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Fraser Trevor Fraser Trevor Author
Title: William James is for me the most inclusive mind I can listen to, the most concrete and the least hampered by trifles.
Author: Fraser Trevor
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For the reader unfamiliar with William James these two paragraphs from one of the many recent biographies of James (Richardson, 2006) may...
Cover of "The Varieties of Religious Expe...
For the reader unfamiliar with William James these two paragraphs from one of the many recent biographies of James (Richardson, 2006) may be helpful in appreciating James’ significance: “Alfred North Whitehead said, ‘In Western Literature there are four great thinkers, whose services to civilized thought rest largely on their achievements in philosophical assemblage; though each of them made important contributions to the structure of philosophical system.  These men are Plato, Aristotle, Leibniz, and William James.’  John McDermott says, ‘William James is to classic American philosophy as Plato was to Greek and Roman philosophy, an originating and inspirational fountainhead.’  James is famous for pragmatism (which he sometimes felt he should have called humanism), though he should be remembered for his radical empiricism (which could be called phenomenology); that is, his belief that reality is confined to what we experience, with the crucial proviso that nothing we experience can be excluded.

His book The Will to Believe was about the right to believe, and his Varieties of Religious Experience made religion possible for many educated moderns who are uncomfortable with the authority of churches and dogmas.  The book is also a cornerstone of the modern field of comparative religion.  Though it is nearly a hundred years since James died, his thought is still very much alive.  ‘I find him visibly and testably right,’ says Jacques Barzun.  ‘He is for me the most inclusive mind I can listen to, the most concrete and the least hampered by trifles. (2006, p. xiv)”
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