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The Religious Naturalism of William James: A New Interpretation Through the Lens of Liberal Naturalism

Bunzl, Jacob Herbert (2019) The Religious Naturalism of William James: A New Interpretation Through the Lens of Liberal Naturalism. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (KAR id:81750)

Language: English

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This thesis argues that recent developments in philosophical naturalism mandate a new naturalistic reading of James. To that end, it presents the first comprehensive reading of James through the lens of liberal rather than scientific naturalism. Chapter 1 offers an extensive survey of the varieties of philosophical naturalism that provides the conceptual tools required for the rest the thesis, and allows us to provisionally locate James within the field. Crucially, it establishes the coherence and validity of a radical form of liberal naturalism that rejects 'the causal closure of the physical', and endorses doctrines of strong emergentism and macro-causation. The thesis will argue that it was to this form of naturalism that James was ultimately committed.

Chapter 2 provides a detailed chronological treatment of James's key published works, seeking to understand the development of certain core naturalistic themes over the course of his career. It unearths a nascent doctrine of emergentism in The Principles, a critique of scientificism in The Will to Believe, a psycho-biological account of religious experience in The Varieties, a doctrine of panpsychist identism in Essays in Radical Empiricism, an evolutionary theory of cognition in Pragmatism, and a doctrine of finite theism in A Pluralistic Universe. The underlying aim of chapter 2 is to demonstrate the superficiality of James's endorsement of piecemeal supernaturalism in The Varieties. It shows that he had originally planned to defend a doctrine of 'theistic naturalism' in his second course of Gifford Lectures, and that he only defined himself as a supernaturalist in contradistinction to a particularly austere doctrine of 'mechanical naturalism' that endorses 'the causal closure of the physical'. James, whilst he rejected 'the causal closure of the physical', continued to endorse 'the causal closure of nature'. Through the schema developed in chapter 1, the thesis demonstrates how James can be classified as a radical religious naturalist.

Finally, in chapter 3, the thesis enters a more consciously constructive phase. Building on James's suggestion that his philosophy was "too much like an arch built only on one side", it embarks upon a detailed reconstruction of 'the arch of James's naturalism'. It argues that reconstructed versions of James's doctrines of panpsychism and emergentism, in addition to being coherent and fertile in their own right, serve as the basis for a restoration of his theistic naturalism; the missing keystone of his mature philosophy.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Carrette, Jeremy
Uncontrolled keywords: William James Religious Naturalism Panpsychism Emergentism
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Culture and Languages
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 17 Jun 2020 15:10 UTC
Last Modified: 09 Dec 2022 02:55 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Bunzl, Jacob Herbert.

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