THE PLURALISM OF WILLIAM JAMES
William James developed a pluralistic view of the world and man, which is undetermined, open-ended, incomplete, and non-unified. I will explore fundamental aspects of James's pluralistic universe and psychology. James must have considered the outer world and inner world to be of a similar structure, so a general understanding of both is helpful. He countered the more common philosophical position of monism expressed by Hegel and traditional theologians, because of the ethical problems in its implied determinism, and turned to a philosophy of pluralism, which was not atomistic but relational. He appears to be pioneering a new position, which accepts some unity but not an all-inclusive unity. Things relate together with other things, but all things are not completely related into a finished unity.
Consciousness is also pluralist, undetermined, and with mixed relations. Man is not the fully unified being he thinks he is, just as God is not, but instead is a plurality of interests, some being connected and some in conflict. James shows himself to be a humanist, respectful of man's power of freedom and creativity, the shaper of the world's future. Consciousness becomes the key factor in this creative determining of the world, and morality itself is seen as relative to psychological interest and need. So, pluralism is an outer and inner reality, where each is relatively unified and relatively disjunctive. James was concerned about the ethical consequences of belief, so his philosophy reflected this pragmatic consideration, as well as being a scientific model. What is most important is that his pluralistic universe is undetermined and unfinished, which places an ethical responsibility upon conscious beings for how the future will unfold and recognizes the immediacy of free will in creative actions.
To begin, James first challenges the monistic universe. The complete monist believes in one ultimate interconnected being and power, which ties everything together into one complete unity. "For the metaphysical monist everything is implicit in or involved in everything else -- there are no gaps or divisions" (Ford 39). There is no division, and by the logic that there is only one great power, or prime mover of things, there cannot really be freedom in the sense that something or someone could contradict this power. In this view of monism we are in a great interconnected web and we cannot get out. We are implicitly forced into the harmony of this unitary web. Everything is as it must be, satisfying the laws or will of the unity, for nothing can be outside of this unity. Therefore, when any one part takes action it is the will of the unity that takes action through it.
Religiously, everything exists within the One God, and in this view evil cannot be a separate force or actuality, since there can be nothing outside of the unity to oppose it. Therefore, evil could only be a construct of the imagination or a relative definition of that which one does not like. God would not see evil, since He is creator to and living within all things, and there can be no evil in opposition to God, since there is nothing outside of God. One would either have to conclude, therefore, either that there is no real evil, but only apparent evil, or that God is partly evil (or enjoys evil), which would mean that the all-inclusive God is not all-good.
The problem of evil has been a difficult one for monists. It would seem to me that to designate the occasional disorder, stupidities and grotesque murdering throughout history as only apparent evil, meaning that it was "meant to be" or "needed to be" and that it all actually had positive consequences for life -- is absurdly stretching the logical distinction between what is good and bad. The implications of this view could lead to an unwarranted acceptance of moral and ecological atrocities. Being a pragmatist, James was truly concerned about the implications of such a belief, and he wanted to force moral responsibility upon the individual, so he rejected any notion that would lead to absolute determinism.
Even in his earliest writings James was very concerned about the question of free will vs. determinism. The monistic view has a deterministic implication, which undoubtably annoyed James because of its ethical problems. Only in an undetermined and unfinished universe can human ethics and responsibility be significant. Basically, James opposes the absolute idealism of a perfect and unchanging "real" world, a unitary system determining each part within it. He challenges the idealism that everything is essentially included in and essentially related to everything else within an absolute unity. He denies the pervading existence of an all-at-once, all-inclusive Being-God. So, he turns to pluralism.
In A Pluralistic Universe James says, "the line of least resistence, then, as it seems to me, both in theology and in philosophy, is to accept, along with the superhuman consciousness [God], the notion that it is not all-embracing, the notion, in other words, that there is a God, but that he is finite, either in power or in knowledge, or both at once" (PU 141). In James's religious pluralism, God is reduced to a relative being in the midst of a greater world of disorder. God may be the greatest of all beings, but not the whole of all beings as in monistic unity, since there is at least some fraction or more of the universe incomplete and disordered from the unity, so "the universe is saved from all the irrationalities incidental to absolutism" (PU 141).
