Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Louis Charland


William James’ theory of emotion has had a profound impact within philosophy and psychology over the last 130 years. While his counterintuitive James-Lange theory has been widely criticized, it has also had its supporters over the years, including recently. In part one, I argue that critics and advocates alike have misinterpreted James due to a neglect of his overarching framework as developed in The Principles of Psychology. The James-Lange theory remains silent on a number of philosophical questions, including the relationship between emotion and consciousness and the nature of an emotional feeling. By considering James’ views on these and other matters, I hope to show that his comprehensive theory of emotion is far different than traditionally conceived.

In part two, I consider James’ later treatment of emotion as developed in The Will to Believe and The Varieties of Religious Experience. While it is generally thought that James employs a cognitive theory of emotion in these later works, I argue that his treatment of emotion is continuous with his earlier theory. Nevertheless, James does expand his conception of emotion in Varieties with his discussion of ‘feelings of reality’ and ‘transformational emotions’. I attempt to draw out the important implications that these two kinds of emotions have for the relationship between emotion and belief. In the final chapter, I turn my attention to The Will to Believe. I contend that the many misinterpretations of this short essay are rooted in a misunderstanding of what James means by ‘our passional nature’.