"James was especially concerned to expose to critical scrutiny assumptions about the self and its relations to the world that lead us astray and bar us from directing our inquiries toward the concreteness, depth, and fullness of experience in all of its dimensions. He was a relentless foe of the reduction of mental processes to the theoretical descriptions of physics and of the kind of materialistic metaphysics that is committed to the causal closure of the physical and that can thus find no place for genuinely free, reason-guided choices by the human self among relevant alternatives. He was profoundly open to and respectful of theories and findings in the natural sciences such as those of Newtonian physics, Darwinian biology, and the neurophysiological researches of his day, but he was insistent throughout his life that these developments and findings be supplemented with what he regarded as perceptive insights and critical perspectives of other important fields of thought and awareness such as the arts, morality, religion, and philosophy. Above all, he insisted that those who are committed to thinking deeply about the self and its relations to the world should stay in constant close touch with the disclosures, practices, and demands of ordinary, day-to-day life. He wanted to develop a philosophy that was not just carefully thought about and critically defended but that could also be successfully put into practice and lived.
My principal focus in this book is on the philosophy of William James as it relates to his conceptions of “pure” and ordinary experience, the respective natures of self and world, and the interrelations of experience, self, and world. I provide explications and critical interpretations of these themes in James’s philosophy and, when I think appropriate, make substantive suggestions for their clarification and improvement. I defend the thesis that these themes offer a promising basis for building a credible philosophy of mind and its relations to the world. They are an excellent starting point or springboard for such a philosophy, although they should not and cannot be considered a place to stop or remain. Along the way I consider some recent objections to empiricism as an epistemological program and defend empiricism in general and James’s brand of empiricism in particular (what he called radical empiricism) against these objections.
Finally, I argue the need for a greatly expanded, enriched, and multidimensional version of a materialistic metaphysics and contend that such metaphysics can be fully integrated with James’s philosophy of radical empiricism. It can be so despite his fervent objections to the much narrower Newtonian conception of materialism he tended to take for granted and that was widely assumed in his time. This constricted, mechanical, one-eyed, and outmoded view of matter and its functions continues to contribute substantially toward making the inescapable fact of consciousness and its routinely experienced capabilities the intractable hard problem for a nondualistic philosophy of mind that it is generally considered to be in our own day." (pp.9-10)
"Who and what am I as a conscious self ?
• How do I relate to my body ?
• How can I distinguish between what is in me and what is in the world ?
• How do I and my body relate to the world, including the world of other selves ?
• What is the relation of experience in its various guises to my conceptualizations, beliefs, purposes, and values ?
• How is it possible for me to know anything, either about myself or the world, and how can I tell when I or others are thinking, or are on the path of thinking, reliably and veridically ?
• What is matter, and what is the relation of matter and mind ?
• Am I free, and if so, what is the extent of my freedom ?
• What ought I to aspire to become as an individual self ?
• What sort of world of the future should I envision, contribute to, and work toward, and why ?" (p.11)
"I defend the thesis that James’s philosophy is perfectly compatible with a materialistic metaphysics, so long as we are willing to recognize matter to be everything it has shown itself over evolutionary time and in its manifold configurations to be capable of accomplishing or producing. In other words, matter is what matter does. And part of what it does, at least in some of its evolved and highly organized forms, is to be alive and aware, to feel and think, to intend and plan, to exert effort and experience resistance—in short, to function as life and mind. The discussions in this final chapter are placed in the context of some continuing quandaries in contemporary physics and of recent emergentist views of life and mind." (p.XII)
"While I am sympathetic with the general outlook of James’s philosophy, as can readily be seen in the focus, tone, and content of this book, I seek to cast important new light on themes discussed and interrelated in the book.
