Chapter

Hermann von Helmholtz

M. Gail Hamner

in American Pragmatism

Published in print February 2003 | ISBN: 9780195155471
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780199834266 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/0195155475.003.0003

Series: AAR Reflection and Theory in the Study of Religion Series

 Hermann von Helmholtz

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This chapter and the next deals with the texts of two German thinkers who were widely read by Charles Sanders Peirce and William James – the German psychologists Hermann von Helmholtz and Wilhelm Wundt. They clarify the connections and differences between America and Europe, and specify the connections between science and philosophy in ways that intersect with the Puritan questions of identity, ethics, and politics. The work of von Helmholtz (with which that of Peirce has some parallels) evinces an understanding of science and natural law that was only partially accepted by the pragmatists, their criticism pivoting on a refusal to understand scientific inquiry as being constitutively devoid of purposiveness (final causality). The focus here is on particular concepts employed by both pragmatism and its continental interlocutors before going on (in the last two chapters) to consider how the Americans transformed them. Of particular importance, as far as Helmholtz is concerned, is the concept of causality: first, an analysis is made of Helmholtz's theory of causation and his conviction that the theory reconciles German transcendentalism and British empiricism; and second, it is demonstrated how Helmholtz's ‘physical sign theory’ (Zeichentheorie) places his reflections on causality in a semiotic frame.

Keywords: causality; empiricism; Germany; Hermann von Helmholtz; William James; Charles Sanders Peirce; philosophy; pragmatism; psychology; purposiveness; science; semiotic; transcendentalism; U.S.A; Wilhelm Wundt

Chapter.  8596 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy of Religion

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