William James on Free Will

1534 words 7 pages
Origins of William James / Jamesian Thinking
William James, born 1842, was a trained physician who subsequently dabbled in works of philosophy and psychology (in which he officiated as a formal study through lectures) (Goodman, 2009). As did many philosophers, Jamesian thinking seeded many discussions on various philosophical topics such as metaphysics, morality, free will-determinism, religion and the afterlife; however, what truly made his ideas notable was his uncanny ability to borrow and integrate knowledge from branches of physiology, psychology and philosophy to weave new insights and dimensions onto traditional philosophical arguments (Goodman).
His influential piece called The Principles of Psychology took these ideas together and
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Either way, “the truth must lie with one side or the other, and its lying with one side makes the other false” (James, 1884, p.4). James argued that determinists who continued to deny the existence of possibilities provided no room for further philosophical discussions, as a fundamentalist grounds will end any debate there was (James). There was also no need for indeterminism to be proven explicitly as scientific conclusions are made based on matters of fact (things that actually happen). However much the amount of facts surmounted only reveal little about what might happen in place of the fact; facts can only be proven by other facts and with things that are possibilities, facts have no concern whatsoever (James). Possibilities are generated by way of experience that were initially involuntary and random and through observations and chance occurrences that inexhaustible lists of possibilities form in our memories (Doyle, 2010). That indeterminism is as close to the truth and is the opposite of hard determinism remains the basic assumptions held by indeterminists. As mentioned, James’ two-stage model represents a conception of indeterministic free will (Doyle, 2010). The central idea of possibilities negated the postulations of determinism by putting forward the notion of chances. From a Jamesian point of view, an indeterministic chance is what James called “ambiguous possibilities” and “alternative futures” which are random in the


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