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Title: Re-writing 'the laws of health' : William James on the philosophy and politics of disease in nineteenth-century America
Author: Sutton, E.
Awarding Body: University College London (University of London)
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2013
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This thesis argues that medical concerns, concepts and values underpin many of the texts produced by the nineteenth-century psychologist and philosopher William James (1842-1910). The medical themes in question deal with the ethical and aetiological nature of disease, hygienic principles, mental therapeutic practices and the political standing of the invalid. They are discussed explicitly in The Principles of Psychology (1890), Talks to Teachers (1899), The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) and other essays and lectures. Analysis of James’s extensive personal papers indicates, moreover, that this same set of themes comprises an extremely significant intellectual context within which to situate other well-known works, including The Will to Believe (1897) and Pragmatism (1907). The central aim of this thesis is to trace the multiple, and mutable, ways in which illness and philosophy were profoundly interconnected within James’s writings. From early adulthood onwards, he closely identified the concept of evil with the existence of disease and infirmity and was fervently devoted to the notion of health as an ethical ideal. To this end he championed the importance of hygienic practices, for himself as an individual and for society at large. These twin commitments, to the prevention of disease and the promotion of health, are in evidence across the disciplinary breadth of James’s corpus. They are also the locus of a significant epistemological transformation. During the mid-1880s James lost faith in the medical profession and their exclusive worship of the physiological “laws of health”. He began to embrace the world of unorthodox practitioners and “mystical” medicine and moved towards a more inclusive, pragmatic theory of (medical) truth. Ultimately, James concluded that both scientific and religious forms of knowledge may facilitate the quest for health: a state that he came to understand as having “bodily mental and moral” dimensions.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available