Explosive Metaphors and Vagueness: Seigfried’s Contribution to James Scholarship and its Significance Beyond the Field of Philosophy

Explosive Metaphors and Vagueness: Seigfried’s Contribution to James Scholarship and its Significance Beyond the Field of Philosophy

David Perley

     When I initially began my journey into James’s world, there were two secondary sources in particular that both provided hints and helped solidify my understanding of his thought.1 These are William Gavin’s William James and the Reinstatement of the Vague, and Charlene Haddock Seigfried’s William James’s Radical Reconstruction of Philosophy. Prior to my more detailed investigation of James’s works I made connections between the analytic understanding of vagueness in language and the linguistic techniques of mystics that proactively engaged the issues that emerge when language attempts to express, define, or delineate the ineffable.2 When I turned my attention toward the works of James alongside Seigfried and Gavin’s interpretations of him, I was pleasantly surprised to see him grappling with vagueness, although not as a sterilized feature of language that many analytic philosophers believe should be extricated from language in the interests of philosophical clarity, but rather as an essential, necessary component of life. Seigfried’s work emphasizes vagueness as a pivotal aspect of James’s reconstruction of philosophy and as a result of this interpretive framework I was urged to connect vagueness with James’s allusions to a mystical method in philosophy that he suggested was an advantageous approach that enables philosophy to surpass the capabilities of scientific vision. 1
     Seigfried’s work emphasizes the important role of metaphor in James’s reconstruction of philosophy. Incorporating metaphor into philosophical method enables the philosopher to integrate the vague and inarticulate into an intellectual realm typically known to avoid such margins, but metaphor does much more than this.3 Seigfried suggests that it is through metaphor that James is able to turn our attention toward the novel and unfamiliar, and it is this precise skill that he places at the heart of philosophy. Seigfried’s work not only suggests why metaphor is so important, but it also adeptly shows us how James uses it. I key in on Seigfried’s reference to explosions and James’s metaphor of language as detonation as a radical instance of how metaphor is used both from the inner perspective to widen the philosopher’s perceptual access to the world of experience as well as from the outer, social perspective to capture our attention to pay heed to the marginalized and unacknowledged—though vital—aspects of life.4 I offer James’s recourse to metaphors of the mystical as an additional, radical instance of the detonative effect of James’s philosophical discourse. Philosophical discourse must incorporate the social experiences of individuals in order to retrieve it from the realm of excessive abstraction. Theory impacts on how we experience the world, but experience also impacts on how theorizing actually takes place in a social and historical context. Seigfried’s work clearly demonstrates the fruits of studying James for contemporary philosophy, but what might be even more important is that these fruits apply beyond the disciplines expressed by the term “philosophy”; James’s call for an injection of life into the intellectual world is needed in any academic context that runs the risk of excessively extricating the theoretical from the social world of experience. Seigfried’s method of presenting James, because embedded in his wider context of life and thought, is a clear example of how a historical, contextualized inclusion of broader horizons helps philosophy get things right.
     In Some Problems of Philosophy James explains that the flux of life and experience “can never be superseded, we must carry it with us to the bitter end of our cognitive business, keeping it in the midst of the translation even when the latter proves illuminating, and falling back on it alone when the translation gives out.”5 Language must be used in tandem with the particulars of the perceptual flux. James’s talk of translation sets up a problematic dichotomy between a real world and our translations of it, because our “translations” are part and parcel of said world, rather than something distinct and cut off from it. While James uses language that perpetuates such a traditional dichotomy, one of the things that Seigfried’s work suggests is that while still trapped in such problematic dichotomies, James was working to overcome such a tension. So perhaps we can make James’s statement less problematic and say that this is the need to integrate vagueness into the business of philosophy.
     Maintaining an eye on the flux of life while in the midst of philosophizing includes the cultivation of a self-critical awareness of our temperament, attitudes, moods, and preconceived ways of interpreting the world. Hence we acknowledge that passions and other vague components of experience are “built into” our rational understanding of the world. If both concepts and the flux of experience contribute to the constitution of the world we live in, then what we precisely become aware of with self-critical awareness are the ways in which we shape and understand the world.6 4
    Similarly, James uses problematic language when he speaks of philosophy as providing outlines for understanding reality.

