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Record Type: Review   ID: 197

William James on Consciousness Beyond the Margin

Taylor, Eugene

 This is undoubtedly a scholarly work by a James scholar who has devoted much time to the study of James’s unpublished works, letters, and memorabilia as well as various editions of his published works. Taylor has always emphasized James’s work on "exceptional states" and "consciousness beyond the margin," but in recent years he has set his eyes on a much broader frame of reference, which is outlined in detail in this book. He reviews James’s work, especially since he wrote his Principles of Psychology, which, as Taylor points out, was a positivistic text except for places near the close where James began to turn away from the then accepted positivistic approach and to develop his own approach of pragmatism, pluralism, and radical empiricism. The latter is extremely important for exceptional human experience, for it includes the data of direct (i.e., subjective) experience. Taylor sees this approach as the foundation of an attempt to "redefine psychology anew in terms of an evolving person-centered discipline in vital touch as much with philosophy and the humanities as with physics and the natural sciences" (p. 5). Whereas as it is traditionally assumed in psychology that James abandoned psychology after he wrote the Principles, Taylor shows here that on the contrary, he developed a whole new approach to psychology coequal to the Wundtian approach. I recognize here my own attempts to break away from positivist parapsychology to a study of direct exceptional human experience, calling on philosophy, the social sciences, and humanities as well as behavioral, humanistic, and transpersonal psychology. I never cease to marvel at the discovery I continually make: whenever I think I’m breaking new ground James was there before me! Taylor’s book is marvelous and exciting as he fills in the lineaments of James’s approach in ways perhaps James himself could not do because Taylor has the vision of hindsight and a century of Jamesian scholarship to call upon. Taylor’s is an ever louder voice pointing out aspects of James’s work that others have ignored or classed under rubrics that do not do justice to the kernel of James’s ideas. This book does not short-change James. Rather, it is the result of a lifetime of interest invested in James that has resulted in expanding and augmenting James’s view while remaining absolutely true to the core of James’s thinking. Taylor writes for and about James as James would if he were writing today. The text is roughly chronological and tied to James’s life and his developing work and is informed by Jamesian scholarship. After outlining the problem of the "two psychologies," there are chapters on consciousness research at Harvard prior to 1890; on consciousness and the subconscious; then the reality of abnormal states, including parapsychological ones; mystical awakening, which Taylor aptly calls "an epistemology of the ultimate;" the anti-Jamesian movement followed by James’s rejoinder; and his final statement to psychologists. Anyone interested in the psychology of exceptional human experience should treat him/herself to a reading of this book. At the least, read the Preface.
Publisher Information:Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1996. 215p. Annotated bibl: 181-207; Chap. notes: 155-179; Index: 209-215
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