Abstract

Scholars have debated the nature and merit of William James’s “Individualism.” Influential readings maintain that James errantly privileges categories like “interiority” and personal “experience.” Rather than downplaying James’s preferred categories—categories like experience, interiority, and the individual—simply because such categories are shibboleths of the contemporary academy, this article takes up two of James’s most “private” categories (“self,” “despair”) in order to better understand the complexity of Jamesian individualism. Acknowledging James’s unflagging individualism and individualism’s place in his philosophical and ethical system, this article maintains that James’s personal and private concepts not only promote—but are prerequisite to—public-facing ethics and socially-contingent philosophical inquiry.

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