There are outlines and outlines, outlines of buildings that are fat, conceived in the cube by their planner, and outlines of buildings invented flat on paper, with the aid of ruler and compass. These remain skinny and emaciated even when set up in stone and mortar, and the outline already suggests the result. An outline itself is meagre, truly, but it does not necessarily suggest a meagre thing. It is the essential meagreness of what is suggested by the usual rationalistic philosophies that moves empiricists to their gesture of rejection.7

    Given the contemporary, Davidsonian discussion that problematizes language of outlines and schemes and a reality that they correspond to, one might think that this was not the best place to show that James is suggesting a reconstructed view of philosophy. Nevertheless, both here and in the discussion of translation there is something important in what James says that goes beyond the problem of his choice of words. What is important is not simply that all outlines are meagre, or that translations fail to adequately capture the fullness of life, but that it is all a matter of what is suggested by those meagre outlines that makes all the difference in the world. In both instances James has to rub up against terminology that is not reflective of the core idea that reality comes to us as constituted by what has already been suggested by our previous, meagre outlines.8 6
    Any arbitrary starting point in the philosophical articulation of the world of experience already includes the selections that the philosopher has attended to and extricated from the flux of life. We come to the philosophical table with “caked prejudices,” so talking about the need to integrate vagueness is not enough if such talk falls on deaf ears. Rather, James saw the task of philosophy to be the shaking up of traditional philosophical viewpoints. Philosophical ears must be “deafened to the importance of talk,” talk meaning primarily abstract intellectualizations that move away from life and its complexities to safe and sanitized philosophical bubbles.9 The paradox here is that James had to talk in order to do this! Therefore, as Seigfried does so well to show, James must shock his listeners and readers out of their philosophical complacency, and he employs powerful metaphors that serve as detonations that radically inject novelty into traditional discussions, urging us to re-examine what is familiar by acknowledging what is strange. 7
    James’s reconstruction of philosophy involves incorporating creative and poetic aspects of language that provide philosophy with better tools for accessing the world of living experience, tools that are blunted by a scientific emphasis on pure observation and the false sense of absolute objectivity that comes with it. Metaphor is a primary mode of expression for philosophy, both because it is metaphorical language that can best articulate and describe the sometimes vague and muddled world of experience, but also because of the evocative, performative and pragmatic social effect metaphorical language can have on the listener or reader. Seigfried is adamant that even when James holds onto the possibility of a realist basis for his philosophy, something that he cannot consistently and ultimately hold, he is fully aware that our access to whatever may be considered to be the real is always constrained by purpose and intention. William James’s Radical Reconstruction of Philosophy suggests that James possesses an understanding of metaphor that acknowledges the process of selectively attending to some aspects of the world of experience while neglecting others. Acknowledging these limitations, metaphorical, creative language is nevertheless able to provide wider access to the world of experience because it invokes more than the merely apparent. James chose very specific metaphors that minimized the limitations of our access to the world of experience. Ultimately for James, the right words can steer the conversation in the right direction, reveal even while concealing, and even more importantly than this, our choice of words has a transformative effect on how we subsequently view the world, participate in the world, and affect the nature of what the “world” itself is.10 By steering the conversation in the right direction Seigfried has allowed James’s own ability to change the world through the way we talk about it to become one of the pivotal components of his philosophical project.
   Motivating James’s philosophy is a desire to access, capture and describe the “full facts.” In his radical empiricism, any object or concrete fact is never isolated, but is always surrounded by a fringe of relations and always exists in its contextual relations with other facts, not to mention that selected interests already shape the “fact.” These relations and fringes exist just as do the “facts” which they surround and interpenetrate. One way of getting at the full fact is by using dramatic metaphors. As a multifaceted explanation, metaphorical language discloses more of the “much-at-oneness of experience.”11 If some structures do better at presenting a wider range of phenomena than others, then it is these structures (metaphors really) that must be first adequately created so that the project gets off in the right direction, even if we are always starting in medias res. 9
   Since James is aware of how important these structures are, even for simply observing the world, he is in fact more concerned with “the process by which such productions come about” rather than simply interested in the structures themselves.12 Our articulations are not only important for sketching an authentic picture of the world, but they also affect how we subsequently access and appropriate the world. There is therefore a necessity for articulation in order for experience to have any sort of impact on the world; without articulating experiences, they are silenced and self-marginalized. However, I suppose part of the problem here is that while these experiences might be articulated, they might not be heard. Whether by gradual hints and suggestions, or through shock, the point of philosophical articulation is not only description but also the creation of the possibility that novel topics become the focus of attention for individuals that have up until now kept such topics at the margins of their attention. Philosophy in this context is literally the attempt to get someone’s attention—to get people’s heads out of the sand. 10
    James utilized metaphorical language like planted detonations in the midst of timeworn and familiar fields, evoking responses and unlocking the overlooked through the ripple effect caused by these “explosive forces.” The ability to inject novelty into the way we see the world is, as Seigfried says, one of the skills that James believed ought to be incorporated into philosophy. Philosophy should engender the “habit of always seeing an alternative, of not taking the usual for granted, of making conventionalities fluid again, of imagining foreign states of mind.”13 Philosophy should strive to see “the familiar as if it were strange, and the strange as if it were familiar� It rouses us from our native ‘dogmatic slumber’ and breaks up our caked prejudices.”14 Therefore James’s own philosophical contribution is not something separate from his metaphorical style.15 Because philosophers are comfortable and at home in their caked prejudices, what is needed is “the explosive force of the unexpected use of language.”16 In this context Seigfried quotes from the Principles of Psychology:

