William James: The Philosophy Of Existentialism

1516 Words7 Pages
Existentialism is a philosophy that emphasizes isolation of the individual existence in a hostile or absurd environment. William James was a famous American philosopher and psychologist, and a leading thinker of the nineteenth century. James was one of the most influential philosophers of the United States, and has been labeled the ‘Father of American psychology’ (Stanford Encyclopedia). James is best known for his Pragmatism theory, introduced in lectures in 1898 and later collected and published in Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking. He combines Socrates 's workings and Francis Bacon 's concept of truth into a philosophy, which he says applies to all humanity, especially religion. James also introduced the idea of…show more content…
William James’ most famous philosophical viewpoint was that freedom of will does indeed exist, but not as the freedom to create an idea. Humans have freedom to act on a number of ideas that have come to us in a way that is beyond our conscious control, and that we have freedom to select which bits of information to focus on, and which bits to reject. A person thus has the ability to direct the stream of consciousness. To James, it is therefore the people who develop this ability are able to exercise more control over their minds, resulting in a deeper sense of empowerment (Contemporary Authors). In The Woman in the Dunes, the man is unable to escape the dune, as he misunderstands his situation. This misunderstanding leads to failed attempts at escape, and in the end, no escape at all. The man tries to put forth logic and reason to defend his release from the dune, but all his efforts are futile. The man believes that he is an active member in the society, and should be released immediately at his command, exclaiming “he was the one who held the fuse to the time bomb (Abe 108). Unknowingly to him, he is powerless in his situation, and it is the villagers who maintain the power. In this meaningless world, there is a lack of laws, reason, and logic, and the man will receive nothing at the hands of the villagers, whether it is pity, sympathy, care, aid, or water. The man uses his freedom of choice in the wrong way. Believing he would be released, the man hoped his escape would…show more content…
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have no idea what they are doing or where they are. This inability to recall significant events, to understand their circumstances, or to exert any kind of meaningful control over their environment, continues throughout the play. Nobody, including the men themselves, seem able to tell Rosencrantz from Guildenstern, commenting on the difficulties of establishing a firm identity in a chaotic world. This further complicates the plight of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, thus leading to their deaths. In the play, the Player is the voice of reason, and practically echoes James’ philosophies. The Player urges the pair to stop talking, to stop equivocating, and to start making choices about their situation. However, they both reject this idea and use their freedom and will more as a destruction, than as an advantage. They hate the way people appear and ask them to do things, but neither Rosencrantz nor Guildenstern try to do anything to exert control over their life and fate. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern stand in for humanity as a whole, and their plight represents the individual’s struggle to derive meaning and significance from a life that will end in the complete nothingness of death. They cannot learn from their mistakes, nor can they conceive of acting in any way other than what they have done before. For this very idea, just like the man in The Woman in the Dunes, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern use their freedom of choice to their disadvantage, and

More about William James: The Philosophy Of Existentialism

Open Document