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376 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY theory of "radical empiricism" as it is developed in the work Essays in Radical Empiricism. Ayer's chapter on radical empiricism is by far the longest in the book, and it contains lengthy treatments of problems concerning personal identity and the Jamesian doctrine of "pure experience." As an expositor, Ayer seems to do better with Peirce than with James. To cite but a single example of a questionable interpretation of James, Ayer suggests at one point that James follows "the classical empiricists in treating the observer as a passive recipient of qualia, or rather as one who is active only in the sense that his past experience and present interests and expectations may make a difference to the character of the qualia with which he is presented" (p. 317). James would find it quite strange to have Ayer describe him in this way, for this statement obscures the strong emphasis that James places on the selectivity of consciousness. James believes that, from the outset of experience, consciousness is active. Living men are never really passive observers but always agents who play an important part in shaping to its very depth the content of every experience. On the other hand, Ayer seems more sympathetic to James than he does to Peirce. James's theories are criticized, but perhaps less severely than Peirce's and with more attention paid to the ways in which the former's views could be corrected, developed, and made tenable. Such moves are especially evident in the discussions centering around personal identity and pure experience. These analyses, however, move quite far afield from the specific views developed by James, and the feeling is reinforced that the main character in the book is neither Peirce nor James, but Ayer himself. In short, Ayer's stance with respect to James differs only slightly from his perspective on Peirce, and the reader is left wondering about the ultimate positive significance of James's philosophy and why Ayer found him a figure worthy of such detailed attention. If it is difficult to get a clear picture of Ayer's assessment of the positive philosophical contributions of Peirce and James, then, in the final analysis it is difficult to do this with Ayer's book as well. Readers with a real interest in the history of philosophy are likely to find the book of limited usefulness. Those who take a more "problem oriented" approach to philosophical scholarship will find it of greater interest and value. But I suspect that a person's final evaluation of the book will depend largely on whether he can personally identify with the philosophical approach and concerns that characterize Ayer's style of thought. This may ultimately hinge on emotion and taste. But factors of this kind have their place in pragmatism, at least in James's version, and thus it will not be out of place if Ayer's discussion of the origins of pragmatism prompts evaluations at this level and a wide variety of them as well. JOHN W. ROXU Claremont Men's College Critical Existentialism. By Nicola Abbagnano. Trans. and ed. by Nino Langiulli. (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1969. Pp. ix+247. $1.45) This collection of materials from a variety of Abbagnano's writings provides a brief, but interesting, introduction to one of the leaders of Italian existentialism. In both his Introduzione all'esistenzialismo and La struttura dell'esistenza Abbagnano established himself as an able expositor and interpreter of the existentialist movement. As some of these essays indicate, he was far more sympathetic to the methods of the BOOK REVIEWS 377 sciences than, say, the prototypic existentialist, S6ren Kierkegaard. Since this set of essays varies in content (i.e., from a general discussion of the development of existentialism in Italy to some random comments on "Art, Language, and Society") and in philosophic depth, one would hope that there are plans for the publication of one or more of Abbagnano's major works in the near future, perhaps his Possibilitd e Libert~t. Abbagnano argues, in a number of his essays, that existentialism, in the hands of Heidegger and Sartre, tended to emphasize negative possibilities, the negativities which threaten the continuity...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 376-379
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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