But if an unusual foreign word be introduced, if the grammar trip, or if a term from an incongruous vocabulary suddenly appear, such as ‘rat-trap’ or ‘plumber’s bill’ in a philosophical discourse, the sentence detonates, as it were, we receive a shock from the incongruity, and the drowsy assent is gone.17

    When we use radical detonations within language, these create wider opportunities for acknowledgement. Drowsy assent is removed, meaning perhaps that through these detonations we are made aware of alternatives that tend to fall outside of our field of selected interests. These are radical instances meant to provoke and evoke responses.18 This is one of the clearest indications that for James, philosophy must have an effect; its role is not mere simplification, clarification, but rather transformation at the level of lived experience. When we use metaphors, it is not that we are changing the meaning of the words—their meaning has to remain consistent precisely in order for the metaphor to have the evocative effect the Jamesian philosopher is looking for.19 So it is not what the words mean that provides the detonative effect, but rather how those words are used.20 12
    When we use radical detonations within language, these create wider opportunities for acknowledgement. Drowsy assent is removed, meaning perhaps that through these detonations we are made aware of alternatives that tend to fall outside of our field of selected interests. These are radical instances meant to provoke and evoke responses.18 This is one of the clearest indications that for James, philosophy must have an effect; its role is not mere simplification, clarification, but rather transformation at the level of lived experience. When we use metaphors, it is not that we are changing the meaning of the words—their meaning has to remain consistent precisely in order for the metaphor to have the evocative effect the Jamesian philosopher is looking for.19 So it is not what the words mean that provides the detonative effect, but rather how those words are used.20 13
    An additional way of understanding James’s motivations highlights the importance of creating opportunities for experiencing novelty. Novelty is explicitly linked with the philosophical return to life, not only in the sense of urging a turn toward novelty in experiences, but also the novelty inherent in every fresh attempt at philosophical articulation. Intriguingly it is the ability to bring the “integrally new” to the philosophical table that is most explicitly linked up with James’s reconstructed view of the mystical, based on both the insights of his mystical friend Benjamin Paul Blood and, at the time, the emerging, unique voice of the philosophy of Henri Bergson.21 In Some Problems of Philosophy he speculates that there are mystical ways in which the philosopher may extend his or her vision to an “even a wider perceptual panorama than that usually open to the scientific mind.”22 It is precisely Seigfried’s set up of James’s explosive use of metaphor, and his own execution of it that corroborates the claim that James meant his references to a mystical method for philosophy to be precisely just such a detonation, most of all because this statement occurs in Some Problems of Philosophy, James’s self-proclaimed attempt to get serious about philosophy. James appropriates the term and reconstructs it for his own purposes, certainly grabbing the attention of more scientific or positivistic thinkers who might have paused to consider the thought of their rigorous methodologies in some way being surpassed by a perspective that was typically associated with pathological states of mind. In another instance late in James’s life, in one of his last published articles “A Pluralistic Mystic,”23 he writes:

