The Thread of Life
Wollheim (Richard)
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    Preface – ix
  1. Living – 1
  2. On the Mind – 33
  3. Iconicity, Imagination, and Desire – 62
  4. Experiential Memory, Introjection, and the Inner World – 97
  5. The Tyranny of the Past – 130
  6. The Examined Life – 162
  7. From Voices to Values: The Growth of the Moral Sense – 197
  8. The Overcoming of the Past and Our Concern for the Future – 226
  9. Cutting the Thread: Death, Madness, and the Loss of Friendship – 257
    Name Index – 285
    Subject Index – 287


The William James Lectures, 1982

"Howarth (J.M.) - Review of Wollheim's 'The Thread of Life'"

Source: Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 37, No. 146, Jan., 1987, pp. 114-116

COMMENT: Review of "Wollheim (Richard) - The Thread of Life".

"Wollheim (Richard) - The Thread of Life: Preface"

Source: Wollheim - The Thread of Life, 1984, Preface

Full Text (Acknowledgements removed)
  1. This book is a considerably revised and greatly enlarged version of the William James lectures in philosophy, which I delivered at Harvard University in the early months of 1982, at the invitation of the Department of Philosophy.
  2. I was deeply honoured by this invitation, which also caused me some trepidation. Trepidation only increased when I realized that, if I was to show my gratitude for the invitation, then I should meet the challenge that it presented by taking as the theme for my lectures whatever engaged my most fundamental interests as a philosopher. The topic of living, or what it is to lead the life of a person, very soon suggested itself, for it would allow me not only to treat of a number of questions with which I was deeply concerned but also to order and combine the answers in a new scheme, which, I was becoming convinced, the subject matter required. I have tried to explain all this in Lecture I, which is where I do most to relate my thinking to contemporary discussion. But, once I had decided on this topic, trepidation only transferred itself from the problem I had been facing to the solution I thought I had found for it. How could I possibly do justice to so enormous a topic? And, particularly, how could I even attempt to do so within the narrow confines of philosophy? Inside the kind of philosophy in which I had been originally instructed, I knew what the answer to this last question would be: I couldn't. But, I wondered, might there not be a way of treating this topic that would be faithful, if not to the letter, then at least to the spirit, of early analytical philosophy?
  3. It was at this point, in trying to discharge one debt which I already owed to the Harvard Department of Philosophy, that I incurred a second. For the thought came to my rescue that much of the remarkable work that had come out of the department in the last thirty years or so, done by those whom I was soon to be privileged to think of as my colleagues, had been achieved through a lifting of the very constraint that was troubling me. They had not worried whether what they were doing would be counted as philosophy by the conventional norms of the day. They had done what they needed to do, they followed the argument where it led, and, if this is no longer so apparent as it once must have been, the reason is that, after the fact, philosophy formed itself, re-formed itself, around their work, so that this work now appears as the centre of the subject. This thought inspired me.
    [… snip …]
  4. Then, in the course of the next eighteen months or so, after I had left Harvard, and as I gradually rewrote the lectures that I had given, I came to realize two things, one of which gave me no pleasure, while the other surprised and intrigued me. The first was how meagre the lectures must have been in their delivered form. The second was that, as they gained in elaboration, as I tried to fill in the argument or to insert related topics, the lectures turned out to be something like a compendium, an anthology, of thoughts I had had over many years of practising philosophy. Ideas that I had once believed in and employed but that had, to all appearance, been forgotten or discarded returned to take up, silently, vociferously, the place in my thinking which, I now had to believe, they had never really vacated. It was a strange experience.
    [… snip …]
  5. I am aware that the present book has many defects, though I might very well disagree with at least the fiercest of my critics about where they are to be found. If I had more years than are at my disposal, I could, perhaps, go some way towards eliminating them. However I am also aware that for the likely readers of this book the value that it will have will be with the project it attempts and the various lines of inquiry that it proposes. It seemed to me, therefore, that any further revision of the text that ran the risk of obscuring the general structure or character of the work without offering any sure gain in precision was to be avoided. In settling for a final state of the text, I had to weigh one capacity or incapacity of mine against another.
  6. Omission is another matter. One way of characterizing in broad terms the ideology of my lectures — I distinguish here between their ideology and their topic — would be to say that they aim at a philosophy of mind, or a philosophical anthropology, of a kind that psychoanalytic theory requires. Hilary Putnam characterized my lectures to me in this way, and, from this point of view, if the philosophy is to be fully adequate to the task, then there are issues on which more, and others on which something, should have been said. These include the formation of the unconscious; the relations between need and desire; pleasure; the essential embodiment of the process of living; sexuality and how it colours the mental states of persons; wit and humour; and the force, or, as Freud called it, the dictatorship, of reason. In a slightly different book it would have been appropriate to have said more about volition and action, more about the emotions, more about the role of language in the development of the person, and something about materialism and something about solipsism. It would have required a change of philosophical persuasion on my part for me to have wanted to discuss the issues of free will, of personal responsibility, or of the metaphysical self, so long, at any rate, as these issues are taken at their face-value. The omission that I regret — though I have no clear idea how I would have made it good, and it is, in turn, an omission bound up with the character of these lectures and the nature of the audience to which they were addressed — is that there is no discussion of philosophical method, of the varieties of necessity, or of several methodological notions which I employ such as analysis, intuition, and essence. By contrast, it is no chance feature of these lectures that in an examination of the person there should be so much space given to abnormality: within our psychology, normality is the name for a tortuously effected and ill-defined achievement. Indeed at one time I thought of expanding Lecture VII, on the psychology of morality, into a study of the other great illusions to which we seem susceptible and against which both philosophy and psychology should recruit themselves: religion, particularly in its monotheistic tendency, the consciousness of race, the justification of war, the rights of parents over the bodies of their children, and male dominance, in which men and women cooperate so effectively.
  7. The Thread of Life departs from current practice in that it does not plot its course by reference to the work of other philosophers, either traditional or contemporary. In the present case there are various reasons for writing in this way, but for opening my eyes, many years ago, to its general virtues I should like to express my gratitude to a philosopher to whom, on almost every other point of method or doctrine, I have found myself opposed: Gilbert Ryle. It is a pleasure to thank someone whose freshness of approach and generosity of temperament made him so exemplary a figure. The philosopher of the tradition to whom my intellectual debt is deepest is David Hume: I hope that this is obvious.
    [… snip …]

