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Thinking with Feeling: James on Affective States and Philosophizing

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In this paper, I use William James’s essay “The Sentiment of Rationality” to draw attention to two ways in which the philosophical enterprise is founded on affective states. I do this in order to problematize a common narrative about Western philosophy in which philosophers are inheritors of the tradition of Socrates, dedicated to sustained analyses of central features of the human experience such as knowledge, ethics, and logic. A sustained analysis of James’s central argument in “The Sentiment of Rationality” reveals two roles that affective states play in the philosophical enterprise: first, they determine whether or not to engage with philosophical questions in the first place; and second, they are responsible for both indicating the end of philosophical inquiry and ensuring that such an end is never reached. James thus gives us good reason to question the common narrative of philosophy being a hyper-rational endeavour.


Kyle Bromhall    
University of Guelph


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