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Posted on August 19th, 2012, by

William James was an outstanding American philosopher, whose ideas produced a significant impact on the development of the 20th century philosophy. He was very skeptical in regard to various philosophical movements which were very popular in the late 19th early 20th century, such as determinism. Instead of traditional philosophical movements and approaches, he suggested to ground judgments and ideas on the basis of factual, scientific knowledge. In such a context, unverifiable philosophical theories were irrelevant in views of William James.

In this respect, determinism became a subject of a severe criticism of William James. In fact, determinism was a very popular philosophical theory, which stood on the ground that human actions or the entire human life are determined by chance or some power which make an individual unable to totally change his fate or life (Cohen, 1994, p.210). In other words, determinism left no room for the free will, which William James believed was very important.

Moreover, he argued that the free will exists and humans are able to take decision on the basis of their own free will.

Thus, he freed an individual of determinism, which some philosophers considered to be a part of human life.

In such a way, William James laid the foundation for libertarianism, the philosophical movement which prioritized individual liberty and seek to minimize or even abolish the state. Unlike determinism, criticized by William James, libertarianism took free will of people for granted. Moreover, the free will of an individual was an essential condition of his liberty.

Finally, in his work The Dilemma of Determinism William James argued that such feelings as regret and sorrow cannot exist without the free will of an individual. He uses these feelings to defeat supporters of determinism, concluding his arguments with the idea that if murder and treachery have been foredoomed, something must be fatally unreasonable, absurd and wrong in the world (2002, p.129).

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