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Title: A reappraisal of William James's ontology of pure experience
Author: Robb, Nigel Godfrey Ian
ISNI:       0000 0004 2725 1272
Awarding Body: Queen's University Belfast
Current Institution: Queen's University Belfast
Date of Award: 2011
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In this thesis I offer a novel interpretation of William James's assertion that the world is composed of pure experience. This claim is central to James's radical empiricism, so I begin by placing radical empiricism in context. I draw on James's Principles of Psychology to show how his empiricism is a reaction to both associationism and Kantianism. By claiming that the world is composed of experience, James offers a way of understanding the relationship between mind and world that is - as he describes it - a form of common sense realism. With this is mind, I reject panpsychist readings of James's radical empiricism. Instead, I argue that we should understand James's ontological position in terms of the empiricism of John McDowell. By distinguishing between the act of experience and the content of experience, we can interpret James's claim that the world is composed of experience in the following way: the world is constituted by the kind of thing that can straightforwardly be the content of an experience. I then address a potential problem with this comparison of James and McDowell. McDowell holds that experience is a conceptual occurrence, whereas James is frequently interpreted as an advocate of the view that there is a nonconceptual component to experience. I argue that the Jamesian should rather claim that there are nonconceptual occurrences - the mere feelings of infants and non-human animals - but that these occurrencesare not experiences. I reinforce this point by highlighting how McDowell's conceptualism also incorporates this idea.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available