SAAP Annual Meeting 2015

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Unsustainable Boundaries: Ontology and psychology in William James

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This paper performs a close reading of William James’s account of ‘conceptions’ as discrete and self-identical in Principles of Psychology in the interests of highlighting its tension with his simultaneous appeal to the continuity of psychological experience. In doing so, I argue that James’s account of conceptions in the Principles is advanced primarily on epistemic grounds and is in tension with his attempts to compartmentalize the discourses of traditional metaphysics and emerging empirical psychology. Instead, close examination shows that seeds of James’s metaphysical intuitions to be theorized in the later speculative work are already functionally present in the psychology. The implications of this are briefly considered in closing, especially insofar as positing a non-arbitrary link between James’s epistemology and his metaphysics entails questioning and perhaps revising what we mean by the term metaphysics.


Russell Duvernoy    
University of Oregon
United States


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