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Posted on March 31st, 2013, by

In this paper we are going to talk about William James, who is an American philosopher and psychologist, a prominent representative of pragmatism and functionalism. The main aim of this paper is to discuss William James’ activity and to explore his thoughts about pragmatism and truth.

Discussing the activity of the prominent philosopher and psychologist it is necessary to mention that James examined the entire spectrum of the human psyche – from the functions of the brain stem to the religious ecstasy, from the understanding of the surrounding space to extrasensory perception. He was able to defend completely opposite points of views with equal brilliance. It seemed that James’ curiosity knows no boundaries; there was no theory, even the most unpopular, which he want not only to understand and examine, but also to find something interesting and useful in it. It is obvious that he was persistent in the quest to understand and explain the foundations of thinking, unity’ of thought. James was interested in the fundamental concepts, including the nature of thought, attention, habit, will and emotions.

According to James, personality is formed in the process of constant interaction between instincts, habits and personal choices (James, 1909). He has considered personality’s differences, stage of development, psychopathology, and everything that is inherent to the notion of identity, beginning from the organization and restructuring of the basic building blocks’ of the psyche and ending with individual development given by the nature and advanced during the lifespan.

Observing the personal traits and creativity of the famous psychologists it is interesting to mention that James often used to say that any author can be easily understood by any person, if a person tries to look at things through author’s eyes. James himself did not build various systems, but the conceptual design of his monolithic Universe’ was the exact antithesis of the goal which he has pursued. He wanted to plunge into the paradoxical life, full of physical, moral and spiritual completeness, as much as possible. He found something horrible in satisfaction, when pure and unreal system captures human rationalistic mind. It is possible to mention that James was trying to seriously look at the vast universe of concrete facts, terribly confusing, unexpected and cruel, in their entire pristine environment, and reflect the global reality in its concrete completeness. Thus, we can mention that James’ theories have some contradictions. And he was acutely aware of it, he was aware that the concept is suitable for some particular aspect of the research may not be suitable for others. Analyzing James’ activity we see that he immersed himself in what he called a pluralistic way of thinking i.e., his thoughts were occupied simultaneously by several theories, except of to create a large, unified system. Moreover, James has acknowledged that psychology as a science has not yet reached its maturity; there were not enough information to clearly formulate the laws of perception and understanding of the world and the nature of consciousness. It allows to state that James was well acquainted with many theories, even those that contradicted his own one.

Thinking about pragmatism we could demonstrate the fact that pragmatism and radical empiricism of James, was an attempt to understand the human experience in its natural and social context that reveals an open and courageous mind, the desire to alleviate human intervention. This approach allows to suppose that the world has two senses of existence: on the one hand, there is a system of things that each of us encounter in everyday life; and on the other hand, world exists in the sense that each person creates his own world, much as cutting it from the surrounding material reality. In his book The Principles of Psychology that was published in 1890 James compares the world with a statue which the sculptor carves from marble. Author stated that our world was originally a chaos of sensations’, stream of consciousness’, it is – the neutral’ material of thinking of any person. He stated that the world in which we live, we and our ancestors leisurely have freed with a cutter from the objective entity. So, James’ views have been called radical empiricism’.

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