More than a century after his death, William James (1842–1910) remains perhaps the most influential and most revered American philosopher. He was and still is a decidedly liberal hero, and one with a popular touch, who explicitly rejected esoteric writing and spoke the truth as he saw it loud and clear to as many people as his voice could reach. Although he was anything but a showman, his lectures to his students at Harvard, self-improvers at Chautauqua, and gathered intellectual eminences at Oxford and Edinburgh were triumphs that made him admired and even beloved.

Most celebrated as the proponent of pragmatism—the Aaron to Charles Sanders Peirce’s Moses—he sought to convince both the experts and the multitude that truth resided not in the rigor of disembodied logic but in the palpable good that issued from a line of thought: the reality that an idea represented lay in its being of “practical account.” When you light upon a “rational conception,” he insisted, you feel it in your person: with a satisfying thrill the body endorses the mind’s discovery, as James wrote in The Sentiment of Rationality (1879). Yet even to speak of philosophical discovery may be misleading. Philosophy for James is at least as much a human creation—it might be called a willed revelation—as it is a disinterested discovery about the world; the thinker’s

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