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7 - Thoughts and Feelings: Children and William James Have It Right!

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 May 2011

Michael Schleifer
Affiliation:
Université du Québec, Montréal
Victoria Talwar
Affiliation:
McGill University, Montréal
Paul L. Harris
Affiliation:
Harvard University, Massachusetts
Michael Schleifer
Affiliation:
Université du Québec, Montréal
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Summary

The “Thought” which we have relied upon in our account is not the brain, closely as it seems connected with it.

William James, Principles of Psychology, p. 346

I do not fully understand how we come to our unshakeable belief that thinking exists as a special kind of immaterial process alongside of the material processes of the world.

William James, Principles of Psychology, p. 570

As we have seen (see Chapters 1 and 2 by Harris and Astuti in this volume), children readily accept both the supernatural and the biological conceptions of death. This is because children are not “materialists.” Their experiences have led them to their own “theory” of mind that is incompatible with the idea that physical matter is the only or fundamental reality. Children believe that mental events exist, are real, and are different from physical or material ones. In this chapter, I shall argue that children have it right.

One hundred years ago, psychologist-philosopher William James (1842–1910) defended the same nonmaterialist view as is held by children. As we have seen (Chapter 6 in this volume), James maintained that it was reasonable to accept beliefs (including religious ones) even where the evidence was not sufficient. James also provided “evidence and argument” (Myers, 1981, p. xxii) for the nonmaterialist position.

Type
Chapter
Information
Children's Understanding of Death
From Biological to Religious Conceptions
, pp. 133 - 155
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2011

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