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Concepts of consciousness in the psychology and philosophy of William James

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Mackenzie, Stephanie Lynne (1980) Concepts of consciousness in the psychology and philosophy of William James. PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Abstract

By the mid-nineteenth century, the empiricist tradition, in conjunction
with physiological investigations into the nervous system,
had culminated in a mechanical/elementaristic account of consciousness.
Darwin's theory of evolution provided the catalyst for the explicit
conclusion that man is a conscious automaton. William James enthusiastically
accepted the new science but was unwilling to accept the automatist
conception of mind. Instead, inspired by Renouvier's doctrine
of free will, he set out to construct a naturalistic, evolutionary account
of mind wherein consciousness was efficacious both in promoting
man's survival and in making genuinely moral changes in the world.
This thesis analyzes the major structures of James' psychological and
philosophical theories and shows how, in the process of attempting to
reconcile his conflicting commitments to Darwin and Renouvier, James
transformed selected Darwinian postulates into epistemological constructs.
Developed along evolutionary lines, the efficacious, structurally
unified stream of consciousness, described in The principles of psychology,was
James' first major achievement. But having based his theory
of consciousness on a mind/matter dualism, James was faced with the
problem of how the mind knows the world, and the basic inconsistencies
between Darwinian and Renouvian theory began to assert themselves in
the form of a structure/function dichotomy. The dichotomy between the
unified structure of consciousness and the two conflicting functions
the mind fulfills is most obvious in the theory of volition, constructed
to show how the mind acts upon, and thus knows the world. James' refutation
of the theory of innervation and his conclusion that all knowledge
is mediated through afferent sensations was a major advance, providing the foundation for his evolutionary epistemology, pragmatism.
James had originally interpreted the physical world in the mathematical/
mechanical terms of Newtonian science: in pragmatism, he began to redefine
the physical world in evolutionary terms. Plagued by the problems
of the mind/matter dualism on which he had based his psychology,
he constructed an evolutionary metaphysic--radical empiricism--wherein
he abolished the ontological dualism between thoughts and things, claiming
that the thought of an object and the object itself were one piece
of pure experience taken in two different functional contexts. But if
James' attempt to equate thoughts and things proved unsuccessful, he
was nevertheless convinced that the physical world could be described
in temporal/mutable terms. Furthermore, he demonstrated that any particular
separations between mind and matter were not absolute, while
simultaneously showing that some such cuts were a necessary condition
for knowledge and action. Finally, there is evidence in his final
philosophy that he was returning to the mind/matter dualism of the
psychology, having abandoned the excesses of radical empiricism, to
come to grips with the problem of reconstructing the now temporal/mutable
universe in scientific terms.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: James, William, 1842-1910, Consciousness
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 1980 the Author - The University is continuing to endeavour to trace the copyright
owner(s) and in the meantime this item has been reproduced here in good faith. We
would be pleased to hear from the copyright owner(s).

Additional Information:

Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Tasmania, 1982. Bibliography: l. 709-730

Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2014 02:24
Last Modified: 21 Jul 2017 06:38
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