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Reenvisioning James’s 1897 Ingersoll Lecture on Human Immortality: a Radical Empiricist Defense of Irrationality

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By framing the question of immortality as a problem of irrationality, this paper demonstrates how James’s methodological orientation to his 1897 Ingersoll lecture seeks to liberate the epistemic minority from the dogmatic and monistic tendencies of the late nineteenth century scientific and philosophical communities. Against the secondary literature that is primarily driven by internal interpretations, i.e. readings that predominantly focus on either the metaphysical or biographical themes, I sketch out a radical empiricist reading that historically and thematically highlights the ways in which James’s motives are externally oriented toward safeguarding the social and psychological suffering of those individuals that maintain a practical right to believe in the afterlife.


Ermine Algaier    
Harvard Divinity School
United States


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