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William James, Public Philosopher (New Studies in American Intellectual and Cultural History) Hardcover – February 1, 1990

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From Library Journal

Cotkin (history, California Polytechnic State Univ.) provides a fair and succinct portrait of the founder of modern psychology. James's intellectual, professional, and personal lifelines are traced within the context of American political and social spheres, beginning with the Civil War. Cotkin's work, an excellent example of the interdisciplinary approach to American studies, offers useful insight into the personal groundwork on which American Pragmatism was built. Glosses of James's major works--both as they were received in his time and now--round out this study. For all academic libraries and as many public ones as can afford the notably steep price.
- Francisca Goldsmith, Berkeley P.L., Cal.
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.


"Cotkin provides a gracefully written and consistently intelligent defense of James and pragmatism that deserves a wide audience among intellectual historians and their students." -- American Historical Review


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Product Details

  • Series: New Studies in American Intellectual and Cultural History
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press (February 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801838789
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801838781
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,632,107 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
This short, though concise and informed critical biography of William James is a good introduction to his life and thought. The text predominately is a historical analysis concerning the era in which he lived, providing us with the necessary social influences that shaped the man's philosophy. One of the arguments in this text is that all philosophy is a biographical expression of the philosopher. And James wanted to express philosophy in the most accessible terms possible. As Cotkin suggests, James was a public philosopher, he wanted '...philosophy to be a conversation, a playful yet serious and enlightening confrontation with philosophical and cultural issues.'(14) He brought philosophy into the public arena and made it his life's mission to combat systematisation and abstraction, the "abstract rigmarole" that can riddle this subject. The subject of philosophy has been exiled to the academy - a specialized technical area of learning designed for the insecure elite. James wanted philosophy to be a 'passionate vision', not a complex array of problematic terms and ideas. He believed professional academics and their writings "obscured the truth". As Cotkin writes, 'Through his public philosophy James codified his revolt - and enlisted himself among those who practiced philosophy as edification - against the pretensions of professional philosophy.'(15)
This text presents us with a man who is the expression of a generation. He was a man of the times. Cotkin then moves on to James' family influences, his brilliant and eccentric father as well as the intellectual relationship with his brother, Henry. What begins to unfold is an individual who achieved the ability '...
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