Yet, James did recognize a religious need for believing in some hidden order underlying the apparently accidental world. He says, "The inner need of believing that this world of nature is a sign of something more spiritual and eternal than itself is just as strong and authoritative in those who feel it, as the inner need of uniform laws of causation ever can be in a professional scientific head" (Thayer 205). Also, just because we do not always perceive unity, but as James says we experience more irregular relations or disconnections, does not necessarily mean that there is no overall hidden unity. The limitations of our human perception may not afford us the greater perspective needed to perceive the overall unity or One God inclusive of all things; yet, there is no way to empirically prove such a greater unity, and we often experience disconnections and inharmonies, so James's denial of monistic unity is quite correct from his phenomenological and psychological perspective.
I maintain that a loosely structured, relative monism is still possible within the main of James's concerns, that he could feasibly accept an all-inclusive God without complete determinism, as long as there is "some separation among things, some free play of parts, some real novelty or chance" (Bowers 78). He certainly does accept various degrees of unity in the world, as well as the human impulse to find and create order in the world, but he cannot seem to make a leap of faith into believing that an overall order exists, and this is mainly due to the supposed implication of rigid determinism in that metaphysical view. So, James finds that pluralism solves the problem of evil and determinism found in the philosophy of monism, because "a universe in which there is a plurality of actualities, each with a degree of autonomy, would be a universe in which each actuality would be accountable for how it chooses to act in relation to other actualities" (Ford 54). This pluralism could still be analogous to a loosely connected universe "more like a federal republic than like an empire." Here, there are degrees of self-government and freedom within the whole, but no one reality that dominates everything within it.
James was mainly concerned with the domination of a monistic God determining our lives and world events, and this is why he rejected an all-inclusive God, because he assumed that the all-inclusive God logically meant forced domination. Yet, this logic is not necessarily causal. It presumes the all-inclusive to be all-dominating, much like a rigid dictatorship. There are other ways to conceive of an all-inclusive God or monistic order, without it being completely dominating or deterministic. It is very possible to conceive of an all-inclusive intelligence and organizing power, which does allow varying degrees of freedom within some overall parameters of the total system preservation, more like a corporation of many businesses or a federal republic of many states, each having degrees of autonomy, but all existing within overall guidelines. This is in fact the kind of relative pluralism that James develops, which will be briefly reviewed in a moment.
I could also argue that there very well could be a unity inclusive of all things, that all things are connected in some degree in an overall unity of reality, but that the degree of harmony manifested by each member varies, along with the degree of freedom within the overall unity. Theologically, we could speculate that God allows a certain degree of disorder, disharmony, or evil in the world, not because He is weak or contradicting Himself, but because His overall Order places a high emphasis upon the values of freedom and experimentation. This is an all-inclusive God, Whose love is permissive of some disorder, like the permissive parents, but we could still assume that God's permissiveness has some determined boundaries or that He would never allow us to completely destroy ourselves out of our freedom to act ignorantly. We could also envision God as a less active guiding power, sort of like a liberal teacher who doesn't impose direction, but answers whatever questions the student may ask. This is even analogous to the idea that God helps those who help themselves, or who at least make some effort, so that those who do not would not acquire the benefit of God's guiding, ordering grace.
We could even speculate that God's order and perfection is incomplete now, but coming into fruition in a sort of winding path of playful experimentation. This would be the all-inclusive God in process to Its completion. God could still exist in all things and yet, be in the process of consolidating Himself into a more perfect unity. God could be likened to a seed in the ground. The tree is fully immanent in that seed, but has yet to be actualized. God as a seed could be always here with us, or at the core of all things, but still not have manifested completely as yet. There may still be an underlying unity in the world, even though all is not completely integrated and harmonious. The unity may be in the actual overall purpose, or teleological goal of integration and harmony, of which all things are in process towards.
