What William James really said

Matthew Ratcliffe

in Feelings of Being

Published on behalf of Oxford University Press

Published in print June 2008 | ISBN: 9780199206469
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191754470 | DOI:

Series: International Perspectives in Philosophy & Psychiatry

What William James really said

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The philosophy of William James features as a central theme throughout these last three chapters. It merits this level of attention for several reasons. First of all, James's theory of emotion is the starting point for many recent philosophical discussions of emotion and feeling. We saw in Chapter 1 that it is usually portrayed as a view that can be summarily dismissed, illustrating in the process the need for an alternative approach that places more emphasis on the cognitive dimensions of emotion. However, as this chapter will show, such portrayals rest upon a serious misinterpretation of James's position. In identifying emotions with feelings of bodily changes, James does not divorce them from world-experience or from thought. Rather, he rejects the cognition–affect distinction altogether. The account he actually offers is similar to my view of existential feeling in (a) recognizing that feelings structure all experience and thought, and (b) emphasizing those feelings that have existential import. James uses the term ‘emotion’ to refer to a wide range of feelings. Hence I begin by using this term, rather than by referring to existential feelings, and I use ‘emotion’ interchangeably with ‘feeling’, given that James takes emotions to be bodily feelings. As the discussion progresses, it will become clear that he is not just interested in ‘standard emotions’. He also recognizes that there are numerous feelings that do not have established names and that some of these operate as existential backgrounds.

Chapter.  9210 words. 

Subjects: Psychiatry

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