x_filesize')); // Sort image tag $OC_sortImg = 'current sort selection'; ?> ࡱ> [ bjbj 4^ΐΐB+fc!W"W"W"k"k"k"8"\#Lk"NK$K$a$a$a$<%<%<%MMMMMMM$PS>MW"<%<%<%<%<%MW"W"a$a$M...<%*W"a$W"a$M.<%M..?0GAa$:"^k"f)K@$mMM0No@S,fSHGAGA&SW"mA <%<%.<%<%<%<%<%MMv-`<%<%<%N<%<%<%<%S<%<%<%<%<%<%<%<%<% : William Jamess Ethics of Self-Transformation: The Will, The Will to Believe, & The Value of Freedom DRAFT VERSION DO NOT CITE OR DISTRIBUTE [Author Information Deleted for Blind Review] Abstract: William Jamess ethical defense of the will to believe rests on his psychological conception of the will, but few commentators have read Jamess normative moral philosophy alongside his naturalized moral psychology. For instance, many of the most searing criticisms of Jamess unjustly-accused will to believe doctrine have neglected the ways in which his naturalistic psychology of will directly informs his doxastic voluntarism. I offer a reading of Jamess discussion of the will from The Principles of Psychology that foregrounds his idea of willfulness as functional and non-entitiative self-transformation (II). I then show how Jamess naturalistic psychology should inform a better understanding of his defense of the will to believe as an effort in the transformative improvement of the habitual self (III). I conclude with a brief exploration of the importance of Jamess overarching meliorism for both his descriptive psychology and his normative ethics (IV). I: Collecting Jamess Contributions to Ethics William Jamess ethical writings form a vexed collection. Most philosophers regard James as having contributed primarily to epistemology, metaphysics, and psychology such that his moral philosophy is widely taken as secondary, derivative and of accordingly little interest to contemporary debates even if it was of paramount interest to James himself. Those of his readers who do regard James as making important contributions to moral philosophy have focused the majority of their attention on his work in the ethics of belief as represented most fully in his infamous essay The Will to Believe. Commentators often treat this essay in an isolated fashion that leaves it disconnected from Jamess other contributions to philosophical ethics, including his efforts toward a naturalistic moral psychology advanced in his early and monumental The Principles of Psychology. The interpretive isolation with which The Will to Believe is usually treated has had at least two unfortunate consequences. A first is that Jamess defense of a will to believe has too often been represented in terms of what his contemporary Sigmund Freud criticized as the omnipotence of thoughts or what we more colloquially call today wishful thinking. This has led a steady stream of criticism of Jamess defense of solid faith in our selves as instead a rather stilted defense of self-indulgent fantasizing. A second unfortunate consequence is a widespread disregard for Jamess naturalistic psychology as irrelevant to his normative philosophical ethics. Since the interpretive strategy in question has influenced (if not determinatively structured) the reception of Jamess ethical writings over the entire course of the twentieth century, the perhaps unsurprising result has been a widespread neglect of Jamess ethical writings by most twentieth-century, and now twenty-first century, moral philosophers. In this essay, I dispute this standard interpretive strategy in favor of a methodological holism. Such a strategy helps us recognize that there are important ethical resources to be found in Jamess psychological writings and that the ethical resources featured in his more explicitly moral essays ought to be read in conjunction with the categories established in Jamess contributions to moral psychology. One positive result of this shifted interpretive strategy is that it facilitates a new reading of Jamess ethics. My reading emphasizes the idea of freedom as the central theme in Jamess ethics. A rich understanding of Jamess thinking about freedom requires drawing on resources found across his contributions to moral philosophy. I shall argue specifically that understanding the value of freedom as James understood it requires reading The Will to Believe alongside the Will chapter of The Principles of Psychology. My conclusions can be summarized as follows. In The Will to Believe freedom assumes the form of faith. In the Will chapter freedom assumes the form of willfulness. I shall show that these two conceptions of freedom, and their defense by James, are intimately related. My claim is that James in his contributions to both naturalistic moral psychology and hortatory personal ethics is engaged in working out a conception of freedom as a self-transformative practice that is not dependent on a spurious idea of a self-sufficient and self-mastering subject. II: Self-Transformation in Jamess Psychology of Will In his gigantic two-volume Principles, James sets out into the intricate landscapes of human psychology with the Habit chapter, where he plainly tells his reader that the self just is a collation of habits: When we look at living creates from an outward point of view, one of the first things that strike us is that they are bundles of habits. Work on the self, which is just what ethical work is for James, is therefore work on habits. Thus James advises his readers: The great thing, then, in all education, is to make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy. For James, we make our nervous system our ethical ally in at least two ways such that work on the self can take at least two general forms. It can take the form of building up habits or of breaking them down. Ethical character development for James thus forms at the twain where we make automatic and habitual, as early as possible, as many useful actions as we can, and guard against the growing into ways that are likely to be disadvantageous to us. A key point for both kinds of reflexive rehabituation as understood by James is that reflexive work on habits cannot itself be habitual. Jamess view was that where habits reinforce or undo themselves by themselves, the development of character or selfhood is non-reflexive and so non-intelligent. Only where we reflexively work on our habits in non-habitual fashion do we have anything worthy of the name of ethical action for James. An ethics for a predominantly habitual creature thus requires what James called effort. And here we face the central category in Jamess version of naturalistic moral psychology. Will is the effort required for the purposes of rehabituating ourselves. But, we might ask following contemporary commentators such as Owen Flanagan, does Jamess account at this point really remain within the bounds of naturalism or does his conception of willing involve a concealed appeal to a faculty that is transcendental to the habitual self? Given his conception of selves as mere bundles of habits, why does James not just appeal, as Dewey and others would later do, to second-level habits as that which effectively reworks first-level or primary habits? In my view, James does not evade his commitments to naturalism in forwarding an ethics of willing. Rather, he makes naturalism rich enough to appeal to those for whom naturalism too often remains cloaked in the cold robes of strict materialism. For Jamess purposes, a functional specification of willfulness in terms of effort is all we need for a viable moral psychology. Willing is function, not faculty, for James. He construes willing as a reflexive process whereby