In this notion the world is not complete, nor perfect, nor a closed determinism, which are just the things that James could not accept. Thus, this unity does not exclude disunity, and one may willingly work toward unifying and diminishing disunity, toward a world of ever-increasing harmony. I think James could agree with this relative monism of God as unity-in-process to completion, but he seemed to prefer a more pluralistic universe, of a non-inclusive God struggling to harmonize the universe, or a non-unified pluralism of many powers, interests, and relations in process towards integration. What is most important, though, is that the universe is open-ended and undetermined, to be added to and further completed by humanity, and in this way James could be viewed as a process philosopher.
An undetermined, unfinished, open world is more consonant with our experience, including religious experience. We do have immediate experiences of introducing novelty in the world, and a world open to novel additions is a world which is meaningful to the moral experiences of freedom, risk and struggle. It is also the best and most useful view for the development of ethical theory, because in this view man helps determine and finish the world, so the questions of good and bad, right and wrong, useful and foolish become paramount in our lives. The heroic individual faces a pluralistic world of chance, conflict, and real risk, a world where no ultimate coherence assures a life of harmony. "In such a melioristic world, the world's salvation is neither inevitable nor impossible; it is only possible --dependent on the proper exercise of human freedom... The human contribution is central for it determines the fate of the world" (Dooley 170, 176). There may be a harmonizing inspiration within us, but this does not insure its determination without our human effort. James dignifies man's role in the world, which shows the humanism in James, and he even agreed that his philosophy could best be named "humanism."
Although James rejects absolute monism, he also does not accept a purely atomistic pluralism. There are alternatives between the extreme positions of absolute monism and pluralistic atomism, and James is somewhere in the between. There are parts of monism that James probably agreed with, or believed in, and parts that he did not, being the [incomplete] pluralist that he was. Although James is considered a pluralist, believing in a multiplicity of ultimate actualities, vs. the monistic view of one original and existing actuality, believed by Hegel and Royce, "any interpretation of James's thought that overlooks his attraction to and his partial acceptance of metaphysical monism is too simplistic" (Ford 39).
He certainly is not asking us to believe in an atomistic universe with nothing in relationship or working in harmony. He would well agree that there is some harmony and guiding intelligence in the world, but not all-inclusive or absolute. There is harmony and unity, but there is also disharmony and pluralism, or in other words, not all is harmonious or unified into one, perfectly integrated whole. James says, "there are in reality infinitely more things unadapted to each other in this world then there are things adapted; infinitely more things with irregular relations than with regular relations between them. But we look for the regular kind of things exclusively, and ingeniously discover and preserve it in our memory" (VRE 36). This is a flat rebuttal to the idealism of a completely interconnected and perfect world. Yet, it does not mean that there are no connections. The world is both one and many --"one just so far as its parts hang together by any definite connexion," and "many just so far as a definite connexion fails to obtain" (Bowers 76).
So James develops his own theory of a non-atomistic pluralistic universe. For James, the world is not atomistic, meaning that it is not composed of independent substances unrelated to each other. Neither is the world systematically monistic, meaning that it is not a completely integrated system of relations. Instead, the world is a pluralism of relations. There are relations between certain things, but not others. It is not all related or functioning together for some definable purpose, such as the parts of the body are all related and working together for the life of the whole body. James does not conclude that the world is like one whole integrated body. Of course, the world is one round, physical entity, and nothing is completely isolated from any relationship, but this does not necessarily mean that all things are related or working together toward a common goal or harmony, and empirically this is the way the world is actually evidenced. What we find in the world is not just chaos and accident, but we do not find complete order either. We find some order and some disorder. We find everything in some kind of relationship, but not all of those relationships harmonize together, and very often there is opposition between parts and a fight whereby one is destroyed. This is a universe of relations, and "each part of the world is in some ways connected, in some other ways not connected with its other parts, and the ways can be discriminated" (PU 40). Each partially interconnects with others, and each also exists within greater fields of relations. He seems to be exploring an ecological systems theory of relationships, without conceding to the absolute idealism of a fully integrated world. The world is characterized by processes and relations that can be expressed metaphysically in terms of ever-changing fields within fields. The world or reality could be described as "a processive-relational continuim-field bringing forth a plurality of sub-fields, each with a unique focus but dependent upon and overlapping with other fields" (Fontinell 202). Also, each field exists within a greater field or world-view. Here, James is beginning to develop a kind of systems theory or a theory of relations.
