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On A Reductionist Analysis of William James's Philosophy of Religion

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Abstract:

William James undertook to steer his way between a rationalistic systemthat was not empirical enough and an empirical system so materialistic that it could not account for the value commitments on which it rested. In arguing against both the absolutists (gnostics) and the empiricists (agnostics), he defined a position of pluralistic moralism that seemed equally distant from both, leaving himself vulnerable to the criticism that he had rescued morality from scientism only by reducing religion to morals. Such criticism, however, ignores distinctions James made between religion and theology and between monistic theology and dualistic theology. When these distinctions are taken into account, it becomes evident that James can be criticized for reducing religion to morality only from the point of view of either absolute monism or religious humanism and that radical empiricism not only embraces a significant number ofnonmoral religious experiences but also leaves open the possibility of belief in the particular historical God of traditional Christianity.

Keywords: William James; absolutism; monism; pragmatism; reductionism; relationality

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/0384-9694.00056

Publication date: September 1, 2000

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