the self works on itself in a way that is not wholly reliant upon existing habits. There is no monarchy of the will over the self here but only a conception of willing as a reflexive relation of self to self. This account, which still needs to be explained, is perfectly consistent with a naturalized, or at least a detranscendentalized, moral psychology. To better grasp Jamess innovative analysis of the will as functional and non-entitiatve it will be useful to follow rather closely the contours of the account of will forwarded by James in Principles. It is crucial to grasp the precise functional situation in which James sought to invoke the idea of willing as playing its crucial but evanescent role. The central idea in Jamess theory of the will is that willing occurs as a phenomenon of overcoming or negotiating an ideational impasse where two alternative possible courses of action present themselves. To understand this functional specification of the situation of willing we first need to get a grip on the background conception of the ideo-motor theory of action which had gained some prominence in the second half of the nineteenth century in rather disparate contexts before being consolidated by James himself in the Principles. The ideo-motor theory refers to the process whereby ideas discharge themselves in motor action: Wherever movement follows unhesitantingly and immediately the notion of it in the mind, we have ideo-motor action. I think of raising my leg and up it comes, or of blowing my lover a kiss and off it goes. James held this seemingly contentious view in quite a strong form. As he put things in a discussion of the psychology of the will published nearly a full decade before the Principles: perception and thinking are there only for behaviors sake. But if this strongly-formulated view sounds contentious, it is helpful to remember that James rarely took a reductive view of the mental life. Mindedness was for James always an enormously complex affair. Rarely is our mental life singularly occupied by one simple idea that might simply and effectively discharge itself. Normally we are faced with a multiplicity of ideas interacting with and influencing one another. Usually these ideas are themselves complex ideas not of simple actions but of abstract idealizations which cannot simply discharge themselves into any single motor act. Noting that James would have no cause to deny this helps us properly construe the way in which he used ideo-motor theory without endorsing it in a form that is contentiously unqualified. James endorsing the ideo-motor theory in a nuanced form, according to which ideas always immediately discharge themselves in motor action only when they are not in the presence of conflicting ideas: The determining condition of the unhesitating and resistless sequence of the act seems to be the absence of any conflicting notion in the mind. This raises the question of what occurs when there is a presence of a conflicting idea in the mind. It is in his description of this type of situation, which in the actual psychological life of most persons must be the normal state, that James qualifies the ideo-motor theory in such a way as to set up a requirement for willing as a non-entitative function. Jamess primary focus in his discussion is on instances in which two ideas in the mind conflict in such a way that neither can immediately and without hesitation discharge themselves in action. I think of raising my leg, but also of the pain of raising my leg due to a recent injury. I think of blowing my lover a kiss as I leave her at the front door of her office, but then I recall that she abhors public affection at the workplace. Which idea will prevail? James thinks that we really face instances in which there is no automatic mechanism for resolving such conflicts of ideas. Such situations, however frequent or uncommon we take them to be in our own lives, are characterized by that peculiar feeling of inward unrest known as indecision. Indecision takes us into a state of deliberation, where we supply ourselves with reasons or motives in order to undertake a decision. Here is where willing will, and indeed sometimes positively must, come in to the picture. As James puts it in Talks to Teachers: Volition, in the narrower sense, takes place only when there are a number of conflicting systems of ideas, and depends on our having a complex field of consciousness. For James, then, will just is voluntary attention to one of a conflicting set of ideas available to the attention. James expresses psychologically what Dewey would state philosophically when he later wrote: All action is an invasion of the future, of the unknown. Conflict and uncertainty are ultimate traits. But it is also worth noting that Dewey would depart from Jamess psychological resolution of such conflicts in developing a more thoroughgoing naturalism which James would never have endorsed given the way in which Deweys picture too easily downplays the powers of individual spontaneity. In the Principles, James outlines five types of volitional decision: reasonable deliberation, acquiescence, recklessness, changes of heart, and decision through effort. It is the fifth type that is most pertinent to Jamess account of the will as voluntary attention. We have a habit to do X but we find ourselves questioning that habit and favoring Y instead. Jamess point is that effort just is that which purposively breaks that impasse between the entrenched idea of X and the upstart idea of Y in those cases where the conflict between X and Y cannot be settled by the two ideas alone. What resolves the conflict, or decides, in such situations? Jamess idea is that the conflict of ideas is settled by effort, more specifically the intensity and duration of the attentive effort we sally forth in situations of indecision. What form does this effort take? It involves nothing greater nor lesser than holding our attention fast to one of these ideas rather than the other. James tells us: The essential achievement of the will, in short, when it is most voluntary, is to attend to a difficult object and hold it fast before the mind. Convalescing with an injured leg, we attend to the pain that will result from raising the muscle, and so we forego the short trip to the kitchen. Or, we attend to the advice of our physical therapist to walk just a little bit every day, and so we rise up despite the pain and with hopes for a healing recovery. In thus calling attention to the importance of the effort of attention in resolving a conflict of ideas, James emphasizes the power of psychological spontaneity in contrast to those mechanistic accounts of the confrontation between human psychology and structuring environmental conditions that put the former up against the wall of the latter. Willing for James just is the functional effort of attention whereby psychological spontaneity is agent rather than impotent. This clarifies the otherwise elusive definition of willfulness forwarded by James in Principles where he writes: Effort of attention is thus the essential phenomenon of will. This is a rather minimal conception of will but, important for James, it is sufficient to give us a sense of the potency and value of our own spontaneous initiative. Construing the psychology of will in terms of the effort of attention provides an effective response to the above-mentioned objection to the idea of will as a faculty. Effort as James saw it need not be taken as some mysterious transcendental faculty. The will