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The Philosopher as Pathogenic Agent, Patient, and Therapist: The Case of William James

Abstract

One way to understand philosophy as a form of therapy is this: it involves a philosopher who is trying to cure himself. He has been drawn into a certain philosophical frame of mind—the ‘disease’—and has thus infected himself with this illness. Now he is sick and trying to employ philosophy to cure himself. So philosophy is both: the ailment and the cure. And the philosopher is all three: pathogenic agent, patient, and therapist.

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1 I am only concerned with the early James: his writings until The Will to Believe. In fact, the reconception in question is compatible with a rejection of the pragmatic theory of truth.

2 James Henry (son of WJ), ed., The Letters of William James, vol. 1 (Boston: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1926), pp. 147148.

3 Feinstein Howard, Becoming William James, with a new introduction (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1999), p. 13.

4 See Simon Linda, Genuine Reality: A Life of William James (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1998), pp. 121122n.

5 See Perry Ralph Barton, The Thought and Character of William James, vol. 1 (Boston: Little, Brown, 1935), pp. 216217.

6 Skrupskelis Ignas K. and Berkeley Elizabeth M., eds., The Correspondence of William James, vol. 4 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1995), p. 128.

7 See James Henry (brother of WJ), A Small Boy and Others (London: Gibson Square Books, 2001), pp. 108, 136–137; Simon, Genuine Reality: A Life of William James, pp. 39–40.

8 See Simon, Genuine Reality: A Life of William James, p. 114.

9 See James Henry (brother of WJ), Notes of a Son and Brother (London: MacMillan, 1914), pp. 422423, 478–479; Simon, Genuine Reality: A Life of William James, pp 116–123; Richardson Richard D., William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2007), pp. 96100, 111–113

10 Erikson Erik H., Identity: Youth and Crisis (New York: W. W. Norton, 1968), p. 151.

11 James William, The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1979), p. 36; see also p. 39.

12 James, The Will to Believe, p. 44. He also speaks of ‘speculative melancholy’ (p. 42).

13 James, The Will to Believe, pp. 39–40.

14 This understanding of philosophical melancholy evinced in James's ‘Is Life Worth Living?’ must be distinguished from the narrower use of the term also employed in this article. According to this narrower interpretation, philosophical melancholy is specifically related to a ‘contradiction’ between a certain idea of nature and a ‘craving of the hearth’ (The Will to Believe, pp. 40–41; see also pp. 42–44). I am only interested in the broader understanding of philosophical melancholy.

15 See James, The Will to Believe, pp. 34–45.

16 James, The Will to Believe, p. 34.

17 James, The Will to Believe, p. 130. This description seems justified on account of the context of this quote and the mention of ‘metaphysical tedium vitae’ in the passage under discussion.

18 James, The Will to Believe, p. 41.

19 Skrupskelis and Berkeley, eds., The Correspondence of William James, vol. 4, p. 248.

20 Skrupskelis and Berkeley, eds., The Correspondence of William James, vol. 4, p. 250.

21 See James, The Will to Believe, p. 117; Skrupskelis Ignas K. and Berkeley Elizabeth M., eds., The Correspondence of William James, vol. 6 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998), pp. 98100, 163.

22 James, The Will to Believe, p. 47.

23 See Skrupskelis and Berkeley, eds., The Correspondence of William James, vol. 4, pp. 248–250; James, The Will to Believe, pp. 47–48.

24 Skrupskelis and Berkeley, eds., The Correspondence of William James, vol. 4, p. 249.

25 Skrupskelis and Berkeley, eds., The Correspondence of William James, vol. 4, p. 248.

26 See Skrupskelis and Berkeley, eds., The Correspondence of William James, vol. 4, p. 248; James, The Will to Believe, pp. 40–45.

27 James, The Will to Believe, p. 48.

28 Skrupskelis Ignas K. and Berkeley Elizabeth M., eds., The Correspondence of William James, vol. 1 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1992), p. 167. See also Henry James (son of WJ), ed., The Letters of William James, vol. 1, pp. 169–171.

29 I had been assuming that the passage from ‘Is Life Worth Living?’ should be read as saying that ‘further reflection’ can provide ‘effective remedies’ to the ‘diseases which reflection breeds.’ I am grateful to Jonardon Ganeri for pointing out to me that the sentence can also be read as saying that ‘further reflection’ is an obstacle to ‘effective remedies.’ In that case, the remedies that James is proposing would presumably not be ‘reflective’ at all.

