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date: 25 July 2021

William James and the Role of Psychology in Philosophylocked

William James and the Role of Psychology in Philosophylocked

  • Saulo de Freitas AraujoSaulo de Freitas AraujoUniversidade Federal de Juiz de Fora, Department of Psychology
  •  and Lisa M. OsbeckLisa M. OsbeckDepartment of Psychology, University of West Georgia


James’s work is admittedly cross-disciplinary to the extent that it defies traditional scholarly boundaries. One of the best examples is the cross-fertilization between his philosophical and psychological ideas, although the precise relation between them is not easy to frame. Notwithstanding this difficulty, one can say that James’s early psychology, developed between the 1870s and 1880s, illuminates many aspects of his later philosophical positions, including pragmatism, radical empiricism, and pluralism. First, James defends the teleological nature of mind, which is driven by subjective interests and goals that cannot be explained by the immediate interchange with the external environment. They are spontaneous variations that constitute the a priori, properly active nature of the human mind. This idea helps him not only explain important features of scientific and philosophical theories, but also reject certain philosophical doctrines such as materialism, determinism, agnosticism, and so on. It represents, so to speak, the relevance of the subjective method for deciding moral and metaphysical issues. Second, James claims that certain temperaments underlie the choice of philosophical systems. Thus, both pragmatism and pluralism can be seen as philosophical expressions of subjective influences. In the first case, pragmatism expresses a temperament that combines and harmonizes the tender-minded and the tough-minded. In the second, pluralism reflects the sympathetic temperament in contrast with the cynical character drawn to materialism. Finally, James proposes a distinction between the substantive and the transitive parts of consciousness, meaning that consciousness has clearly distinguishable aspects as well as more obscure points, although human beings tend to focus only on the first part, ignoring the other. This idea plays a decisive role in the elaboration of radical empiricism. Such illustrations, far from exhausting the relations between James’s psychology and philosophy, invite new insights and further scholarship.


  • History and Systems of Psychology

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