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Reviews305 please the mind's eye and tantalize the intellect as food for drought. In diis latter respect particularly, Celine's Imaginative Space merits a close reading not unlike one that a reader might undertake in penetrating the arcane visions of an alchemist. Colorado State UniversityTobin H. Jones WilliamJames: His Life and Thought, by Gerald E. Myers; xxi & 628 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986, $35.00. Gerald Myers's bookon the life and thought ofWilliamJames is a masterpiece. Almost unbelievably, it surpasses Ralph Barton Perry's landmark study, The Thought and Character ofWilliamJames, as the most scholarly and comprehensive exposition and criticism ofJames's psychology and philosophy. The book begins with a biographical chapter focused on James's achievements , family, and personality. Drawing onJames's published and unpublished work, letters, notebooks, diaries, and other sources, Myers here supplies essential and necessary background for understanding James's writings. "There was always something personal at stake for James in formulating his theories" (p. xv), Myers explains. Noting that "In James, personality and philosophy are inextricably connected" (p. 53), Myers demonstrates that James resolved personal conflicts and difficulties through acts of tiiought—through the outward projection of himself on the world. In making this clear, Myers also politely but effectively illuminates the limits and implausibility of the many psychoanalytic biographies of James and his family. The thirteen chapters (with 130 pages of endnotes) that follow are arranged by topic: consciousness; sensation and perception; space; time; memory; attention and will; emotion; thought; knowledge; reality; self; morality; religion. Each chapter is clearly written and painstakingly argued. Myers's stance throughout is that of a sympathetic but not uncritical insider: "I have tried to understandJames throughout the remarkable range and variety ofhis drought, to comprehend die issues that occupied him, the claims mat he made, and die difficulties and breakthroughs he encountered in making diem. Particular arguments are viewed critically, texts are compared for consistency, changes of conviction are noted, and die obstacles that prevented facile solutions are examined " (p. xii). Since Myers concentrates on The Principles of Psychology in chapters two through ten, some readers may feel that too much time is spent on James's psychology and too litde time on his philosophy. However, Myers's consistendy 306Philosophy and Literature diorough and revealing account and penetrating analysis of the development of James's thought in these chapters effectively demonstrate diat it simply is not possible to understand adequatelyJames's later work, particularly his pragmatism and radical empiricism, apart from his psychology. Moreover, in the following four chapters, Myers does provide lengthy and insightful accounts ofJames's pragmatism, pluralism, radical empiricism, ethics, "social views," and religion—and the connections among them. In these final chapters, Myers is especially effective in detailingJames's refusal to surrender experience to theory throughout the development of his ethics, "social views" (that include a generally neglected emphasis on community), and beliefs on faim and reason, religion, and mysticism. Recognizing that forJames a moral system has no audiority over an individual except insofar as the individual willingly accepts it as audioritative, Myers traces James's commitment to an "ethics of optimism" (and the energies it requires) and meliorism. He adds: "To die extent that pragmatism is a philosophy of action and includes such claims as that tiieories are instruments, that concepts are guides to action, and that truth lies in verifying behaviors, it connects neady widi Jamesian psychology. His ethics of optimism dovetails with both his psychology and his pragmatism, becoming a philosophy of action" (p. 414). This ethics requires energy and a strenuous mood, and so Myers says mat James connects ethics and religion through the idea of eternity: "Just as a desire tends to develop into a demand, so do moral demands tend to develop into the religious demand diattherebe aneternal moralorder" (p. 449). As Myers notes,James's pragmatic view of rationality is essential to his religious views. Myers is particularly critical of James's radical empiricism and concept of pure experience, calling it at best implausible and only suggestive or pictorial. Ofcourse, Myers is hardly alone in thisjudgment, tiiough he is more successful in indicating die tensions between James's radical empiricism and many of his...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 305-307
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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