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Conjunctions and/or Disjunctions: Radical Empiricism in the History of Philosophy

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William James challenged the traditions of British Empiricism (Hume) on one hand and German Idealism (Kant and Hegel) on the other. James’ “Radical Empiricism” is a via media (“middle road”) between these divergent positions. His central points of contention are the ontological status of relationships and the correct analysis of experience. British Empiricism leaves us with a world of separate, particular facts, based on atomic sense impressions. Idealists, on the other hand, claim that all worldly phenomena are conjoined by one rational principle. According to James’ account, neither side recognizes that both conjunctive and disjunctive relations are integral to experience. Furthermore, James’ critique proved to influence A. N. Whitehead’s philosophy of experience and orientation toward Hume and Kant. This essay situates James’ philosophy in this polemical and historical context.


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