Date of Award

Spring 2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Harrison, Stanley

Second Advisor

Flaherty, James P.

Third Advisor

Adams, Noel


The dissertation explores William James's conception of the self and his belief in the possibility of immortality. In The Divided Self of William James, James scholar Richard M. Gale argues that James unwittingly advanced two incompatible types of selves: a self-assertive "Promethean" self who maximizes desire-satisfaction and a passive mystic self who favors conceptless, mystical intuition. I argue that Gale's dichotomy of James is incorrect and that James's conception of the self is better understood through his growing belief in the possibility of immortality. I develop this idea by considering relevant aspects of both James's personal and philosophical development. I discuss the personal crises of James's youth as well as the dilemmas he encountered as his philosophy evolved. I argue that one of the keys to understanding James's conception of the self was his long-term involvement with psychic research and his association with the psychic medium Leonora Piper. These interactions compelled James to envision possibilities for the self beyond this life. In the final analysis, I believe my alternative account to Gale results in a more accurate and unified understanding of James, i.e., one in which the possibility of immortality played a central role in James's evolving vision of the self.

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Philosophy Commons