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On the one hundredth anniversary of the death of William James, Robert Richardson, author of the magisterial William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism, assembles a wide-ranging selection of essays and writings that reveal the evolution of James’s thought over time, especially as it was continually being shaped by the converging influences of psychology, philosophy, and religion throughout his life.
Proceeding chronologically, the volume begins with “What Is an Emotion,” James’s early, notable, and still controversial argument that many of our emotions follow from (rather than cause) physical or physiological reactions. The book concludes with “The Moral Equivalent of War,” one of the greatest anti-war pieces ever written, perhaps even more relevant now than when it was first published. In between, in essays on “The Dilemma of Determinism,” “The Hidden Self,” “Habit,” and “The Will”; in chapters from The Principles of Psychology and The Varieties of Religious Experience; and in such pieces as “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings,” “What Makes a Life Significant,” and “Philosophical Conceptions and Practical Results,” we witness the evolution of James’s philosophical thinking, his pragmatism, and his radical empiricism. Throughout, Richardson’s deeply informed introductions place James’s work in its proper biographical, historical, and philosophical context.
In essay after essay, James calls us to live a fuller, richer, better life, to seek out and use our best energies and sympathies. As every day is the day of creation and judgment, so every age was once the new age—and as this book makes abundantly clear, William James’s writings are still the gateway to many a new world.
William James, brother of the—in some quarters—more famous Henry, was that rarest of beings, a philosopher who wrote clear, elegant, and exciting prose. In The Heart of William James, James's biographer Robert Richardson has put together a dazzling selection of this great thinker's work, with perfectly judged short pieces to usher in each of the selections.
— John Banville
It is difficult for any selection to do justice to the thought of William James, and difficult as well for a reviewer to do justice to the seventeen fine essays collected in The Heart of William James. He is fortunate to have Robert Richardson as his biographer, editor and interpreter, a kindred spirit whose admiration for James is thoroughly compounded with his enjoyment of him. He makes the great man accessible as if he were presenting an honored friend, ready to step out of the way and allow a wonderful conversation to begin. And James is indeed a remarkable acquaintance, full of the pleasures of fine prose and humorous insight, and demanding all the same.
— Marilynne Robinson
James seeks to instruct his readers in how they can achieve their best selves, how they can retain and expand and nourish their individuality. As this collection makes clear, he has good reason to fear that that individuality is being squandered. In fact, the subtext of all the essays in this collection might very well be: Americans are in perennial danger of surrendering their Americanness, and I will do my best to stop them...It was, and is, the role of William James, the articulator if not the keeper of the faith, to remind us of who we are and who we were meant to be.
— Peter Savodnik
So fresh is William James's thought and so unbuttoned and irreverent his character that he is always contemporary; it comes as something of a shock, therefore, to recall that he was born as long ago as 1842...James is a philosopher—practical and romantic, down-to-earth and ecstatic, accommodating and specific—whom we need ever more urgently in our own times. In Robert Richardson, whose biography of James is, along with his lives of Thoreau and Emerson, one of the glories of contemporary American literature, the philosopher has found a tireless champion and a perceptive editor. Richardson is that increasingly rare phenomenon among academics, an enthusiast, even a lover, of his subjects. In this book, no less than in the biography, he brings to life this great thinker and rare human being.
— John Banville
Introduction Robert Richardson ix
Note on the Texts xix
Chronology of William James's Life xxi
1 What Is an Emotion? 1
2 The Dilemma of Determinism 20
3 The Perception of Reality 46
4 The Hidden Self 79
5 Habit 101
6 The Will 116
7 The Gospel of Relaxation 130
8 On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings 145
9 What Makes a Life Significant 164
10 Philosophical Conceptions and Practical Results 183
11 The Philippine Tangle 203
12 The Sick Soul 209
13 The Ph.D. Octopus 238
14 Does 'Consciousness' Exist? 247
15 The Energies of Men 263
16 Concerning Fechner 281
17 The Moral Equivalent of War 301
Further Reading 333