For example, I
• contend for a purely epistemological (and not metaphysical) interpretation of James’s concept of pure experience ;
• claim that pure experience is not some kind of single amorphous reservoir independent of individual persons ;
• demonstrate that experience does not require a prior experiencer ;
• exhibit that radical empiricism and pragmatism are in no way opposed but are aspects of a single, entirely consistent outlook ;
• discuss, amplify, and exemplify James’s contention that emotions can be ways of knowing and not just of subjective, self-contained feeling ;
• expose the fallaciousness of simple-minded and wildly misleading interpretations of James’s so-called will to believe ;
• show why it would be impossible, on James’s ground, for two firsthand experiences to coalesce into one ;
• respond to the charge that James is a closet Cartesian ;
• defend the continuing viability of empiricism, and James’s brand of empiricism in particular, against contemporary critics of empiricism as an epistemological approach or program ;
• provide support of my own for indeterminism and noncompatibilist freedom, complementing that of James’s ;
• contend that consciousness and mind are not confined to the brain but are functions of the whole bodily organism in its relations to the external environment, including the social and cultural environment (in keeping with the insistence of writers such as W. Teed Rockwell, Alva Noë, Michael S. Gazzaniga, and Evan Thompson, whose works are discussed or cited) ;
• insist that matter is what matter does and illustrate the wide variety of things it does ;
• endeavor to show the compatibility of radical empiricism with what I call radical materialism and with new perspectives brought to bear on the concept of matter in such areas as contemporary physics, emergentist biology, and neurophysiology ;
• make a case for a multidisciplinary approach to an adequate understanding of the potentialities, functions, and manifestations of matter, one that is especially cognizant of the contribution philosophy can make in this regard." (pp.XII-XIII)
[Chapter one : The role of pure experience]
" “Pure experience” is the name which I gave to the immediate flux of life which furnishes only the material to our later reflection, with its conceptual categories. —William James (1976: 46)
We begin our investigations with the theme of this initial chapter, which is James’s conception of pure experience and the pivotal role it plays in his philosophy. His terse definition of pure experience is contained in the epigraph to the present chapter, but he hastens to add that its “purity,” in the contexts of normal, everyday, non-pure experience “is only a relative term, meaning the proportional amount of unverbalized sensation which it still embodies” (James 1976: 46). This statement about unverbalized or unconceptualized experience will be seen to have particular importance for our discussion of the viability of empiricism as an epistemological outlook and program in chapters 5 and 6, because were there no distinction between experience and its conceptualizations, experience as such would be left with no standing as a test of the adequacy of current conceptualizations or as a source of bold new insights and understandings. Experience and conceptualization would then be blended indissolubly together. Their complete, unqualified entanglement would allow no independent role for experience as over against conceptual theorizations or interpretations. The idea of at least relatively pure experience, on the other hand, allows us to envision the distinct possibility of a newly noted, freshly emphasized, or previously unconceptualized aspect of experience coming to stand in contrast with and in that way to challenge the appropriateness of one or more of the taken-for-granted, familiar, and hitherto unquestioned ways of understanding, organizing, and interpreting experience." (pp.1-2)
"Philosopher of mind Evan Thompson helps us to comprehend James’s concept of pure experience when he talks of what he calls “prereflective bodily self-consciousness.” The “bodily” part of his terminology will have to await my later discussions of the relations of mind and body in James’s (and Thompson’s) thought. But the notion of “prereflective consciousness,” as Thompson also refers to it, is highly germane to James’s idea of pure experience and gives us a good sense of the latter’s importance for understanding our experiences of ourselves and the world. “The term prereflective is useful,” Thompson urges, “because it has both a logical and a temporal sense. Prereflective experience is logically prior to reflection, for reflection presupposes something to reflect upon; and it is temporally prior to reflection, for what one reflects upon is a hitherto unreflected experience” (2007: 249–50). Similarly for James, pure experience is the diffuse field of awareness from which focused items of attention and conceptualization are drawn and thus operates as the logically transcendent precondition, context, or background for the latter’s intelligibility and meaning. And pure experience is temporally prior to all selections and conceptualizations because their occurrence requires an already existent impetus and basis for what is sorted out and reflected upon.
James adamantly insists that no set of conceptual categories, however ingenious or refined, is or can be adequate to capture the fullness of experience in all of its dimensions and depths. We always experience more than we can clearly state, analyze, or explain. The necessary excess of felt but unverbalized resonances of meaning in every particular experience points toward the all-encompassing, inexhaustible reality of pure experience. Within the field of pure experience there are, he tells us, teeming multitudes of thats which are not yet whats (James 1976: . These are particular details, units, or aspects of experience that have not been sorted into conceptual categories and relations even though they may qualify for such sorting. Pure experience is a vast swarm of unnamed particulars in continual flux, a confusing mélange of connections and disconnections, similarities and differences, interfusions and separations. In his book A Pluralistic Universe, James contrasts the “thickness” of experienced reality with an implied thinness of any or all of the concepts we use at any time to explore and explicate its character and meanings (James 1996a: 250–51, 261). In his essay “The World of Pure Experience” he declares that “our fields of experience,” properly understood, “have no more definite boundaries than have our fields of view. Both are fringed for ever by a more that continuously develops, and that continuously supersedes them as life proceeds” (James 1976: 35). Bruce Wilshire nicely captures the plausibility of this notion when he states, “At every waking moment of our lives there is a margin of things known vaguely. James wants to grasp the environment in which we actually live—that which shades off on all sides into the dense, opaque, and vague; that which lies in the corner of the eye” (Wilshire 1968: 200).
Pure experience is James’s term for what the world would be like for us humans or any other kinds of creature if we or they had no organs of perception or discrimination, no memories or expectations, no capacity for sorting or selecting, no conscious powers of acting or interacting, no sense of what is important or unimportant at given times or circumstances amid the teeming flow of things. In such an imagined world of inexhaustible, incomprehensible density and complexity, no creature could survive, find its way, or leave progeny in the world. We humans cannot live the whole or experience the whole ; we can only cope with parts of the whole. Our senses themselves are at bottom, James observes in The Principles of Psychology, “organs of selection,” and they enable us to ignore “as completely as if they did not exist” most of the welter of goings-on present to us at any moment (James 1950: I, 284). Those parts of potential experience we either instinctively or consciously select for focus and attention are surrounded by a penumbra of all that is not focused upon or attended to, a penumbra that shades off into the murkiness of a stupendously vast and ever-changing experiential world." (pp.2-3)
-Donald A. Crosby, The Philosophy of William James. Radical Empiricism and Radical Materialism, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2013, 166 pages.