William James and the reinstatement of the vague

Philadelphia: Temple University Press (1992)
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Recently, the work of philosopher-psychologist William James has undergone something of a renaissance. In this contribution to the trend, William Gavin argues that James's plea for the "reinstatement of the vague" to its proper place in our experience should be regarded as a seminal metaphor for his thought in general. The concept of vagueness applies to areas of human experience not captured by facts that can be scientifically determined nor by ideas that can be formulated in words. In areas as seemingly diverse as psychology, religion, language, and metaphysics, James continually highlights the importance of the ambiguous, the contextual, the pluralistic, or the uncertain over the foundational. Indeed, observes the author, only in a vague unfinished world can the human self, fragile as it is, have the possibility of making a difference or exercising the will to believe. Taking James's plea seriously, Gavin traces the idea of the vague beyond the philosopher's own texts. In "conversations" with other philosophers--including Peirce, Marx, Dewey, and, to a lesser extent, Rorty and Derrida--the author shows that a version of James's position is central to their thought. Finally, Gavin looks for the pragmatic upshot of James's plea, reaffirming the importance of the vague in two concrete areas: the doctor-patient relationship in medicine and the creation and experiencing of modern art. In conclusion, Gavin argues that James's work is itself vague, in a positive sense, and that as such it functions as a "spur" to the reader.



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The God of Abraham, Isaac, and (william) James.David W. Paulsen - 1999 - Journal of Speculative Philosophy 13 (2):114-146.

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