James views the man who cares for all humanity, a greater field of life than his remote self, "who considers the most distant ends" (VRE 176), rather than the mere immediate desires of the temporal stream of self, to be greater in intelligence and in morality. This is not a spirit/body dualism, where one sacrifices the body for greater spiritual ends, but it is a sacrifice of the limiting selfishness and myopic attention for the greater physical and mental concerns of the greater field of time and space. It becomes a heroic effort to expand one's attention out of the limiting and partial view of the self; thus, emerging into a greater world-field of consciousness.
This theory of fields interpenetrating with, but semi-autonomous to other fields, can be applied to both the ecological world and the human consciousness. Human consciousness, or let us say knowledge, is neither a completely integrated unity, nor is it a pluralism of completely separate pieces. There are, as it were, clusters or fields of related knowledge and interests, which may partially blend in with other fields, so that "as a field the boundary of the self is open, indefinite and continually shifting such that other fields are continually leaking in and leaking out" (Fontinell 154). The fields are not all interconnected into one harmony, just as we often psychologically experience contradictory desires and incompatable notions of reality, depending on the situation.
James continually refers to human experience in describing the pluralistic universe and its pluralism of contending meanings and selves. The world of our experience is divided into `subworlds' or `multiverses', "each with its own separate and special style of existence." The self is not a unified whole, but a diversity of many `selves'. This is not to imply that there could never be a unity, but it speaks to the fact that there usually isn't, or at least if there is it isn't always apparent. This pluralistic model of human consciousness and experience is becoming more and more relevant in our modern world, especially in American society. We live in such a complex world of competing and related ideas, and we each have so many possibilities of interests and occupations to choose from that many of us experience an anxiety of human choice in this midst of plural ideas and possibilities.
Everyone I know experiences some kind of internal conflict, or some kind of conflict of desires, which reveals the pluralism of the self. Some people may be more unified than others, and some may even have large gaps or splits in their psychological makeup which may produce various psychic disorders. So, the order and disorder experienced by human beings varies, and James is well aware of this phenomena of self pluralism. The very purpose of consciousness may actually be the unification of its pluralism, or we could at least concede that a human being could intentionally work at bringing the various inharmonious fields within consciousness into a greater unity of purpose and relationship. This seems to be the purpose of most philosophers, and I think James would agree.
James does not see the individual as one unity. Instead, there are various selves, or "me"s, each with its own function in relation to the world. Some of these selves are more related to each other than others. Some are cut off from others completely, and these may bicker and compete, or they might not even meet each other due to their unique roles in different circumstances. The self that one experiences as "me" in the moment is called by James the empirical self; although the empirical self could also refer to the sum total of "all that he can call his, not only his body and his psyche powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and his children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works" (PP 1:291). This self is always in relationship, and he distinguishes this empirical self into material, social and spiritual aspects. The material is all that has physical form, the social is one's image related to others, and the spiritual is all those inner faculties and the will that one can call one's own.
A fundamental problem arises due to the pluralism and rivalry of the various selves and their values. There is no one self of which all the aspects are derived from. Instead, there is a plurality of selves, even within the three aspects, and these have no inherent unity, since many were derived from separate circumstances and from different motivations. So, one is faced with the painful challenge of either unifying at least some of this plurality or eliminating some of the conflicting selves. We know this in our experience as having a plurality of different desires, goals, and reasons for things, and we are left with the inevitable choice of deciding which of the selves we are to be and where we should go with our life.
