THE RADICAL EMPIRICISM OF WILLIAM JAMES by John Wild

THE RADICAL EMPIRICISM OF WILLIAM JAMES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Unity of consciousness and of will was irresistible to James, but not in a monistic sense. He understood experience as a ""stream of consciousness,"" a perpetual flow of feelings, facts, choices, acts, whereby the self is always pushing outwards towards further frontiers of realization and satisfaction. He denied the traditional mind-body dualism, scorned the tepid rationalism of the academy, and regarded nineteenth-century ""healthy-mindedness"" as vulgar and false: ""naturalistic optimism is mere syllabub and flattery and sponge-cake."" He was, as Professor Wild and others continue to show, not just a pragmatist (the role in which he is usually celebrated), but also, and more important, a forerunner of existential and phenomenological thought. In stressing the parallels between James' ""radical empiricism"" and the later work of Husserl and Heidegger--the search for descriptive structures, patterns of phenomena, ""concreteness"" etc., rather than abstract constructions--Wild has produced an important study. The analysis of Principles of Psychology, which takes up a good part of Wild's discussion, is in itself a noteworthy contribution. Unfortunately, Wild's case is not as stunning as it could have been: his prose style, especially, often seems as far from the flashing simplicity of James as the latter's is from the ponderous terminology of Husserl and Heidegger. Then, too, it would certainly appear that more decisive, if less surprising, conjunctions could have been made re Bergson and Whitehead or even Proust. . . .

Pub Date: Dec. 13th, 1968
Publisher: Doubleday