30 Henry James (son of WJ), ed., The Letters of William James, vol. 1, pp. 82–83.

31 James William, Manuscript Essay and Notes (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988), p. 154.

32 Perry, The Thought and Character of William James, vol. 1, p. 499.

33 Perry, The Thought and Character of William James, vol. 1, p. 500.

34 Skrupskelis and Berkeley, eds., The Correspondence of William James, vol. 6, p. 163; see also James, The Will to Believe, p. 71.

35 James, The Will to Believe, pp. 133–134.

36 James, The Will to Believe, p. 117.

37 James, The Will to Believe, p. 124.

38 James, The Will to Believe, p. 131.

39 See James, The Will to Believe, pp. 128–130.

40 James, The Will to Believe, pp. 133–134.

41 Carlyle Thomas, Sartor Resartus, edited by McSweeney K. and Sabor P. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 6.

42 Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, p. 127.

43 See Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, pp. 127–128.

44 See, e.g., the quotes from Sartor Resartus in James, The Will to Believe, pp. 42–44.

45 Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, p. 142.

46 Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, p. 142.

47 James, The Will to Believe, p. 134.

48 James, The Will to Believe, p. 134.

49 Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, p. 148.

50 See Goethe Johann Wolfgang, Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjahre (Munich: Insel, 1980), pp. 358359.

51 See Skrupskelis and Berkeley, eds., The Correspondence of William James, vol. 1, pp. 49–51; vol. 4, pp. 305–308.

52 Sartre Jean-Paul, Nausea, translated by Baldick R. (London: Penguin, 2000), p. 162.

53 See Suhr Martin, Jean-Paul Sartre zur Einführung (Hamburg: Junius, 2001), p. 42.

54 Sartre, Nausea, p. 156.

55 Sartre, Nausea, pp. 161–162.

56 See Sartre, Nausea, pp. 9–15.

57 See Suhr, Jean-Paul Sartre zur Einführung, pp. 29–32.

58 Sartre, Nausea, p. 189.

59 See Sartre, Nausea, pp. 182–185.

60 See Sartre, Nausea, pp. 182–193.

61 See Rorty Richard, Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

62 James, The Will to Believe, p. 20 (italics deleted).

63 See James, The Will to Believe, pp. 73, 84–87, 106–111.

64 James, The Will to Believe, p. 88.

65 James, The Will to Believe, p. 85.

66 See James, The Will to Believe, p. 135.

67 See James, The Will to Believe, pp. 85–87.

68 See James, The Will to Believe, pp. 86–89.

69 James, The Will to Believe, p. 100 (emphasis added).

70 James, The Will to Believe, p. 87 (emphasis added).

71 This chapter is part of a larger project on the early William James and this and many other points will be elaborated in the longer work.

72 James William, Essays, Comments, and Reviews (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1987), p. 325.

73 James, The Will to Believe, p. 61.

74 James, The Will to Believe, p. 77.

75 See James William, Essays in Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978), p. 360.

76 James, The Will to Believe, p. 40.

77 James William, Essays in Religion and Morality (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982), p. 62.

78 Given my focus on the early James, I have refrained from discussing The Varieties of Religious Experience. However, the work is of course relevant to our topic: In his discussion of healthy-mindedness, morbidity and melancholy, James illustrates the ‘worst kind of melancholy’—that is, the one ‘which takes the form of panic fear’—by describing a terrifying experience he himself had ‘whilst in this state of philosophic pessimism and general depression of spirits about my prospect’ (James William, The Varieties of Religious Experience [Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985], p. 134). In this work, James attributed the experience to a French correspondent, but he later admitted that he had described his own experience (James [son of WJ], ed., The Letters of William James, vol. 1, p. 145). It is a subject of debate when the episode occurred, but it is not unlikely that it took place around the time of the crisis note or perhaps a few years later (see Richardson, William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism, p. 543n4).

79 I am greatly indebted to Róbert Haraldsson for the discussions we have had about James over the years, in particular during the course we co-taught about James at the University of Iceland. I would also like to thank Adam Blauhut for his diligent editorial work and the audience at the University of Liverpool for their helpful remarks on a previous version of this chapter.

Logi Gunnarsson is Professor of Philosophy at TU Dortmund University, Germany. He is the author of Making Moral Sense: Beyond Habermas and Gauthier (Cambridge University Press, 2000) and Philosophy of Personal Identity and Multiple Personality (Routledge, 2010).

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