James, William


Philosopher, Educator, and Author

Through his research and his teaching, the philosopher William James sought to mediate between two concepts of middle-class manhood that developed in U.S. culture from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century. The first concept, rooted in antebellum intellectual, religious, and reform movements such as the Second Great Awakening, transcendentalism, and abolitionism, emphasized moral idealism and the authority of individual conscience. The second concept, which emerged after the Civil War, eschewed this antebellum idealism and defined true manliness in terms of duty, obligation, and a “strenuous life”—understood as a struggle toward masculine physical fitness. James sought to combine the ethical principles that informed antebellum reform movements with the new emphasis on the strenuous life to generate a manly, intellectual individualism.

James's vision of ...

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