as James construed it is best seen as naming a function that stands in need of no entitative support. The crucial idea in Jamess moral psychology of the will is that the functional process of willing goes on, indeed positively must occur, just insofar as we find ourselves in that psychological situation which he has described as indecision. If you grant to James that you are sometimes rendered temporarily impotent by a conflict of ideas in which no automatic resolution of the conflicting tendencies occurs, then you have granted him everything that he needs to offer you a functional specification of the will in terms of that effort through which this indecision gives way to decision one way or another. If by contrast you are not prepared to grant that you ever face the paralysis of indecision, then James would concede to you that you have no need to feel the force of effort at work in your own life, though surely he would have puzzled about how someone such as you might be possible, suffering as he did himself from neurasthenia, or the paralysis of indecision, or what was popularly if not disparagingly called in Jamess day Americanitis. Jamess functional specification of the will most appropriately implies that willing takes place only where the function is requisite. But, and this is the more central claim, whenever willing does take place it need only be construed in functional terms. But to continue the supposed objection, a number of pointed questions might be put to James here. Does his conception rely on an entitative conception of attention at the kernel of the will? Does the idea of attention, in other words, just put the question back one stage further such that the will is discharged from being a little homunculus in the mind only so that attention can play that role? Does attention acts as a magical unexplained explainer? The answer, in each case, is negative. A conception of the will as initiating actions may seem mysterious, but a conception of the mind as attending to ideas need not be. There is nothing mystery-inducing, homunculus-like, or entity-suggesting about the phenomenon of attention. We need not attribute any mysterious inner power to the mind which would be needed to explain the phenomenon of attention any more than we need an idea of an inner power to explain how the hand can grasp its hammer. Jamess point was that for the purposes of psychologically describing the function of will in terms of the voluntary effort of attention we do not need to invoke such ideas. He thought of critical questions such as those just mentioned as metaphysical issues insoluble on psychological grounds. And though psychologically insoluble, James did of course believe that there were ethical reasons for adopting a more spiritualistic and less materialistic outlook on the world. But these reasons have everything to do with believing in our own abilities as natural creatures and little to do with invoking a power that is not of us. Jamess moral psychology does not rely on spiritual and spooky entities even if his ethics of belief is all about defending spirituality and spookiness as objects of belief that may sometimes help us have faith in our selves. Personal moral beliefs in mysterious powers need not be taken as offensive so long as we do not confuse moral projects of self-cultivation with psychological accounts of how we undertake such self-cultivation. You should let me believe in whatever occult powers I need to in order to muster my requisite courage to act, at least so long as I am not invoking those occult powers as explanatory of my capacity to believe. There is certainly much more that could be said about the effort of attention, the various forms that it takes, and the practical strategies facilitating it, but all this can be left for another occasion. For the purposes of connecting Jamess moral psychology of the will to his voluntarist conception of belief, it suffices to have shown how Jamess psychology of willing can be boiled down to the following: where you feel the need to decide, you must muster the will to believe (and if you never feel the need to decide, then you have no need for the will to believe). Putting the point this way helps underscore that James never sought to prove the existence of such a thing as the will just as he never sought to prove that we are free (about which more below). James sought instead to provide a functional account of what willfulness and freedom do in our lives. An overriding requirement for such functional accounts, at least according to the pragmatist James, involves specifying the value of that which is being accounted for in terms of the difference that it makes in our living. James accordingly aimed to explicate the function of willfulness and freedom such that we could come to recognize the value these functions might have in the context of lives constantly negotiating those myriad probabilities and possibilities we confront in our modern world. These confrontations regularly throw us into a psychological state of indecision: will and freedom describe the process by which this regular indecision is negotiated by the person who does not become swamped by uncertainty. Equipped with this functional account of willful rehabituation, I am now in a good position to consider some of the ethical ramifications of Jamess construal of moral education in these terms. One value of the psychological process of willful rehabituation analyzed in the Principles is that it enables us to escape from the grip of dreaded indecision. Another, and more important, value of willing is that it enables us courageously work out new forms of selfhood when we run up against the resistances of entrenched patterns of activity that we would like to push ourselves past. It is entirely instructive in this regard that in the course of his discussion of effort James at one point in Principles practically defines moral action in terms of the feeling of effort. He writes: If a brief definition of ideal or moral action were required, none could be given which would better fit the appearances than this: It is action in the line of the greatest resistance. He repeats the point a little further on: volition is a psychic or moral fact pure and simple. In Teachers James speaks avidly of the moral matter of the education of the will, telling his teachers that, Your task is to build up a character in your pupils; and a character, as I have so often said, consists in an organized set of habits of reaction. This is from the chapter of Teachers entitled Will and from here James goes on to point out that character education is achieved through reflexive willfulness, or what I am calling self-transformation. In the course of this exposition he offers a strong claim clarifying just what moral effort is on his view: If, then, you are asked, In what does a moral act consist when reduced to its simplest and most elementary form? you can make only one reply. You can say that it consists in the effort of attention by which we hold fast to an idea. Moral action for James is envisioned as moral energy, namely as that which overcomes the resistances supplied by entrenched and habituated ways of being. Moral action at its core involves the reflexive transformation of the self by the self. Willing is essential to these self-transformative processes just insofar as they are not easily undertaken in the face of entrenched habits. How ready we are to just raise our leg and walk, or avoid sharp pains altogether, or send a sign of