William James in Focus

Unjacketed Library Edition

William James in Focus

Willing to Believe
William J. Gavin
Distribution: World
Publication date: 12/20/2012
Format: cloth 136 pages
6 x 9
ISBN: 978-0-253-00786-5
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William James (1842-1910) is a canonical figure of American pragmatism. Trained as a medical doctor, James was more engaged by psychology and philosophy and wrote a foundational text, Pragmatism, for this characteristically American way of thinking. Distilling the main currents of James's thought, William J. Gavin focuses on “latent” and “manifest” ideas in James to disclose the notion of “will to believe,” which courses through his work. For students who may be approaching James for the first time and for specialists who may not know James as deeply as they wish, Gavin provides a clear path to understanding James’s philosophy even as he embraces James’s complications and hesitations.

Author Bio

William J. Gavin is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern Maine. He is author of William James and the Reinstatement of the Vague and Cuttin’ the Body Loose: Historical, Biological, and Personal Approaches in Death and Dying. He is former president of the William James Society.


"[Gavin] . . . offers, in one hundred pages, a concise and mostly effective sketch of James' arc of thought, in which the theme of the impressive and engaging nature of James' philosophical 'outline' is expressly tackled." —Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

"Gavin’s book is meta-continuous, operating at more than one level at a time. Our responsibility is to take James seriously, and Gavin provides cogent reasons for doing so. William J. Gavin’s work continues to warrant the title 'Jamesian.'" —The Pluralist

"This praiseworthy volume presents a viewpoint on James that brings the novice reader into conversation and reminds the more experienced reader of the big-picture of James, of the zest and novelty of his vision. Understanding James requires some commitment and work—and this volume is a good and workable guide. . . . the volume is a success as it spurs us to consider James’s work as demanding a new interpretation for each reader. Gavin, in his discussion of James, retains the zest and freshness of a philosopher who rewards the reader with her own view of a thick pluralistic universe." —William James Studies

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Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations
1. James's Life: Will to Believe as Affirmation
2. "The Will to Believe": Policing versus Free-Roaming
3. The Principles of Psychology: Consciousness as a Constitutive Stream
4. The Varieties of Religious Experience: Mysticism as a Vague "Exemplar"
5. Pragmatism: Corridor as "Latent" and "The Will to Believe"
6. Metaphysics: Radical Empiricism and Pure Experience
7. "Pure" versus "Impure" Experience: Examples of Pure Experience
8. Challenges to "The Will to Believe"
Conclusion: Pragmatism, Death, and "The Will to Believe"
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