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Mankind's Own Providence: From Swedenborgian Philosophy of Use to William James's Pragmatism

Paul Jerome Croce
Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society
Vol. 43, No. 3 (Summer, 2007), pp. 490-508
Published by: Indiana University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40321201
Page Count: 19
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Mankind's Own Providence: From Swedenborgian Philosophy of Use to William James's Pragmatism
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Abstract

It is part of the conventional wisdom about the James family that the elder Henry James (1811—82) had a large influence on his son, William James (1842—1910), in the direction of religious interests. But William neither adopted his father s spirituality nor did he regard it as a foil to his own secularity. Instead, after first rejecting the elder James's idiosyncratic faith, he became increasingly intrigued with his insights into the natural world, which were in turn shaped by the Swedenborgian philosophy of correspondences and use, which depict worldly facts as vessels of the spirit. The young science student drew upon this approach to nature as a resource for finding the operation of immaterial aspects within the world. The influence of the father emerges in William's emphasis on the will in human psychology, his eagerness to punctuate the striving of "the will to believe" with sessions of comforting conviction, his readiness to find "'piecemeal' supernaturalism" in subliminal psychology, his incorporation of idealism into his radical empiricism, and his openness to psychical experience. Without accepting the particulars of Henry James's faith, William James shared with his father a conviction that providential action in the universe, usually understood as the work of transcendental forces, was embedded within the natural world and within humankind.

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