William James and Phenomenology: A Study of The Principles of Psychology (review)
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396 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY William James and Phenomenology: A Study of The Principles of Psychology. By Bruce Wilshire. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1968) Bruce Wilshire's analysis of The Principles of Psychology makes a major contribution by elaborating and thoroughly documenting the validity of a suggestion that has been made before, namely, that William James shares, and in some cases anticipates, philosophical themes that are basic to phenomenology and existentialism. At the same time, the book has more than historical interest, for Wilshire shows that James's work raises fundamental problems which need attention now. These involve the foundations of psychology and our understanding of the basic structures of human experience. The Principles of Psychology is a provocative but puzzling book. Wilshire accounts for this fact by arguing that James's investigations in the work produce an interesting conflict with the original plan he hoped to follow in putting the relatively new science of empirical psychology on a sound footing. James's initial intention, according to Wilshire, is (1) to interpret thought as a psychical existent which can be treated on its own terms, independently of its object, and (2) to provide a basis for correlating thoughts with brain states. On the other hand, a "latent strand" in James's thought emerges as he tries to carry out this program. James begins to see that he cannot correlate thoughts and brain states until he has an adequate account of the nature of thoughts themselves. Moreover, every attempt to provide the account required pushes him into an analysis of thought's object. As a result, James discovers a basic phenomenological insight: Thought cannot be specified apart from what it is of. Thought is intentional, purposive, and worldly. The relationship of mind and world is of such a nature as to undermine the premise of psychophysical dualism which James's original enterprise entails and which may still be the assumption on which many contemporary psychological studies rest. The results of James's investigation are a critique of his own program. He sees this in some ways, yet in others he does not. He recognizes the difficulty of accomplishing the original goal, yet he never quite gives it up. On the other hand, the latent phenomenological strand in the Principles never emerges with full clarity and power either. James is on the way toward a phenomenological psychology and a philosophy that avoids a psychophysical dualism and its problems, but this end is not fully achieved. What he does accomplish, with Wilshire's help, is the objective of raising and clarifying important issues concern.;ng the foundations of psychology and the basic structures of human existence. For Wilshire, the key to uncovering these foundations and basic structures lies in the "transcendental turn" and the quest for necessity and certainty that characterize Husserlian phenomenology. Moving from a description and an analysis of lived experience , one discovers the factors and relations that are necessary to make those experiences possible. The goal of Husserl's phenomenology is to obtain indubitable awareness of necessary truths of this kind. Wilshire shares Husserl's passion for necessity and certainty. His suggestion is that James moves in a Husserlian direction but fails to recognize the full ramifications of his own thinking. Speaking of James, Wilshire says: "It seems to me that the real force of his own argument in the Principles tends to push us to an admission of necessities of thought; but it is an admission which he himself does not explicitly make" (p. 190). Implicitly, if not explicitly, Wilshire criticizes James for failing to carry the latent phenomenological strand of The Principles of Psychology to a full transcendental turn that results in the necessity and certainty that Husserl desired, and sometimes claimed, for his phenomenological insights. BOOK REVIEWS 397 Measured by Husserlian standards, Wilshire finds James wanting. Wilshire acknowledges that James is concerned with the basic structures of human experience and meaning. Nevertheless, James does not push far enough. He never gets beyond insisting "that he is simply reading off more facts--more contingencies" (p. 189). James, however, would find it strange to be criticized for this failure. Wilshire portrays James as a man who is frequently puzzled by...


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