The inner competition or cooperation between various interests and desires is fundamental to Jamesian psychology. At the heart of all action is come kind of interest, according to James. His concept of will and behavior is connected to the passional nature and subjective interest of the person. All action ultimately proceeds out of one's interests or desires. Let us say for example that we are in bed in the morning and we would get up but it is very cold so we don't. A part of us wants to get up, but another part of us does not. What inhibits the action is the conflict inside of two opposing desires, one to get up and the other to avoid the pain of being cold. From this state of internal conflict we would either forget the potential pain, that is to fall out of that stream of awareness of the cold and thus get up out of bed, or we might deliberately force ourself out of bed, that is to overpower the desire to avoid the pain, or we would stay in bed because of the indecision or because the desire to stay in bed overpowers the desire to get up.
Because we are one body, we cannot live forever in opposing states of conflict and indecision. We have to make a decision or we have to resolve the conflict, and this is the essential predicament of human beings. The key seems to be with attention, because when our attention or consciousness is involved in just one of the thoughts to the exclusion of the others, then it will begin to act upon this. So, two possibilities exist. Either the attention is left to passively drift into one or the other truths, of which action proceeds, or the attention is deliberately focused on one of the choices for that consequential action.
James does want to integrate and unify experience, even though he acknowledges and accepts the seemingly inevitable plurality of experience. He sees man and God struggling for order and harmony within the chaos of a pluralistic universe. The world is essentially open-ended and undetermined, as well as in a continual process of change and development, which is not only the way most of us really experience it, but it also is useful in promoting a sense of responsibility. This open-endedness and indeterminacy is important to James, because it means that there is always something valuable to do. It recognizes the significance of the human being in the creative evolution of society and the world in general.
At every moment we can find ourselves at a significant place in shaping the world. The world is incomplete and we complete it, so how it is completed is up for us to decide. James does not believe that we are mere puppets or actors playing out a fixed role and living within predetermined conditions. The future is open-ended, and how it unfolds will largely depend upon us, upon how we perceive and believe life to be, upon what interests and moral aims we have, and upon what actions we take. This triadic effect of human consciousness in the world is quite profound.
According to James, we are organically related to the world, which is open to creative change, and the human consciousness plays a vital part in this change. We often think that reality is complete and our minds simply reflect what is out there, but James offers a different view, saying that reality is "far less for the purpose of reappearing unaltered in our knowledge, than for the very purpose of stimulating our minds to such additions as shall enhance the universe's total value" (Thayer 166). We are not mere automatums in the world. We are involved in an immediate interaction with the world. In fact, for James, the human is the center of all things, for he is the grand interpreter of the world and has the inherent power to act decisively and to effectively change the world.
No adequate view of the world can neglect the difference that human beings make, not only in the perception of that "objective" world, but also in our contribution to its creation. Not only are human beings and our activities part of the world, but because of our presence "some of the realities that he declares true are created by his being there" (Dooley 177). This implies that our truths about "objective" reality are in part true because we believe them to be. James might also say that some of reality becomes true, because of our beliefs or the way we perceive things. Man's philosophy, according to James, "is itself an intimate part of the universe, and it may be a part momentous enough to give a different turn to what the other parts signify" (PU 35).
Consciousness becomes the key mediator between imposition of the environment and action upon it, and the contents and structure of this consciousness will determine both how the input is received and how the action is produced. The human element in our thinking is so unavoidable that our conceptions "characterize us more than they characterize the thing" (PP 2:334). He defined perception -- "while part of what we perceive comes through our senses from the object before us, another part (and it may be the larger part) always comes out of our own head" (PP 2:103). "Although the contribution of the mind is always present, it is not a contribution by addition, but a contribution by selective attention to what was presented" (Dooley 46). Interests or moral ideals fix our attention and thus our experience. So, personal selection, which is based upon one's interests and practical needs, is integral to the world we experience, and it does not merely add to experience, but molds it. What we experience has been selected from the environment according to interest and organized in the mind according to interests and practical aims, then we act according to the same. Because consciousness is selective, it is efficacious in relation to the world.
