Style and /as Philosophy in William James

Journal of Philosophical Research 39:339-352 (2014)
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Abstract

Far from offering a comprehensive overview or a definitive statement of James’s philosophical style, the aim of this entry is to articulate the intertwinement of James’s unique way of writing and lecturing with his reflection on, and thus his use of, style. I shall take James’s writings on pragmatism as exemplary. In these metaphilosophical works we find articulated a picture of philosophy as a critical, transformative activity, one in which the way one expresses oneself gets itself rubricated as a central philosophical issue. In his characterization of pragmatism as a philosophical method, and consistently with his understanding of philosophical activity as a practice of reflective engagement with oneself, James offers his readers sophisticated and yet intimate instructions rather than prescriptions or descriptions dressed in a specialized, dry language. James is surely not the sole author who professed a close relationship between what is said, how it is said, and why it is so said along precisely these lines—Nietzsche and Wittgenstein are other notable examples. In what follows, I aim at depicting James’s distinctive way of formulating this insight and putting it to work.

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