I call a radical empiricism, a pluralism... which represents order as being gradually won and always in the making. It is theistic, but not ESSENTIALLY so. It rejects all doctrines of the Absolute. It is finitist; but it does not attribute to the question of the Infinite the great methodological importance which you and Renouvier attribute to it. I fear that you may find my system TOO bottomless and romantic..." (Pg. 205)
He admits of his book Pragmatism, "It is a very `sincere' and, from the point of view of ordinary philosophy-professional manners, a very unconventional utterance, not particularly original at any one point, yet, in the midst of the literature of the way of thinking which it represents, with just that amount of squeak or shrillness in the voice that enables one book to TELL, when others don't, to supersede its brethren, and be treated later as `representative.' I shouldn't be surprised in ten years hence it should be rated as `epoch-making,' for of the definitive triumph of that general way of thinking I can entertain no doubt whatever---I believe it to be something quite like the protestant reformation." (Pg. 235)
This judicious and well-edited collection of letters provides a highly insightful view of James the man, and of his views. It will be most valuable to anyone studying James and his ideas.