In this chapter I will review how James got from his earlier position, which so readily fit the scientific and skeptical tenor of his age, to his later position, and I will indicate how the views he began to articulate by the mid-1870s became central to the doctrines he presented in his magisterial Principles of Psychology (1890) and in his subsequent work in psychology and philosophy. Along the way I will make it clear that even before 1872, when he was attending lectures and doing physiological research in Harvard's Medical School, James was a deeply engaged advocate of philosophy, which he was determined to advance through a thorough yet critical understanding of the biological foundations of human thought, feeling, and action. He viewed this scientifically oriented yet analytical approach to philosophy as a means of clarifying not just what is the case in human life, but also what should be life's outcome. Morality, in short, was always interpolated in his thinking, teaching, researching, and writing. Although he took a biological view of cognition, and embedded it within a Darwinian selectionist framework (which he extended "all the way up" from the level of sensation through perception to cognition and beyond), his "naturalist approach" was not meant to eliminate consideration of "struggling with temptation" or the identification of the sources and targets of "true moral energy," as he put it in "Are We Automata?"5 Quite the contrary!
Copyright © 2013 Lexington Books. This chapter first appeared in A History of Habit: From Aristotle to Bourdieu.
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Leary, David E. "A Moralist in an Age of Scientific Analysis and Skepticism: Habit in the Life and Work of William James." In A History of Habit: From Aristotle to Bourdieu, edited by Tom Sparrow and Adam Hutchinson, 177-208. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2013.