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date: 05 April 2020

Abstract and Keywords

James was an evolutionary thinker who was critical of evolutionism; this chapter is an attempt to explain this strange state of affairs. In the first section, I will sketch James’s reaction to evolutionary ideas in the 1860s, especially those of Darwin: although he showed great interest, he stopped short of active endorsement. I will spend the bulk of the rest of the chapter detailing James’s response to the work of Herbert Spencer, seen at the time as the most important philosopher of evolution. James argued against Spencer’s evolutionism in the 1870s, but from the perspective of a broader naturalism. According to James, Spencer ignored important mental phenomena, in particular subjective interests and selective attention. Finally, I will briefly discuss how James deployed evolutionary ideas in his later writings on ethics and pragmatism. Although James opposed—often on scientific grounds—much of the philosophical work inspired by evolution, his philosophy was nevertheless built on its own evolutionary foundation.

Keywords: William James, Herbert Spencer, Charles Darwin, Louis Agassiz, Charles Renouvier, Shadworth Hodgson, Wilhelm Wundt, evolution, psychology, consciousness

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