“Ever not quite!”—this seems to wring the very last panting word out of rationalistic philosophy’s mouth. It is fit to be pluralism’s heraldic device. There is no complete generalization, no total point of view, no all-pervasive unity, but everywhere some residual resistance to verbalization, formulation, discursification, some genius of reality that escapes from the pressure of the logical finger, that says “hands off,” and claims its privacy, and means to be left to its own life. In every moment of immediate experience is somewhat absolutely original and novel. “We are the first that ever burst into this silent sea.” Philosophy must pass from words, that reproduce but ancient elements, to life itself, that gives the integrally new. The ‘inexplicable,’ the ‘mystery,’ as what the intellect, with its claim to reason out reality, thinks that it is duty bound to resolve, and the resolution of which Blood’s revelation would eliminate from the sphere of our duties, remains; but it remains as something to be met and dealt with by faculties more akin to our activities and heroisms and willingnesses, than to our logical powers�. Let my last word, then, speaking in the name of intellectual philosophy, be his word: “There is no conclusion. What has concluded, that we might conclude in regard to it? There are no fortunes to be told, and there is no advice to be given—Farewell!”24

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    Captured here is a succinct description of the movement of articulation from knowing its limitations in attempts to articulate the vague and inarticulate, to speaking of a possible intimacy between words and life, to a heroic though integrative attitude toward the possibility of articulation. For philosophy to face the “integrally new” it must “pass from words to life itself.” This does seem to suggest some sense of mystical abatement within mystery, but I want to distinguish between the ecstasy of mysticism resulting from an experience of oneness with the universe and the idea of a philosophical mysticism that articulates in the midst of mystery.25 15
    Metaphor and not merely silence is precisely one way of attempting to pass from words to life: to pass in this way means to cease production of ultimate philosophical conclusions ungrounded in the never-repeating disclosures available within lived experience. The integrally new as new is ineffable, vague, mysterious, and unknown because it is always yet-to-be-experienced. James’s avoidance of absolute conclusions, his attempts to combine philosophical positions (because each on its own is necessarily skewed and limited) is precisely a philosophy constituted by a mystical openness in the way Benjamin Paul Blood speaks of it, and not a mysticism that achieves an experience of the absolute oneness of being. Mysticism here has more to do with the rejection of an all-encompassing system itself, rather than absorption of philosophical tensions in a moment of mystical ecstasy. The perpetuation of mystery is analogous to the ever-elusive vagueness of ontological footholds and the perceptual flux. Philosophy, mystery, mysticism, and vagueness are now inextricably interwoven. Seigfried believes this might be an unfortunate outcome of James’s philosophy, because “this deliberate refusal to precisely predetermine the area of investigation to avoid premature closure too often prevents James from coming to any closure at all.”26 However, this conclusion is dependent on whether the “deliberate refusal” is philosophical, i.e., whether James’s “ever not quite” provides any closure or whether it provides the motivation to proceed in spite of the lack of closure.27 16
    If the goal of philosophy is either to articulate the concrete world of experiences as authentically as possible or to create metaphorical tools that help broaden our access to said world of experience, in either case the historical, concrete situation is always front and centre. Thus philosophy itself must be grounded in the wider historical context of the themes, ideas, texts, philosophers, and events of interest to any given thinker. Attention to historical detail feeds into James’s desire to provide as thorough, wide, and accurate an observation as possible. The emphasis on the historical component of philosophy is partly what I believe separates off and demonstrates the sophistication of some American philosophy today. Philosophy as articulated by philosophers like Seigfried has a fully integrated historical, concrete component, and it is in this sense that such a thinker as Seigfried stands out from the crowd of theorizers. Jennifer G. Jesse’s review of Seigfried’s Pragmatism and Feminism suggests that, while a work of major significance, it nevertheless offers too much information, information that essentially “buries” Seigfried’s argument and spends too much time “providing too many qualifications.”28 These are intriguing comments not only because they deflate Seigfried’s attempt to exhaustively account for patriarchal, misogynistic, and sexist presuppositions in Classical American Philosophy in order to create a space for dialogue between pragmatism and feminism, but also because they miss the point of Seigfried’s philosophical style in general.29 It is interesting, namely, that a scholar who emphasizes the need for concrete, historical analysis to be a part of philosophy, what Seigfried calls in the context of James a “natural history methodology,” should be chastised for doing the precise thing that she says is radically required to retrieve philosophy from the irrelevancies of excessive abstraction. If this is the case, Seigfried should not be accused of ever burying her argument with too many qualifications, or be criticized for being too thorough, as qualifications do nothing less than provide the necessary social context that in turn brings along with it the appropriate context of accurate meanings and interpretations. As James thought, a wide view trumps a narrow one. 17
    James serves as a constant reminder of intellectualism and the dangers of overlooking how theory necessarily has clear effects on the world in which we live, and vice versa. This is nowhere clearer than from my own perspective as a scholar in the study of religion—where the linguistic turn, the decline of the popularity of the phenomenology of religion, and zealous attempts to make the discipline scientifically respectable have resulted in discussions that excessively abstract a topic that requires clear ties to the social world in which people experience religion. Chronic abstract discussions would benefit more from an emphasis on collecting the best possible set of facts or data, forcing a return to focussing on the world of theory plus experience rather than the black hole that some theoretical discussions have become.30 18
    In the study of religion, James is caricatured as the champion of a transcendent, unseen divine power.31 However much people reproduce his sympathetic discussions of unseen realities, ultimately James was concerned with what finite human beings could intimately relate to.32 Mystery for James is what is overlooked, right in front of us, or directly under foot. Thus we have, in his early review of Blood’s “The Anaesthetic Revelation” of 1874, James suggesting that the “secret of Being, in short, is not in the dark immensity beyond knowledge, but at home, this side, beneath the feet, and overlooked by knowledge.”33 Because we are comfortable with what is familiar, it is not easy to recognize or acknowledge that which falls outside of our repertoire of selected interests. 19
    James’s modesty when denying his ability to have mystical experiences is likewise echoed in his modest refusal to claim poetic or linguistic expertise. In a letter to Miss Lazarus (a poet) in August 1882, James talks of the “power of playing with thought and language” as the “divinest of gifts.” Here is James with incredibly evocative prose in the midst of self-deprecation:

I am myself a prosaic wretch, and find myself reading little poetry, especially little that is not lyric, but I must say that when I do enjoy it I enjoy it very much. To you gifted ones who can float and soar and circle through the sky of expression so freely, our slow hobbling on terra firma must sometimes be a matter of impatience. I think the power of playing with thought and language that such as you possess is the divinest of gifts. You should not be too much professional artists at it, I mean too exclusively bound to it,—it ought to be the overflowing of a life rich in other ways.34

   Charlene Haddock Seigfried invites her readers into the world of James’s philosophy that overflows with a “life rich in other ways,” but the invitation is not merely as passive spectators; the invitation involves the participation in and continuation of work on Classical American Philosophy, especially insofar as it has a bearing on contemporary concerns. Like James’s unfinished philosophical arch, what I truly admire is how Seigfried’s work is intentionally left open for others to join in. This suggests that the composition of a book such as William James’s Radical Reconstruction of Philosophy is a communal event.35 This is theoretically justified in all academic endeavours because “knowledge is developed interactively among communities of inquirers and given conditions.”36 21
   If philosophy itself is defined as the “habit of always seeing an alternative,” then philosophical vision is itself the starting point for the acknowledgement and recognition of marginalized views. In James’s view, the philosophical mind must breathe diversity, and reflect how all minds are always attending to certain particulars while simultaneously omitting others. “For James this perspectival character of our perceptions enhances rather than distorts our understanding of reality and therefore it should be encouraged in philosophical reflection, not rejected as a merely subjective distortion of presumptively unbiased analysis.”37 This enhancement only occurs if we pay attention to the alternatives, and hence the “challenge for philosophy today is to open itself up to the dissenting voices that are not being heard.”38 If philosophy for James is about being heard and getting people’s attention, then I think Seigfried has successfully caught our attention and likewise shown the validity of her own claim that the study of philosophy should go outside of typically prescribed bounds. From my perspective as a scholar of religion, her insightful interpretation of James not only caught my attention, but what is suggested by her work has created a far-reaching ripple effect into my broader concerns with the study of religious diversity and tolerance. Nevertheless there is a sense in which Seigfried’s work still needs to be heard and acknowledged within the discipline of philosophy, where her insights are perhaps most required, but the extension of such work beyond philosophy should be commended, demonstrating that she herself practices what she preaches. 22
University of Toronto


1 In a recent email exchange with Charlene Seigfried, where she was replying to questions about her own intellectual biography in relation to James’s philosophy, she explained that she was attracted to “writers who give only hints, instead of completely worked out systems,” and it is in this sense that her own work provided the initial hints that motivated my developing work on James’s philosophy.