James considers the selectivity of consciousness to be its most distinctive feature" (Dooley 40), and this feature of consciousness is the central concept for his interactionist theory of man. The reflex-arc theory of cognition, which was already widely accepted, explained the interaction of the human organism in relation to the external environment. The reflex arc is a triadic process of sensation, cognition, and action, wherein none of the three parts can occur independently from the other two. Outside stimuli enters through the senses, some of which is attended to and some of which is ignored. This sensible experience is cognitively organized in ways that fit into previously conditioned categories. Then, on the basis of this cognition the individual acts in certain ways.
James recognized the use of this model, but rather than emphasize the causal efficacy of the stimuli, as previous behavioral psychologists had done, he placed the selectivity and freedom of consciousness at the center, showing how our interests determine the nature of the stimuli for the purpose of action. According to James, the cognitive process and resulting behavior continually involves the teleology of our interests and aims, which he often terms our passional nature. Interests play a role at every stage: determining which sensations will be attended to; influencing which categories to be used in the interpretation and arrangement; and finally, shaping the means of action. These interests are specifically personal interests, and this is what dignifies the human individual in James's psychology. Consciousness, and the interests within it, are at the mediating point of our interaction with the world, both as input and output. We sense the world by way of interests and we act upon the world by way of interests. This describes the individual/world interaction with an emphasis on freedom and choice.
Granted, our interests and choices may often be biologically and socially conditioned, and the majority of people in a given culture probably share the same essential interests, but still, there is this possibility for individually unique and newly intended choices. We do have similar interpretations of reality and "common sense categories" for our experiences, which James sometimes explains physiologically and sometimes socially as implicit in the structure of language. If we were completely free to interpret reality without the common social givens of cognitive conditioning, then each might know the world in very different ways, and in Jamesian terms there would be separate realities. We see this at least to some degree in the anthropologic study of different cultures, and in the modern world there is ever more fragmentation and plurality of beliefs. So, James brings our attention to the subjective phenomena and places it as the central key to understanding the cognitive process and behavior in the world.
In his understanding of psychological man, James places a humanistic emphasis upon freedom and choice, but he does not romanticize the power of free will. He recognizes the powerful role of biological and social conditioning, and "sees only a relatively small place for the role of free will in the total drama of life, but the difference it makes makes all the difference in the world" (Browning 132). Strong individuals make the difference in the world, coinciding with Max Weber. His understanding of the individual in the history of social and environmental change is informed by his evolutionary vision. We are not just products of our environment, but participate in varying degrees in the alteration or evolution of this environment. Thus, humans are at the center of change in the world. What happens in the realm of the human psyche has existential effects upon the process of life of which that psyche is involved. The human is not merely passively conditioned by the environment, but can actively and creatively respond to its challenges. In fact, the moral human being is forced to respond to the challenges of life, in the realization that he or she has a direct responsibility in determining the future of this incomplete world.
In forcing responsibility upon the individual, he necessarily had to also reject any notion of outside authority concerning moral concerns. The decision-making in moral matters cannot rest upon any one religious or political state, and he even went so far as to reject any notion of an "absolute objective" perspective from which morality is based. James's position is to place "full moral authority within the individual himself.. If an individual considers something [good], then that makes it good...The ground of value is in the individual's demands, and whatever fulfills those demands cannot be immoral" (Suckiel 51). This levelizes morality into a sort of pluralistic relativism, which must have caused some controversy, because in this radical view the definition of morality rests upon each person's specific interests or practical aim. Moral value depends entirely upon the demands of the solitary thinker, and the satisfaction of that demand is sufficient for an action being good.