our love, or respect our beloved. Each of these often come to us so effortlessly. Effort, it is Jamess point, is morally valuable just where we find ourselves needing to reflexively transform our stabilized self and make ourselves anew. Think of how often we find ourselves in such situations and how much each of us regularly lose in life by failing to allow ourselves to live otherwise than those ways to which we have grown accustomed. All of this goes toward my main claim about Jamess naturalistic moral psychology: the centermost idea in Jamess psychological writings on character formation and ethical development is that of self-transformation. The idea of self-transformation works at the intersection of two components: reflexiveness (self-) and reconstruction (-transformation). As to the first component, it is quite telling that James writes of volition as an essentially reflexive process: I want more than anything else to emphasize the fact that volition is primarily a relation, not between our Self and extra-mental matter (as many philosophers till maintain), but between our Self and our own states of mind. Volition is a means of turning and tuning the self. It is therefore the process by which we educate our characters. The will is at the heart of morality for James insofar as it makes possible the moral activity of transformation in the sense of willful rehabituation or purposive recharacterization. This helps locate the second of the two components of self-transformation, namely reconstruction. Morality involves our being willful about our selves, which just are bundles of habits. The willfulness here should not be construed as aiming at the realization of some pre-conceived desire or law in such a way as to exert control over our selves, our others, or our world. The reflexive willfulness of transformation is not the rigid control of rote implementation. Self-transformation should rather be witnessed as a process of working willfully toward the reconstruction of the self we find ourselves given to. III: Self-Transformation in Jamess Ethics of Belief Turning now to Jamess moral writings, one theme which appears time and time again in those writings is that the possibility of being ethical at all depends on our assuming our freedom. Freedom is a condition of possibility for ethics. There is something unfree and merely instrumental about an action whose outcome is already predetermined. If I know for certain what the outcome of a given action X will be, then I have a prima facie justification for undertaking X (or not). In such a case I have no need for the freedom of effort in order to undertake X. The justification of X provides a kind of determination of X. But where X remains unjustified and so undetermined, then I need something beyond the available evidence to actively undertake (or resist) X. James thought about free actions as those which we choose even where outcomes are as yet indeterminate. Free action involves acting under conditions of uncertainty. For James, for these reasons, the importance of freedom has much to do with the importance of faith. Jamess defense of faith takes the form of willful belief despite the absence of compelling evidence either for or against the existence of our faith object. Herein lies the importance of observing the connection to Jamess naturalistic psychology of willful rehabituation. James argued in The Will to Believe that faith is the type of thing which just must be assumedif you have an argument for it, then you do not need to faith it. Similarly James argued in his chapters on Will that freedom too, in the form of willful effort, just must be mustered. James is clear throughout his moral writings that his aim is not to offer an argument on behalf of the existence of our freedom. As he put it in the Principles, the question of free-will is insoluble on strictly psychologic grounds, and so must be answered on ethical grounds alone without any direct support from, but also without direct conflict with, a naturalistic psychology. In The Dilemma of Determinism, James wrote that, I thus disclaim openly on the threshold all pretensions to prove to you that the freedom of the will is true. Rather than arguing for the existence of freedom in these essays, James sees himself as offering an argument on behalf of the value of our acting freely in the absence of any proof or disproof. Acting freely without a proof of our own freedom just is to assume our freedom in such a way as it might be valuable. Jamess view seems to have been that assuming it, at least in the case of freedom, makes it so (affirm), or at least makes it valuably so (should, propriety). If the Cartesian self was a thinking thing, then the Jamesian self is an acting thing whose beginning is its own deed. James in this respect is very much like Kant. For both ask us to simply assume our freedom, to put ourselves into an orientation of acting as if it were true, as James says invoking the famous Kantian construction of as if. James, like Kant, thereby understands freedom as something which we assume just by assuming a responsibility to our selves. But, and this is a crucial point of contrast, James and Kant adopt radically different strategies for assuming our freedom. For Kant, we assume our freedom by disciplining ourselves to the moral law within, that law being the very essence of our exercise of our own practical reason. For Kant, freedom is achieved because of the requirements of duty imposed by pure practical reason on itself. This is why freedom for Kant involves a pietist ethics of control that places freedom under the sign of necessity. For James, by contrast, we assume freedom in a form that involves an ethics of transforming the self. For James, there is nothing in us or of us that speaks necessity, since everything human is fluxive, evolving, and contingent. A central philosophical project for James, and for all pragmatists in his wake, is to show that we can retain a sense of authoritative normativity under such conditions of contingency and chance. When James assumes freedom, as in the passages quoted above, he assumes it not in the form of Kantian self-control but rather in the form of self-transformation, or self-experimentation, or even better self-improvement. Jamess defense of freedom just is a defense of our believing that we can better our lives and so also of our actively working toward that betterment. When James writes of our will to believe, he is writing of a faith in our selves, and this faith takes the form of freely transforming our selves. It is worth noting in this regard that The Will to Believe is by no means Jamess only essay in which he forwards faith in the sense of freedom. Jamess 1882 essay The Sentiment of Rationality focuses on the idea that any philosophy which leaves us with the feeling of impotence is a philosophy that is not going to work well in our lives. The essay is an explicit defense of a philosophical outlook that leaves room, indeed makes room, for our faith, particularly where the truth of the matter turns on our faith itself: The truths cannot become true till our faith has made them so. This is precisely that kind belief that is at the heart of The Will to Believe, where James writes: There are, then, cases where a fact cannot come at all unless a preliminary faith exists in its coming. And where faith in a fact can help create the fact, that would be an insane logic which should say that faith running ahead of scientific evidence is the lowest kind of immorality