2 Such a preparatory background was appropriate as a preliminary to studying James because I gravitated toward an understanding of ineffability as it relates to vague and elusive features of individuals and entities within existence in general, rather than ineffability related to mystical experiences or the divine. See, e.g., David Perley, “Vagueness: An Additional Nuance in the Interpretation of Ibn ‘Arabi’s Mystical Language,” American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences, 22/4 (2005): 57-83.

3 This of course refers to the well-known expression that is part of Gavin’s title, the “reinstatement of the vague,” that occurs in The Principles of Psychology. James extends the phrase in Psychology: A Briefer Course to a “reinstatement of the vague and inarticulate,” suggesting at the very least that these themes are inextricably connected.

4 Seigfried has already pursued this in the context of the recovery of feminist connections with Classical American Philosophy in Pragmatism and Feminism: Reweaving the Social Fabric (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1996).

5 William James, Some Problems of Philosophy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1979), 45.

6 As Seigfried quotes Dewey in her “Has Passion a Place in Philosophy?”: “[P]hilosophy is not mere passion but a passion that would exhibit itself as a reasonable persuasion.” See “Has Passion a Place in Philosophy?” in Hugh McCann and Robert Audi, Eds., APA Centennial volume, 2003,  Journal of Philosophical Research (2003), 51. The Dewey quote occurs in “Philosophy and Democracy” in The Middle Works, Vol. 11. (Carbondale, Ill: Southern Illinois University Press, 1982), 46.

7 William James, Pragmatism (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1975 [1907]), 25.

8 James is appropriating traditional ways of talking about the tension between theory and experience, while simultaneously proposing that theory impacts on what is selected out of the world of experience and experience feeds into our choices of theoretical formations.

9 William James, A Pluralistic Universe. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1977 [1909], 290.

10 This is definitely related to Seigfried’s discussion in Pragmatism and Feminism of Gavin’s idea of a re-covery of material and a re-covering. Charlene Haddock Seigfried, Pragmatism and Feminism: Reweaving the Social Fabric (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 42.

11 Charlene Haddock Seigfried, William James’s Radical Reconstruction of Philosophy (Albany: SUNY Press, 1990), 210.

12 Ibid., 164.

13 William James, Essays in Philosophy (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 4.

14 James, Some Problems, 11.

15 Seigfried, William James’s Radical Reconstruction, 214.

16 Ibid., 214.

17 William James, The Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1981 [1890]), 253.

18 I cannot help but be reminded here of the radical language expressed in the oracular fervour of an itinerant preacher like John Wesley, whose very words could at times trigger an immediate conversion experience. For example, in the sermon “The Almost Christian,” Wesley intends to shock his audience by progressively building what is presumed to be the emblematic image of the prototypical Christian, but then reveals that this is merely an “almost Christian,” because God has yet to authentically penetrate to the core of their being.

19 While this is part of Donald Davidson’s view of the meaning of metaphor, I first encountered it in a different context in a discussion of mystical language. Michael Sells explains that “it is only upon a foundation of conventional logic and semantics that the apophatic text, at the critical moment, can perform (rather than assert) a referential openness—by fusing the various antecedents of the pronoun, or the perfect and imperfect tenses, or by transforming the spatial and temporal structures of language at the level of article, pronoun, and preposition.” Michael Sells, Mystical Languages of Unsaying (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1994), 8.

20 Furthermore, how one reacts to the words is unpredictable, because each reader/listener brings their own context of selections and omissions to the table, so whatever novelty is experienced only arises within the context of already made selections.

21 James, Essays in Philosophy, 190.

22James, Some Problems of Philosophy, 54.

23 As his letter to Blood alludes to at the time of the article’s publication (1910), James is aware his time is almost up.

