James Correspondence

Main Content

John Dewey wrote during a time of transition from the long-standing concepts of idealism and materialism.  At the forefront of this movement were American thinkers such as William James and Charles Sanders Peirce. William James (1842-1910) was a medical doctor, psychologist, and philosopher, and is one of the leading figures in American philosophy. Dewey and James respected one another's philosophical work and were friends.  They corresponded with each other on numerous occasions and these letters are often consulted in illustrating the relationship between the works of both philosophers.

Letter 1: 

Dear Professor James:

I wish to thank you for the kindness & frankness with which you wrote me about my Leibniz.  I assure you that your words have anything but 'forwardness' to me and that coming from you they have given me great encouragement.  I know in a good deal of my work that I have shown more zeal than discretion, but I have always believed that for a man to give himself away is one of the best methods for him to get rid of himself--  The public can always protect itself effectually enough-- || I must protest against the imputation of considering you a barbarian--or if I do consider you one then I believe that the chief [ch ov. illeg.] function of civilization is to produce barbarians,--unless civilization means sophistication.  On my side, I presume to think that I am more of a Yankee and less of a "philosopher" than sometimes may appear--

I wrote Messrs. Holt & Co a brief not upon receiving your psychology from them, and should have been glad to express to you personally not only my enjoyment of it, but my great indebtedness to you for such portions of the book as had previously appeared.  The whole book greatly deepened my indebtedness. I am not going to burden you with my reflections or criticisms, but I cannot ^suppress^ [illeg.] my own secret longing that you had at least worked out the suggestion you throw out on Page 304 of vol I.  If I understand at all what Hegel is driving at, that is a much better statement of the real core of Hegel than what you criticize later on as Hegelianism.  Take out your "postulated" 'matter' & 'thinker,' let 'matter' (i.e. the physical world) be the organization of the content of sciousness up to a certain point, & the thinker be a still further unified organization [not a unify-ing organ as per Green] and that is good enough Hegel for me.  And if this point of view had been worked out, would you have needed any 'special' activity of attention, or any 'special' act of will? || The fundamental fact would then be the tendency towards a maximum content of sciousness, and within this growing organization of sciousness effort &c could find their place.  At the risk, after all, of burdening you, it seems to me that on page 369 (I) you virtually fall into the meshes of the "psychological fallacy" (Let me say that I think the discovery & express formulation of this alone would have marked any book as 'epoch-making')  I surrender Green to your tender mercies, but the unity of Hegel's self (& what Caird is driving it) is not a unity in the stream as such, but of the function of this stream--the unity of the world ^(content)^ which it bears or reports--  It may seem strange to call this unity sSelf, but ^while^ Kant undoubtedly tried to make an agent out of this (and Green follows him,) But Hegel's agent ^(or Self)^ is simply the universe doing business on its own account.  But I must forbear.  But Hegels seems to me intensely modern in whis spirit, whatever his garb, and I don't like to see ^him^ dressed up as Scholasticus Redivivus--although [al ov. illeg.] of course his friends, the professed Hegelians, are mainly responsible for that.

I hope you won't regret your letter when you find that it emboldened me to send you a copy of my Ethics as well as to write the above.

Mr. Delabarre emphasized matters somewhat when he said he had a call here.  Our present instructor, Mr Tufts, used to know him and wrote him a personal letter which was supposed to have no official character at all.  From the tone of Mr. Delabarre's reply, I judged that he didn't care for a place here any way, as he wanted to study longer.  The work will not be specially heavy next year, the present instructor's work being divided, one taking the text-book work in logic & psychology, the other the work in history of philosophy & physiol. psychology.  I am anxious to develop the latter branch here--  I have || written to Mr. Mead about the latter position, & it was for that I had Mr. Delabarre in mind.  In case there should be any hitch, on either side, with Mead I should be glad if you would let me know if any good man for such a combination comes into your mind--  Thanking you again for your information regarding men, as f well as for your letter.

                                                                                                                              Sincerely yours,
                                                                                                                              John Dewey.

Would it horrify you, if I stated that your theory of emotions (where you seem to me to have completely made out your case) is good Hegelianism?  Although, of course, Hegel gets at it in a very different way.  But according to Hegel a man can't feel his own feelings unless they go around, as it were, through his body.