into which a thinking being can fall. The point of both of these essays is to defend such faith freely assumed. Jamess claim in The Will to Believe is not that we can make our salvation real by believing in it. That would be wishful thinking. His claim is better understood in terms of the idea that we might yet find a way of bettering ourselves by believing in the possibility of our own salvation. It is striking to note how much the situation in which James sought to defend the invocation of faith bears a resemblance to that functional process which James described in terms of willful effort in Principles. In both cases we have a functional specification of a situation in terms of a conflict of ideas whose resolution is not automatic such that something outside of the mutually-inhibiting ideas themselves must intervene to break the deadlock. In his psychological writings James names this function will and psychologically construes it in naturalistic terms of effortful attention. In his ethics of belief writings he calls the same function faith and ethically construes it in moral terms of self-cultivation. In the former, as we saw above, he defines will just as that which resolves the incapacitated state of indecisive doubting. In the latter he tells us that, Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is still theoretically possible. The carefully-delineated context in which James defends the deployment of willful belief (i.e., a context in which two rival beliefs form a genuine option insofar as both are live, the choice between them is momentous, and the decision to choose is forced) is precisely that context which James elsewhere analyzed as the indecision produced by a conflict between two ideas that inhibit one another. These are the very same phenomenon under two different descriptions or analyses. In one instance James analyzed this in psychological terms and in another instance in moral terms. In the one instance he referred to the function of overcoming the phenomenon of mental paralysis as decisive effort or will and in the other he referred to the same function as freeing faith or belief. The standard critique that Jamess will to believe doctrine is an endorsement of wishful thinking or doxastic omnipotence is, then, misguided. The will to believe is about work on the self, not work on something that is outside of the self. It is an ethics of self-transformation, not an ethics of control. James does not suggest that faithing in the fact literally fathers anything. Jamess point is that faith enables us to transform ourselves such that we can facilitate the fact without simply making it so. This is not wishful thinking. It is better understood as readying the self for action midst shaking uncertainty. This is what pragmatism is all about: The pragmatism or pluralism which I defend has to fall back on a certain ultimate hardihood, a certain willingness to live without assurances or guarantees. This is also what freedom is all about, for James, and also for us. IV: Melioristic Molarity The faith defended in The Will to Believe just is the will to transform the self, where transformation is explicitly distinguished from control of both self and its environment. The will explicated in the Will chapters just is the willful rehabituation of the self, or the working of transforming the self where we do not have total control over the self or environment. Making the connection between these two seemingly disconnected elements in Jamess moral writings may, if it is indeed a defensible one, have some amount of value on its scholarly merits alone. But I also hope that the endeavor here should also be of wider philosophical value. Toward a conclusion, then, I offer a way of framing, through James, the critical question of freedoms value. Consider the contrast between meliorism on the one hand and nihilism on the other. It is either possible to improve our lives or it is not. If we cannot better our lives then all is lost for us, even if our lives are not that bad. This is a sentiment that most of us today share. But it is not therefore trivial. Nor is it therefore well-understood. James once referred to that outlook on life in which we feel that betterment is not an option in stark terms as the nightmare view of life. A fancier name for that outlook in which all is lost is nihilism. As one of our best contemporary Jamesian philosophers, Cornel West, has pointed out time and time again, once you are in the grip of such nihilism, almost nothing can lift you out. Nothing at all can ever lift you out, except, of course, yourself. Finding your way out of the anomie of nihilism is exactly what melioristic self-transformation is all about. It is about finding and founding a new hope midst the eternity of despair. Richard Flathman underscores the central place of meliorism in Jamess ethics: Jamess most fundamental moral commitment was to a melioristic universe, a universe in which the human condition is improving to the extent that it is within human powers to improve it. This is a strong claim. But I go even further. I regard meliorism as the central philosophical optic through which we can best gain a good vision of nearly everything that James wrote, including not only his ethics of faith and his ethics more generally, but also his pragmatist analysis of truth as a credit-system in Pragamtism, the temporalized epistemology elaborated in Essays in Radical Empiricism, and the metaphysics of possibility developed in A Pluralistic Universe. In other work I go even further yet in having offered a rereading of the entire pragmatist tradition through the lens of meliorism. Meliorism, that centermost idea running through the entirety of the pragmatist tradition of moral thought from Emerson to James and Dewey and then to Rorty, assumes in ethics the form of self-transformation. Rorty wrote of this negatively as anti-authoritarianism. Emerson praised it positively as self-reliance. These ideas have misled countless critics who hear in them relativism, subjectivism, and all the other ills which it was the precise point of pragmatism to finally rid us of. Critics scorn Emersons self-reliance as egoistic individualism where instead they ought to tune their ears to the idea of reflexive work on the self. James, following Emerson and anticipating Dewey and Rorty, thought of ethics in terms of reflexive processes of self-transformation, self-development, and self-perfection. The freedom and the willing involved in transforming ourselves on the basis of nothing greater than our own selves, which of course would be selves which always find themselves in the midst of others to whom they are given, is the beginning of an ethics that would be exceptionally well-oriented to the task of living well in our ever uncertain world. That should be enough to grasp the value of freedom such that we might begin to take upon our selves the difficult task of assuming, practicing, and perfecting that freedom. Word Count: 5994 excluding front matter, notes, & references References (Draft Citations Below; Complete Citations Available Upon Request) James References: James, William. 1880. Great Men and their Environment in William James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays. New York: Dover, 1956. . 1881. Reflex Action and Theism in William James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays. New York: Dover, 1956. . 1882. The Sentiment of Rationality in William James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays. New York: Dover, 1956. . 