Philosophy Faculty Publications

Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2018

Publication Source

William James Studies


Unlike other scholars who interpret William James’s “The Moral Equivalent of War” in light of the author’s other writings, I read the essay as James’s contribution to conversations being held within the pre-World War One international peace movement. The essay shares the vocabulary, images, and patterns of reasoning widely employed by others in the movement. James’s analysis of violence described a standard frame of mind at that time. Like many of his contemporaries, he assumed that war had contributed to social cohesion and strenuousness in the past, but that this was no longer the case. Like them, he assumed “civilized nations” were moving into a socialist future without war. His specific proposal to enlist young men to fight against nature was not original. Reading James’s essay through this lens demonstrates that it was at best a minor variation on commonly held themes.

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