William James psychology and ontology of continuity

Abstract : This thesis addresses the issue of the continuity of consciousness in William James, considering also its possible actualization. In particular, this work aims at outlining critically the various theoretical perspectives that influenced James’s philosophical discourse. On the wave of the Darwinian theory of evolution, James’s reflections originate in the field of late 19th century physiological psychology where he develops more and more intensely the exigency of a renewed epistemology and a new metaphysical framework for gathering the most interesting scientific theories and discoveries about the human mind. The analysis of the theme of continuity allows us to capture, from the historical and the theoretical point of view, the importance of James’s gradual translation of psychological experimental observations of the continuity of thought into an ontological perspective according to which continuity constitutes a feature of reality. Indeed, such an analysis clarifies James's position within his own historical context, as well as highlighting the most original outcomes of his work. The aspect of continuity, although mentioned by James’ scholars, has not been properly analyzed to date. This is firstly due to the great attention that interpreters have commonly paid to James’s individualist attitude, hence to the tychistic or variant features of reality. Secondly, it is important to consider that the main interpretative stream of pragmatism narrowed the comparison between James and Charles S. Peirce into a paradigmatic polarization, so that James was mainly considered as the philosopher of nominalism and individuality, while Peirce was labeled as the realist in search of a mathematical continuum.But James was immediately intrigued by the contradictory synthetic unity of mental states that he could draw from his description of the continuity of the states of consciousness, in so far as they preserved both real continuity and real divisibility. The vague aspect of experience was not fully reproducible in conceptual terms, and in logical terms it resulted in a contradiction. James’s elaboration of this problematic issue should be considered within the shift of paradigms that was taking place in the first half of the 20th century. Such an epochal change affected James’s elaboration, particularly through the theoretical and methodological advancements that were made in the fields of physiology and biological sciences throughout the 19th century.
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Michela Bella. William James psychology and ontology of continuity. Philosophy. Ecole normale supérieure de lyon - ENS LYON, 2015. English. ⟨NNT : 2015ENSL1006⟩. ⟨tel-01203158⟩

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