About the time you will receive this, you will also be surprised by receiving the Hibbert Journal for July, with an article signed by me written mainly by yourself. Tired of waiting for your final synthetic pronunciamento, and fearing that I might be cut off ere it came, I took time by the forelock, and at the risk of making ducks and drakes of your thought, I resolved to save at any rate some of your rhetoric, and the result is what you see. Forgive! forgive! forgive!

Ralph Barton Perry, The Thought and Character of William James, Vol. II, (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1935), 660. James dies shortly after publishing “A Pluralistic Mystic,” a clear attempt to suggest philosophy must broaden its horizons to incorporate marginalized characters such as the amateur thinker Blood.

24 James, Essays in Philosophy, 190.

25 This nuance of James’s understanding of mysticism differs from Seigfried’s association of mysticism with the lack of any need for ultimate justification that connects mysticism with the “highest rationality.” Seigfried, William James’s Radical Reconstruction, 31.

26 Seigfried, William James’s Radical Reconstruction, 150.

27 Our ability to accept the mystical component of James’s philosophy is not nearly as difficult as some philosophers might think once it is understood that we are talking about a philosophical mysticism that has humanized divinity (or divinized humanity) along the lines of Dewey’s discussions of religion in A Common Faith. This is a mysticism that does not evoke transcendent ultimate realities but rather vague, elusive immanent ones, realities fused with our interests, temperaments, desires, and all our other human frailties. I believe in this context the mystical has less to do with the phenomenon of mysticism described at the extreme end of his spectrum of mystical states than it does with those lesser mystical affinities that James’s describes in The Varieties of Religious Experience, insofar as extreme mysticism takes as object a transcendent, absolute reality.

28 Jennifer G. Jesse, review of Pragmatism and Feminism: Reweaving the Social Fabric, in American Journal of Theology and Philosophy. 18:1 (Ja 1997), 96-97.

29 “Only when James’s own interpretive horizon of patriarchal values is recognized and rejected are we free to appropriate the subversive feminine that is also part of his text.” Charlene Haddock Seigfried, Pragmatism and Feminism: Reweaving the Social Fabric. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1996, 141.

30 Nancy Frankenberry’s discussions of the importance of a pragmatic understanding of language for the study of religion (that emphasizes context) lose a grasp of the historical context of early pragmatic ideas, leaving the cutting-edge discussion lacking precisely the sort of breadth that Seigfried discusses in the context of James’s philosophy. See Nancy Frankenberry, Ed., Radical Interpretation in Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Frankenberry and Hans H. Penner, Eds., Language, Truth, and Religious Belief (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1999). Theoretical discussions need more concrete, historical “teeth,” whether they are in philosophical circles or other disciplines. See also the excellent discussion in William E. Arnal, “Black Holes, Theory and the Study of Religion.” Studies in Religion/Sciences Religieuses. 30:2 (2001): 209-214.

31 I am thinking here explicitly of Ellen Kappy Suckiel, Heaven’s Champion: William James’s Philosophy of Religion (Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1996); William G. Barnard, Exploring Unseen Worlds: William James and the Philosophy of Mysticism (Albany: SUNY Press, 1997); Wayne Proudfoot, William James and a Science of Religions: Reexperiencing the Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004).

32 The work of Barnard and Proudfoot explicitly refers to the ‘unseen’ many times more than James himself does in Varieties (in which he uses the expression ‘unseen world’ or ‘unseen reality’ approximately fifteen times throughout the entire book), perhaps demonstrating how distortions and omissions arise based on a particular skewed perspective.

33 William James, Essays, Comments, and Reviews, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), 288.

34William James, The Correspondence of William James, Vol. 5, Ignas K. Skrupskelis and Elizabeth Berkeley, eds., (Charlottesville and London: University Press of Virginia, 1997), 233.

35 She invites her readers to follow up on the samples of metaphors she brings in for the chapter in William James’s Radical Reconstruction of Philosophy on metaphor. In the context of Pragmatism and Feminism she sees it as more of an “invitation than a systematic treatise.” Seigfried, Pragmatism and Feminism, 4.

36 Ibid., 4.

37 Ibid., 114.

38 Charlene Seigfried, “Has Passion a Place in Philosophy?” in Hugh McCann and Robert Audi, Eds., APA Centennial volume, 2003,  Journal of Philosophical Research (2003), 51.

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