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The Varieties of Experience

William James after the Linguistic Turn

Alexis Dianda

ISBN 9780674244276

Publication date: 05/02/2023

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A reclamation of experience as the foremost concept in the work of William James, and a powerful argument for the continuing importance of his philosophy.

How does one deploy experience without succumbing to a foundationalist epistemology or an account of the subject rooted in immediately given objects of consciousness? In the wake of the so-called linguistic turn of the twentieth century, this is a question anyone thinking philosophically about experience must ask.

Alexis Dianda answers through a reading of the pragmatic tradition, culminating in a defense of the role of experience in William James’s thought. Dianda argues that by reconstructing James’s philosophical project, we can locate a model of experience that not only avoids what Wilfrid Sellars called “the myth of the given” but also enriches pragmatism broadly. First, Dianda identifies the motivations for and limitations of linguistic nominalism, insisting that critics of experience focus too narrowly on justification and epistemic practices. Then, by emphasizing how James’s concept of experience stresses the lived, affective, and nondiscursive, the argument holds that a more robust notion of experience is necessary to reflect not just how we know but how we act.

The Varieties of Experience provides a novel reconstruction of the relationship between psychology, moral thought, epistemology, and religion in James’s work, demonstrating its usefulness in tackling issues such as the relevance of perception to knowledge and the possibility of moral change. Against the tide of neopragmatic philosophers such as Richard Rorty and Robert Brandom, who argue that a return to experience must entail appeals to foundationalism or representationalism, Dianda’s intervention rethinks not only the value and role of experience but also the aims and resources of pragmatic philosophy today.


  • This is a brilliant book and a stunning debut. In clear and eminently readable prose, Dianda succeeds in showing the centrality of experience in James’s work and how the existential richness of experience exceeds the rather narrow picture of pragmatism that we associate with Rorty, Brandom, and others. Avoiding the dead ends of classical empiricism and idealism, Dianda is right to suggest that James offers a philosophical vision attuned to the living complexity of the relations between self and world.

    —Simon Critchley, The New School


  • Alexis Dianda is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Xavier University and editor of The Problem with Levinas.

Book Details

  • 288 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press