SAAP Annual Meeting 2014

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William James's Political Theory

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William James's Political Theory
Liberalism, Agonism, and the “Moral Equivalent”
William James's suggestions about tolerance, meliorism, pluralism, agonism,
pragmatist experimentalism, and social evolution are knitted together in this
paper with his concept of “moral equivalent.” Tensions among James's ideas –
e.g. his individualism and his “socialism” – are viewed here as reflecting real
world tensions, not incoherence in his thought. Thus I will explore the
possibility of a comprehensive Jamesian theory of ethical/social/political
change. This project requires attention to James's concerns with people's
blindness to the ideals of others, and with efforts to overcome that blindness.
James's ethical conceptions – the strenuous mood, and the inclusiveness
criterion – are brought to bear. Potentialities for and limits of change are
analyzed. Dangers of coercive change, domination, and oppression – potentially
present in James's thought, despite his ardent pluralism – are recognized and
guarded against.


William R Caspary    
Gallatin School at NYU
United States




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