ABOUT THE NEXT BOOK CLUB DISCUSSION:
On January 1, 2013, the William James book discussion group starts with the 1892 essay, “The Will to Believe”. I’m going to post a reminder almost once a week, giving information about William James and his work so that everyone with an interest has a chance to get into the discussion.
After covering this short essay, we’ll poll the participants to decide whether to do another essay or to move on to one of his book length masterpieces, “The Variety of Religious Experience” and “Pragmatism”. The seeds of the two books are contained in “The Will to Believe”.
ABOUT WILLIAM JAMES:
Imagine growing up with Ralph Waldo Emerson as your godfather; Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne and Mehlville coming over for dinner. It wasn’t just chance that William James became one of the most important figures in American psychology and philosophy and his brother Henry became one of the greatest writers of all time.
William wanted to be an artist. But he graduated from Harvard and taught there throughout his working life; first in medicine, then psychology and finally philosophy. He was widely loved as a kind and generous man who helped others to realize their potential. Gertrude Stein wrote, "Is life worth living? Yes, a thousand times yes when the world still holds such spirits as Professor James."
William suffered from ill health and depression throughout his life. After a particularly bad bout in 1870 he wrote, “my first act of free will shall be to believe in free will”. An essay I hope to use for discussion down the road is, “The Dilemma of Determinism”.
At the beginning of the twentieth century a common witticism was that William was the better writer and Henry the better psychologist. William always wrote in a style that was very accessible to the layman. The only real barrier to reading him is the drift in the English language during the century that stands between.