Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Lewis & Clark College

William James and the Subtraction Argument

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

William James famously offered what we call the "subtraction argument." He writes,

William James in the 1890s, Notman Studio (photographer) 

William James in the 1890s, Notman Studio (photographer) 

If we fancy some strong emotion, and then try to abstract from our consciousness of it all the feelings of its characteristic bodily symptoms, we find we have nothing left behind, no 'mind-stuff' out of which the emotion can be constituted, and that a cold and neutral state of intellectual perception is all that remains. (1884, 193)

When you consider your emotional life, does James claim seem correct? Why or why?