Recent literary theory has questioned the way we look at a text as the product of an individual “author.” But for William James—who was, like Emerson, a thoroughly nineteenth-century mind-any utterance, even the most complicated philosophical system, was at bottom the expression of the personality of the author. The history of philosophy, James believed, was in essence the “clash of human temperaments,” and temperament seems to gravitate to either the “idealistic” or what James denned as the “materialistic” pole:
Idealism will be chosen by a man of one emotional constitution, materialism by another.… [I]dealism gives to the nature of things such kinship with our personal selves. Our own thoughts are what we are most at home with, what we are least afraid of. To say then that the universe is essentially thought, is to say that I myself, potentially at least, am all. There is no radically alien corner, but an all-prevading intimacy. … That element in reality which every strong man of common-sense willingly feels there because it calls forth powers that he owns-the rough, harsh, sea-wave, north-wind element, the denier of persons, the democratizer-is banished because it jars too much on the desire for communication. Now, it is the very enjoyment of this element that throws many men upon the materialistic or agnostic hypothesis, as a polemic reaction against the contrary extreme. They sicken at a life wholly constituted of intimacy. There is an overpowering desire at moments to escape personality, to revel in the action of forces that have no respect for our ego, to let the tides flow, even though they flow over us. The strife of these two kinds of mental temper will, I think, always be seen in philosophy. Some men will keep insisting on the reason, the atonement, that lies in the heart of things, and that we can act with; others, on the capacity of brute fact that we must react against.