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James and Dewey on Belief and Experience

Donald Capps

Publication Year: 2004

Donald Capps and John Capps's James and Dewey on Belief and Experience juxtaposes the key writings of two philosophical superstars. As fathers of Pragmatism, America's unique contribution to world philosophy, their work has been enormously influential, and remains essential to any understanding of American intellectual history. _x000B__x000B_In these essays, you'll find William James deeply embroiled in debates between religion and science. Combining philosophical charity with logical clarity, he defended the validity of religious experience against crass forms of scientism. Dewey identified the myriad ways in which supernatural concerns distract religious adherents from pressing social concerns, and sought to reconcile the tensions inherent in science's dual embrace of common sense and the aesthetic._x000B_ _x000B_James and Dewey on Belief and Experience is divided into two sections: the former showcases James, the latter is devoted to Dewey. Two transitional passages in which each reflects on the work of the other bridge these two main segments. Together, the sections offer a unique perspective on the philosophers' complex relationship of influence and interdependence. An editors' introduction provides biographical information about both men, an overview of their respective philosophical orientations, a discussion of the editorial process, and a brief commentary on each of the selections._x000B__x000B_Comparing what these foremost pragmatists wrote on both themes illumines their common convictions regarding the nature of philosophical inquiry and simultaneously reveals what made each a distinctive thinker.

Published by: University of Illinois Press

Title Page

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Copyright Page

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pp. vii

We especially want to thank Kerry Callahan for expressing interest in this project and providing encouragement as it made its way through the review and approval process. We could not have asked for a more attentive editor. We also want to express our gratitude to Joan Blyth, who...


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pp. ix-x

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pp. 1-40

William James and John Dewey rank among the most influential public intellectuals in the history of the United States. They are best known for their advocacy of pragmatism, America’s unique contribution to world philosophy. Pragmatism, as they conceived of it, emphasizes a practical...

Works Included in This Text

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pp. 41-42

William James

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1. Reflex Action and Theism (1881)

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pp. 45-58

I will therefore only say this: that the latest breeze from the physiological horizon need not necessarily be the most important one. Of the immense amount of work which the laboratories of Europe and America, and one may add of Asia and Australia, are producing every year, much is destined to...

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2. The Psychology of Belief (1889)

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pp. 59-77

There are, as we know, two ways of studying every psychic state. First, the way of analysis: What does it consist in? What is its inner nature? Of what sort of mind-stuff is it composed? Second, the way of history: What are its conditions of production, and its connection with other...

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3. Is Life Worth Living? (1895)

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pp. 78-94

With many men the question of life’s worth is answered by a temperamental optimism which makes them incapable of believing anything seriously evil can exist. Our dear old Walt Whitman’s works are the standing textbook of this kind of optimism. The mere joy of living is so immense...

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4. The Will to Believe (1896)

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pp. 95-110

Let us give the name of hypothesis to anything that may be proposed to our belief; and just as the electricians speak of live and dead wires, let us speak of any hypothesis as either live or dead. A live hypothesis is one which appeals as a real possibility to him to whom it is proposed. If I ask you...

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5. From The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)

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pp. 111-132

Most books on the philosophy of religion try to begin with a precise definition of what its essence consists of. Some of these would-be definitions may possibly come before us in later portions of this course, and I shall not be pedantic enough to enumerate any of them to you now...

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6. What Pragmatism Means (1907)

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pp. 133-143

Some years ago, being with a camping party in the mountains, I returned from a solitary ramble to find every one engaged in a ferocious metaphysical dispute. The corpus of the dispute was a squirrel—a live squirrel supposed to be clinging to one side of a tree-trunk; while over against...

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7. A World of Pure Experience (1904)

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pp. 144-161

I give the name of “radical empiricism” to my Weltanschauung. Empiricism is known as the opposite of rationalism. Rationalism tends to emphasize universals and to make wholes prior to parts in the order of logic as well as in that of being. Empiricism, on the contrary, lays the explanatory stress...

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8. From A Pluralistic Universe (1919)

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pp. 162-166

What is true here of successive states must also be true of simultaneous characters. They also overlap each other with their being. My present field of consciousness is a center surrounded by a fringe that shades insensibly into a subconscious more. I use three separate terms here to describe this...


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9. William James (1910) by John Dewey

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pp. 169-171

Everyone, I suppose, would cite his sense of reality as Mr. James’s foremost trait. I would not say that philosophers as a class are lacking in this trait, but the business of philosophy is to generalize and to systemize; and philosophers are under a greater temptation than others to follow the bent of their...

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10. The Chicago School (1904) by William James

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pp. 172-175

Like Spencer’s philosophy, Dewey’s is an evolutionism; but unlike Spencer, Dewey and his disciples have so far (with the exception of Dewey’s admirable writings on ethics) confined themselves to establishing certain general principles without applying them to details. Unlike Spencer, again...

John Dewey

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11. The Influence of Darwinism on Philosophy (1909)

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pp. 179-188

No wonder then that the publication of Darwin’s book, a half-century ago, precipitated a crisis. The true nature of the controversy is easily concealed from us, however, by the theological clamor that attended it. The vivid and popular features of the anti-Darwinian row tended to leave the...

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12. The Postulate of Immediate Empiricism (1909)

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pp. 189-195

Immediate empiricism postulates that things—anything, everything, in the ordinary or non-technical use of the term “thing”—are what they are experienced as. Hence, if one wishes to describe anything truly, his task is to tell what it is experienced as being. If it is a horse that is to be...

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13. The Copernican Revolution (1929)

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pp. 196-214

That the consequence was Ptolemaic rather than Copernican is not to be wondered at. In fact, the alleged revolution of Kant consisted in making explicit what was implicit in the classic tradition. In words, the latter had asserted that knowledge is determined by the objective constitution...

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14. What I Believe (1930)

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pp. 215-225

Such a faith has in it all the elements of a philosophy. For it implies that the course and material of experience give support and stay to life, and that its possibilities provide all the ends and ideals that are to regulate conduct. When these implications are made explicit, there emerges a definite...

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15. From A Common Faith (1934)

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pp. 226-250

The opposed group consists of those who think the advance of culture and science has completely discredited the supernatural and with it all religions that were allied with belief in it. But they go beyond this point. The extremists in this group believe that with elimination of the supernatural...

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16. From Experience and Nature (1929)

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pp. 251-267

Greek thinkers nevertheless disparaged experience in comparison with something called reason and science. The ground for depreciation was not that usually assigned in modern philosophy; it was not that experience is “subjective.” On the contrary, experience was considered to be...

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17. From Art as Experience (1934)

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pp. 268-283

When artistic objects are separated from both conditions of origin and operation in experience, a wall is built around them that renders almost opaque their general significance, with which aesthetic theory deals. Art is remitted to a separate realm, where it is cut off from that association...

Suggestions for Further Reading

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pp. 285-286


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pp. 287-290

E-ISBN-13: 9780252090752
Print-ISBN-13: 9780252072062

Page Count: 304
Publication Year: 2004