Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/269

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251
William James

despite the influence of Agassiz, become converted to Darwinism, he was led to adopt as fundamental the view of Spencer that thought is something developed in the course of evolution and must, therefore, have a biologic function. The great idealistic argument against the old associationist psychology of Hume, Mill, Bain, and Spencer was to the effect that the sensational elements can at most account for the qualities of things, but not for their relations or connections; and when it was once granted that the relations between things were of a non-sensational or non-empirical character, very little of the world was left to the empiricist. James early became convinced of the force of this argument and, following certain suggestions of Peirce and possibly Hodgson, tried to save empiricism by making it more radical, by giving the connecting relations themselves a psychologic status on a par with the things they connect. Thus he thought to restore the fluidity and connectedness of our world without admitting the necessity for the idealist's transcendental glue to keep together the discrete elements of experience. Radical empiricism thus becomes a metaphysic which holds the whole world to be composed of a single stuff called pure experience. This sounds monistic enough, and James's adherence to the view of Bergson re-enforces this impression Nevertheless, James insisted that the world as experienced does not possess the degree of unity claimed for it by Royce and other monists, but that things are essentially many and their connections often external and accidental. At times James professes the dualistic realism of commonsense. "I start with two things, the objective facts and the claims." But ideas and things are both experiences taken in different contexts, so that his position has not inaptly been called neutral monism, and thus assimilated to the philosophy of Ernst Mach.

It has been claimed that this view eliminates most of the traditional problems of metaphysics, such as that of the relation of mind and body, and also eliminates the need for the Spencerian unknowable and Royce's or Bradley's absolute. But just exactly what experience is, James does not tell us, except that it is something to be lived rather than to be defined.

The exigencies of controversy as well as James's generous desire to give all possible credit to Peirce, have led the public to