1884. The Dilemma of Determinism in William James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays. New York: Dover, 1956. . 1890a. The Principles of Psychology. New York: Dover, 1950. . 1890b. The Importance of Individuals in William James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays. New York: Dover, 1956. . 1892. Psychology: A Briefer Course. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984. . 1895. Is Life Worth Living? in William James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays. New York:Dover, 1956. . 1896. The Will to Believe in William James, The Will to Believe and Other Essays. New York:Dover, 1956. . 1899. Talks to Teachers on Psychology; and to Students on Some of Lifes Ideals. Repr. New York: W.W. Norton, 1958. . 1906a. Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking in James, Frederick Burkhardt (ed.), Pragmatism and the Meaning of Truth. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975. . 1906b. The Absolute and the Strenuous Life in James, Frederick Burkhardt (ed.), Pragmatism and the Meaning of Truth. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975. . 1909. A Pluralistic Universe. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996. . WWJ. References to William James, McDermott (ed.), The Writings of William James: A Comprehensive Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1977. Other References: Bordogna, Francesca. 2008. William James at the Boundaries: Philosophy, Science, and the Geography of Knowledge. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008. Brandom, Robert. 2009. Reason in Philosophy: Animating Ideas. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2009. Cooper, Wesley. 2002. The Unity of William Jamess Thought. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 2002. Dewey, John. 1922. Human Nature and Conduct: An Introduction to Social Psychology in The Middle Works of John Dewey, Volume 14. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969-1990. Dewey, John. 1929. The Quest for Certainty in The Later Works of John Dewey, Volume 4. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969-1990. Dewey, John. 1930. Three Independent Factors in Morals in The Later Works of John Dewey, Volume 5. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969-1990. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. 1841. Self-Reliance in Emerson, Essays: First Series in Emerson, The Essential Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Modern Library, 2000. Flanagan, Owen. 1997. Consciousness as a Pragmatist Views It in Putnam (1997). Flanagan, Owen. 2002. The Problem of the Soul: Two Visions of Mind and How to Reconcile Them. New York: Basic Books, 2002. Flathman, Richard. 2005. Pluralism and Liberal Democracy. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. Freud, Sigmund. 1913. Totem and Taboo. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1950. Gale, Richard M.. 1999b. William James and the Willfulness of Belief in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 59, no. 1, 1999: 71-91. Gale, Richard. 1997. John Deweys Naturalization of William James in Putnam (1997). Gale, Richard. 1999a. The Divided Self of William James. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Glaude, Eddie. 2007. In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. Jones, Royce. 1990. Jamess Religious Hypothesis Reinterpreted in Southwest Philosophy Review 6, no. 2, Jul., 1990: 79-96. Koopman, Colin. 2011. Why (More Than) Language Matters to Philosophy: Richard Rortys Linguistic Turn forthcoming in Contemporary Pragmatism, 2011. Lutz, Tom. 1991. American Nervousness1903. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991. Myers, Gerald. 1986. William James: His Life and Thought. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986. Putnam, Hilary and Putnam, Ruth Anna. 1990. William James Ideas in Hilary Putnam, Realism with a Human Face. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992. Putnam, Hilary. 1992. Reconsidering Deweyan Democracy in Putnam, Renewing Philosophy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1992. Putnam, Ruth Anna. 1997. The Cambridge Companion to William James. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Rorty, Richard. 1999. Pragmatism as Anti-Authoritarianism reprinted in Margolis and Shook, A Companion to Pragmatism. Malden: Blackwell, 2006. Royce, Josiah. 1892. The Spirit of Modern Philosophy. Boston: Houghtfon, Mifflin, and Company, 1896. Russell, Bertrand. 1908. Transatlantic Truth in Russell, Philosophical Essays, first published 1910. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1966. Russell, Bertrand. 1909. Pragmatism in Russell, Philosophical Essays, first published 1910. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1966. Santayana, George. 1921. Character and Opinion in the United States. New York: Charles Scribners 1921. Shusterman, Richard. 1997. Putnam and Cavell on the Ethics of Democracy in Shusterman, Practicing Philosophy: Pragmatism and the Philosophical Life. New York: Routledge, 1997. Shusterman, Richard. 2008. Body Consciousness: A Philosophy of Mindfulness and Somaesthetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008. Stock, Armin and Stock, Claudia. 2004. A Short History of Ideo-Motor Action in Psychological Research 68, nos. 2-3, Apr., 2004: 176-188. Welchman, Jennifer. 2006. William Jamess The Will to Believe and the Ethics of Self-experimentation in Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, 42, no. 2, 2006: 229-241. West, Cornel. 2004. Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight against Imperialism. New York: Penguin, 2004.  A quick survey of The Philosophers Index on April 23, 2010 reveals 91 hits for Will to Believe versus 6 hits for The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life.  Cf. Freud 1913, 94ff.  The literature is a sprawling affair. Two early influential criticisms were penned by Bertrand Russell (contrary to many of the plainest facts of daily life [1909, 84]) and George Santayana (a thought typical of James at his worst [1921, 88]). Even sympathetic readers such as Gerald Myers have argued that James falls short in his defense of the need-to-believe doctrine: No philosopher has ever proposed a more outrageous premise for faith than this. Because we want the world to be a certain way, our desire actually makes it so (Myers 1986, 461). Among more recent work, Richard Gales (1999a, 1999b) criticisms have received a good deal of attention. Worries about wishful thinking in James can be instructively seen as an instance of that larger and more searching criticism of pragmatism to the effect that this philosophical outlook is but a pallid form of idealism in which we find nothing outside of our beliefs to check them against; see for an early and influential statement of this criticism Russell (1908). Of course, James has not been without his defenders midst the onslaught of these criticisms. For a survey of defenses of James see Jones (1990). Most recently, Jennifer Welchman (2006) has forwarded a novel line of defense worth considering due to its apparent proximity to my own view forwarded below. Welchmans argument involves reading Jamess writings on faith through the promising lens of self-experimentation such that the Jamesian will to believe just is a justification of an experimental attitude toward the self in conditions of epistemic uncertainty. Although I find Welchmans proposed lens for rereading James useful, I worry