James takes the valuation of morality out of the hands of other authorities, such as God, the Church, or even social law, and he also is rejecting any conception of morality as a priori, or existing independent of human judgement. This is of course a radical person-centered morality. Goodness and wrongness are fully grounded in the experiential world of each individual. Here, there is no absolutely objective and singular view of morality. It is a pluralistic morality, and its most implicit values are the centrality, the freedom and responsibility of the human being.
I can praise James for his radical emphasis on the individual's authority in moral matters, and his concrete antidote to abstract moral absolutisms, but there are a few major problems with this purely subjective morality. The first problem is with its implications for social chaos, because if each were to justify their actions according to mere personal interests, then there would cease to be stable social norms for behavior. And secondly, he seems to neglect moral potentials, which are not of immediate interest. In other words, how can I morally justify cutting down a cherry tree before considering all the consequences both to me and to others? I may be stupidly or forgetfully neglecting the full range of my real interest, so it seems ludicrous to weigh moral decisions upon my personal interests, which may easily be superficial or even harmful to me, unless I were to take time and effort in looking deeper into the matter of choice.
My position would be to accept a plural morality, without an ultimate objective or authoritative base, centered on the passional interests of human beings; but, this freedom or right to individually prescribed morality must also recognize its limitations in the light of greater potential morality. Morality may indeed be rooted in individual interests, but these interests vary hierarchically in their inclusiveness and depth with the rest of consciousness and the rest of society. I think that James would agree with me, because I don't really believe that he intends to completely relativize morality.
Morality does have its root in human interest, and in fact it needs to based upon real individual needs, instead of authoritative abstractions, but then we need to consider the actual concrete interests of the greater community and ecology of which we live, because if one were to fulfill their own interest to the detrimental harm of others, then this could not be considered moral in any reasonable definition of the word.
In conclusion, James was attempting to view the world and man from a pluralistic and relational perspective. Throughout his philosophy of the universe and of psychology we can recognize certain common aspects, which are indeterminacy, open-endedness, incompleteness, and non-unified plurality, as well as the beginnings of a systems theory of relations. The universe also needs to be open-ended and incomplete, if humans are to be creatively significant. The problems of monism, with its all-inclusive determinacy, the irreconciliation with evil, and the implied lack of moral responsibility, seem to have spurred his thinking into a pluralistic theology and universal view.
He turned to a philosophy of pluralism, which maintained that there was no inherent unity in the world and that God is not all-inclusive, nor all-controlling. I have suggested some alternatives of universal unity without an all-controlling power. Whether or not James would have accepted some of these, or if he even considered them, is open to question.
His views on psychology were insightful and revolutionary. The pluralistic consciousness is fragmented into varying interests, though many are obviously related. But there is no completely unified self in Jamesian psychology, though the will may attempt a greater degree of unity. Also, the human consciousness is not merely passive to the world or reflective of "reality." What is real is partly due to the way we see it, and our understanding is but a partial selection from the environment. The selectivity of consciousness, and the resulting actions from this, make the world reflect more of what we are. We become shapers of morality itself and of the future, and we help complete the indeterminate, open-ended world.
James sees the outer world and the inner world from an experiential pragmatism. The outer world is unified and meaningful to the extent of our inner experience of it, and the inner world is unified through an introspection of personal values and interests. The whole of James's philosophy must be seen as relational in its inner and outer aspects. The inner relates to and affects the outer, and vice versa. Everything acquires its meaning and reality in its function within a greater context or relational field. This seems to be a forerunner to systems theory and process philosophy. Certainly, the idea of a pluralistic universe with its varied diversity is relevant to our contemporary world. How we relate to and fit into the greater field of the social and physical environment is a profoundly spiritual and ethical question, and if we can recognize the world as undetermined and open-ended, then maybe we can see better how to help complete it. How we perceive the world will affect our actions in it, and if we see the task of integration as our responsibility, not yet completed, then possibly our creativity will result in a more harmonious world.