William James on Human Nature and Evolution
An active-passive dualism is present in the writings of William James, insofar as his earlier works tend to emphasize individual freedom and self-determination through personal choice and action, while his later works manifest a commitment to self-fulfillment through receptive openness to the wider, spiritual aspects of reality. The terms "promethean pragmatist" and "antipromethean mystic" have been coined to designate, respectively, these contrasting emphases. Scholars disagree about how to explain or otherwise resolve the tension generated by this dualism. This dissertation argues that James's thought on the question of the evolution of man contributes to a resolution of this tension. While it may be fair to say that James himself was not a mystic, it is quite evident that he was a thoroughgoing pragmatist. Precisely as a pragmatist, James both affirms the immaterial, spiritual dimensions of human nature associated with the mystic, and develops his thought on evolution in a manner that carefully respects and integrates these elements. Chapter 1 considers Jamesian pragmatism and the notion of truth possible within it. Chapter 2 surveys his understanding of human nature, and with chapter 1 serves as grounding for understanding how the development of his thought on the evolution of man is an application of his pragmatism. Chapters 3 details James's thought on the evolution of man, and chapter 4 completes the discussion by considering his thought on the "pluralistic" nature of the universe, itself the setting for evolution. Chapter 4 also considers the thought of Henri Bergson as an important source for James's pluralism. Drawing together seemingly disparate areas of his thought, this treatment provides a comprehensive view of texts from the full span of James's career. Throughout, the pragmatist and the mystic are represented but never truly at odds. In consequence, we understand James's thought to be coherent and unified.
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