The Role of Temperaments in Philosophical Inquiry: A Pragmatic Approach

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In his Pragmatism lectures, William James famously argued that personal temperaments had an important role to play in philosophical inquiry. Our temperamental natures help determine which philosophical theories we find satisfying and their influence explains persistent disagreement in the history of philosophy. Crucially, James was not just making a descriptive claim about the formation of our philosophical preferences. James was also making a radical normative claim: that temperaments could play a legitimate epistemic role in our philosophical inquiries. This paper aims to evaluate and defend this more radical claim.

This temperamental metaphilosophy has been roundly criticised both in James’ own time and in our own. This paper identifies three key problems for James’ view: (1) that allowing temperaments to play a role in our inquiry would dissolve that inquiry by replacing philosophical disagreements with psychological differences; (2) that introducing temperamental differences into our inquiries would allow entirely arbitrary elements to influence the outcome of those inquiries; and (3) that a view in which our temperamental natures could have an epistemic role would assume an implausible metaphysical picture. Through clarifying the exact nature of temperaments, and what would count as a satisfactory philosophical theory on a pragmatist account, this paper argues that there is an available interpretation of James’ metaphilosophical claims which can provide satisfactory responses to these problems. In addition, this interpretation has the benefit of connecting James’ position with a wider pragmatist tradition in which affective states ground philosophical inquiry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297 - 323
JournalJournal of the History of Philosophy
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2023

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