Perhaps more than any other American psychologist and philosopher, William James (1842-1910) was intimately familiar with contemporary European thought and debate, including the discussion of Erklären and Verstehen advanced by Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911) and others around the turn of the twentieth century. Even before this discussion was initiated, James had been dealing with related issues, pondering alternative solutions, and formulating his own original views on human understanding. These views coalesced in a distinctive approach to cognition. Fundamental to this approach was a belief in possibility and probability as innate features of the physical as well as mental manifestations of the universe. Also fundamental was a conviction that understanding is understanding, regardless of its viewpoint, object, or label as either "descriptive" or "explanatory."
Copyright © 2007 Max Planck Institute for the History of Science. This chapter first appeared in Historical Perspectives on Erklären and Verstehen.
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Leary, David E. "Instead of Erklären and Verstehen: William James on Human Understanding." In Historical Perspectives on Erklären and Verstehen, edited by Uljana Feest, 121-140. Berlin: Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, 2007.