that she has mounted that lens on a more elaborate philosophical machinery that I find not at all pertinent for the rereading I have in mind. Welchman locates Jamesian self-experimentation through our contemporary cultural matrix of research ethics. The machinations of research ethics seem to me to miss much of what is at stake in Jamess philosophical ethics, namely the sense in which we are not running an experiment in a laboratory but rather living out our lives on uncertified possibilities. Jamess work to believe in freedom or in salvation despite the lack of evidence is indeed valuably seen as an effort in self-experimentation, but it is experimental in a far more capacious sense of that term than is facilitated by contemporary research ethics practices. Jamess believer is neither principle investigator nor guinea pig but is better understood as one of us: a conditioned and limited agent who is struggling to find meaning in a world that sometimes appears so barren of that possibility as to be a farce on the grandest cosmic level. Everything I discuss below under the heading of self-transformation could probably just as well be described as self-experimentation, and indeed perhaps more usefully so, given that we do not mount our adopted lens on the contemporary apparatus of institutionalized ethics review when it was fashioned by James to be mounted on the great personal challenge of moral living in its broadest possible senses.  What I am calling methodological holism should be not be confused for a methodological systematicity according to which an exegesis of Jamess ethics would involve a methodological focus on the systematic character of his ethical writings. James was not a systematic philosopher. But he was a holistic thinker. For similar approaches see Cooper (2002) and Bordogna (2008).  James 1890a, I.104  James 1890a, I.122  James 1890a, I.122; emphasis mine  In Talks to Teachers James wrote: We forget that every good that is worth possessing must be paid for in strokes of daily effort. We postpone and postpone, until those smiling possibilities are dead By neglecting the necessary concrete labor, by sparing ourselves the little daily tax, we are positively digging the graves of our higher possibilities (1899, 62). Jamess name for this effort just is will.  James has been heavily criticized on this point. His most sympathetic and judicious critic on these matters is Owen Flanagan, who writes: One reason James is notindeed, cannot bea naturalist has to do with his commitment to voluntarism (1997, 38; cf. 2002, 115). Flanagan locates this critique textually by describing inconsistencies between the determinism in the psychological texts and belief in freedom of the will in the ethics of belief writings (1997, 27). Flanagans criticisms here are primarily directed at Jamess view as offered in Principles (1890) which was later abandoned in favor of the image elaborated in Does Consciousness Exist? (1904) and endorsed on a broad level by Flanagan. My quarrel with Flanagan is not philosophical, for we both endorse the same naturalism about will as voluntary thought and action as described by Flanagan (2002, 99-159). My contention is an interpretive onefor I hold contrary to Flanagan that James did endorse such a picture, at least with regards to willing (a fuller holistic reading of the entirety of Jamess early psychology would of course be a much larger project), as early as Principles. I of course accept the received view that James assumes a methodological substance dualism throughout much of Principles which he later abandoned in the Essays in Radical Empiricism, but my revision is that with respect to willing Jamess view is consistent across his career.  Deweys more obviously naturalistic pragmatist view in Human Nature and Conduct was that habit means will (1922, MW14.27) such that there is no will outside of habit to appeal to for the purposes of rehabituation. Like James, Dewey understood rehabituation as central for moral conduct: Character is the interprenetration of habits (1922, MW14.38). On Deweys view moral rehabituation is a process in which some of our habits work on, so as to rework, other of our habits. For Dewey, habits are essentially flexible, such that they are always capable of being reworked. James held by contrast that rehabituation often (though not always) requires something itself non-habitual to break the deadlock that sometimes develops between two competing habits where both have a serious claim on our self. An apparent fault in Deweys analysis is that he seems unprepared to admit that we sometimes find ourselves caught between two rigidified habits in such a way that resolution seems unattainablein other words Dewey does not take indecision seriously enough as a problem. Jamess ethics, by contrast, seem in nearly every instance to revolve around indecision as a massive existential problem. But this raises the potential fault in Jamess analysis identified in the main text above, namely the possibility that his view requires a conception of the will as a faculty to break the deadlock of indecision. If willing is itself non-habitual then we need an account of where or what will is such that it can be a non-habitual part of the self that works on the self that consists in bundled habits. For a recent and compelling articulation of the Deweyan criticism of James on this point see Shusterman (2008, 183-9) and for a related critique, to which I am much more sympathetic, concerning Jamess tendency to treat willing as disembodied see Shusterman (2008, 189-202).  Despite having relied on substance dualism throughout much of the Principles, albeit for merely methodological purposes, Jamess account of willing in that book does not invoke a faculty of the will as transcendental to the natural order of the habits which the will would work on.  It may be helpful to note, in the first place, Jamess brief taxonomy of willing that as outlined in Principles: desire is the genus of which wish and will are two species (1890a, I.486). Willing is working from where you are and launching yourself forward with an end-in-view that is not fully determinate. Wishing is working toward a future end-in-view that is fully determinate such that the present state of the self is more of an afterthought. This distinction can be understood in terms of the two broad classifications for ethical systems. In an ethics of control you know in advance what you wish for such that the only practical task is to realize that preconceived end. In an ethics of transformation you work on yourself from where you are and step forward into the future rather than projecting your present self forward into your future self. According to this latter family of ethical conceptions, the agent starts with a given set of habits and then works on those with the aim of self-transformation. We aim to build these habits better or replace our vicious habits with more virtuous ones. This involves a self-transformation of our habitual character through willful action on the self. There is, I am arguing, no need for these purposes to reify acts of willing as grounded in a faculty of the will.  For an excellent short history of the theory of ideo-motor action see Stock and Stock (2004).  