American Philosophy

William James

Why was James interested in the supernatural?

Some biographers have speculated that James’ interest in spiritualism was the result of his father’s deep interest in Swedenborg. Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) had inspired the formation of the New Jerusalem Church in London in 1788. Swedenborg had combined the scientific thought of René Descartes (1596–1650) and John Locke (1632–1704) into a form of mechanism that was in harmony with the biblical universe as known through revelation. It is not a wide stretch to see similarities in this view and James’ project of applying scientific methods to the supernatural.


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