"Wollheim (Richard) - Living"

Source: Wollheim - The Thread of Life, 1984, Chapter 1

COMMENT: Annotated photocopy filed in "Various - Papers on Identity Boxes: Vol 19 (W)".

"Wollheim (Richard) - On the Mind"

Source: Wollheim - The Thread of Life, 1984, Chapter 2

"Wollheim (Richard) - Iconicity, Imagination, Introjection, and the Inner World"

Source: Wollheim - The Thread of Life, 1984, Chapter 3

"Wollheim (Richard) - Experiential Memory, Introjection, and the inner World"

Source: Wollheim - The Thread of Life, 1984, Chapter 4

"Wollheim (Richard) - The Tyranny of the Past"

Source: Wollheim - The Thread of Life, 1984, Chapter 5

"Wollheim (Richard) - The Examined Life"

Source: Wollheim - The Thread of Life, 1984, Chapter 6

"Wollheim (Richard) - From Voices to Values: The Growth of the Moral Sense"

Source: Wollheim - The Thread of Life, 1984, Chapter 7

"Wollheim (Richard) - The Overcoming of the Past and Our Concern for the Future"

Source: Wollheim - The Thread of Life, 1984, Chapter 8

"Wollheim (Richard) - Cutting the Thread: Death, Madness, and the Loss of Friendship"

Source: Wollheim - The Thread of Life, 1984, Chapter 9

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