William James' psychological philosophy

Abstract

(Uncorrected OCR) Abstract of thesis entitled 'William James' Psychological Philosophy' submitted by Kwok Hang Wah Yvonne for the degree of Master of Philosophy at the University of Hong Kong in November 2002 The aim of this thesis is to suggest a way to better understand William James' philosophy by recognising its relation with his evolutionary psychology. In order to clarify James' version of 'evolutionary psychology', I will present it in contrast to Herbert Spencer's biological psychology. In Chapter Two, I will discuss how Spencer establishes his development hypothesis and how he understands the mind as a biological product being modified by environmental changes. In Chapter Three, I will interpret James' argument against Spencer's ideas that the mind operates passively, and that Spencer has overlooked the subjective factors in mental development. Through the discussion, we can understand the main difference between James' and Spencer's evolutionary psychologies. The fourth chapter will focus on James' psychology of the active mind. I will offer a more detailed explanatory account of James' views of three important mental functions, namely 'discrimination', 'association' and 'conception', as well as how they operate to construct experiences. In the last chapter, I will interpret one of the topics in James' philosophical discussions, so as to illustrate his psychological view in his philosophy. The discussion will show James' views of the different i roles of perception and conception in life, and his evolutionary concern of the functional use of concepts for experience. I will then explain how these views are related to James' argument against rationalism and his position in his radical empiricism. Through these discussions, I hope to shed light on the connection between James' evolutionary psychology and his philosophical ideas, which ultimately offers a better understanding to James' philosophy. ii.

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