James 1890a, II.522  James 1881, 114  James 1890a, II.523  James 1890a, II.528  James 1890a, [get cite]  A crucial premise in Jamess arguments on these matters is that one cannot not decide, i.e. that indecision cannot continue in perpetuity. A person who could never achieve a decision would probably be diagnosed with some mental or physical pathology, though what that diagnosis would be would of course be subject to contingent historical conditions. In The Will to Believe James claims that indecision is in the relevant cases not an option: For to say, under such circumstances, Do not decide, but leave the question open, is itself a passional decisionjust like deciding yes or no (1896, 11). Deciding to neither believe in God nor to disbelieve in God will not satisfy a mind in doubt, though of course it might never occur to any particular mind to have a doubt about this issue. Jamess point is just the Peircean one that once you are in the grip of doubt, you cannot be satisfied to remain there.  James 1899, 119  This naturalistic view resonates remarkably well with Flanagans (2002, 105, 110) despite his (1997) criticisms of James on these matters (as discussed above).  Dewey 1929, LW4.212; cf. Dewey 1930, LW5.280  On Deweys departure from James see Gale (1997).  James 1890a, II.531-4  James 1890a, II.561  That this had long been important to James can again be seen in his 1880 essay Great Men and Their Environment, particularly in the section where he discusses mental evolution with respect to the higher strata of non-basic thinking (1880, 245-253).  James 1890a, II.562  Cf. Lutz 1991  James 1890a, I.448, I.454, II.573  See the discussion in the Attention chapter of Principles (1890a, Book I, Chapter 11). Also of interest is his proposal in the under-discussed 1906 Presidential Address to the American Philosophical Association for a methodical programme of scientific inquiry into our uses of our energies: We need a topography of the limits of human power, similar to the chart which oculists use of the field of human vision. We need also a study of the various types of human being with reference to the different ways in which their energy-reserves may be appealed to and let loose. This would be an absolutely concrete study. It is replete with interesting facts, and points to practical issues superior in importance to anything we know (1907, 674, 683 in WWJ). For a more contemporary perspective describing an analytic of practices of attention vis--vis James see Shusterman (2008, 161-5).  It is possible to analyze this idea in greater detail. Willful rehabituation involves a self attending to its self with an eye toward willfully working out what it will become. This can be analytically reconstructed as a three-place function, where the three categories are form, objects, and means. The form (or mode) of willful rehabituation is reflexiveness in that it involves the self working on the self. The objects (or targets) of this process are our habits which are being reworked. The means (or techniques) of this process involve our willings through which we are able to rework ourselves, or, as I am putting it, transform ourselves. My claim is that willful rehabituation can be usefully thought of under the heading of self-transformation. Other labels for the same, all of them equally useful but carrying their own specific advantages and disadvantages, include: self-experimentation, self-stylization, self-fashioning, self-work, self-reconstruction, and self-development. Whatever we choose to call it, the central idea in Jamess moral psychology is that of a process of reflexive reworking.  James 1890a, II.549  James 1890a, II.560  James 1899, 125  James 1899, 126  James 1890a, II.568  Cf. Bernard Williams on internal and external reasons.  Hilary and Ruth Anna Putnam, among others, have pointed out an existentialist motif discernible in The Will to Believe insofar as James there endorses a seemingly thoroughly voluntarist attitude (1990; cf. H. Putnam 1992). I endorse Putnams reading of James but I find his criticisms of Dewey as not sufficiently Jamesian misguided. Responding to Putnam, Richard Shusterman (1997) offers an interesting rereading of Dewey and Cavell along lines that broadly resonate with my (and Putnams) reading of James. Also responding to Putnam, Eddie Glaude (2007, 27ff.) offers a rereading of Dewey as recognizing the moral tragedy we must face up to in admitting that there are real conflicts of moral values, or what James in his psychological writings expressed in terms of real conflict between competing moral ideas that pull our will in opposite directions.  James 1890a, II.572  James 1884, 146  Drawing here on three more representative quotations. The very first act of a will endowed with freedom should be to sustain the belief in the freedom itself. I accordingly believe freely in my freedom (James 1899, 129). Freedoms first deed should be to affirm itself (James 1890a, II.573). Our first act of freedom, if we are free, ought in all inward propriety to be to affirm that we are free (James 1884, 146).  James 1884, 146  Cf. Brandom 2009, 54, 60 on Kant.  On normativity without foundations in more recent pragmatism see Koopman (2011).  James 1882, 96; on the value of The Sentiment of Rationality as a frame for properly understanding The Will to Believe see Jones (1990).  James 1896, 25  James 1882, 90  James 1896, 3, 11  Jamess three criteria specifying a genuine option should be understood as individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for the will to believein the same way Jamess description of indecision describes the necessary and, where indecision cannot persist for long, sufficient conditions for the employment of the effort of attention.  James 1906b, 124  Speaking to a broader philosophical enterprise, I should note that I find the specific understanding of freedom I have been describing in James just below the surface of a motley crew of moral philosophers all of whom articulate an alternative set of capacities for moral theory that are a major improvement upon the rule-obsessed thinking that continues to dominate modern moral philosophy. An ethics of self-transformation not unlike Jamess is also discernible in Emerson, Dewey, Foucault, Deleuze, Cavell, Williams, and also Spinoza, Hume, Mill, and Nietzsche. The conception of freedom operative throughout this disparate collection is, unfortunately, little understood by most of us today. Hence the potential value of a richer understanding of, and in turn a more reflective practice of, this form of freedom.  James 1895, 40  West 2004, 25ff.  Flathman 2005, 48  But I shall here leave it for another occasion to explore, for instance, the relation between Jamess personal ethics of self-transformation and his social ethics of liberal democratic pluralism as laid out in his 1891 essay The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life. Making the case that melioristic self-transformation is importantly operative in this context too would be aided by attending to Jamess 1899 essay On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings. For a recent discussion of Jamesian ethics as a reflexive process with an eye toward their political implications see Bordogna (2007). Bordognas approach involves showing how Jamess moral psychology of selfhood has important implications for political and social affairs. My preferred approach would be to discuss interrelations among Jamess ethics and politics, rather than seeing the one as flowing from the other.  See [self-reference deleted for blind review].  See Rortys 1999 essay Pragmatism as Anti-Authoritarianism.  See Emersons 1841 essay Self-Reliance.  [Authors acknowledgments note deleted for blind review.].      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