Science and Religion in the Era of William James

Volume 1, Eclipse of Certainty, 1820-1880

By Paul J. Croce

Science and Religion in the Era of William James

390 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 14 illus.

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4506-6
    Published: June 1995

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In this cultural biography, Paul Croce investigates the contexts surrounding the early intellectual development of American philosopher William James (1842-1910). Croce places the young James at the center of key scientific and religious debates in American intellectual life between the 1820s and 1870s. Early in the nineteenth century, most Americans maintained their scientific and religious beliefs with certainty. Well before the end of the century, however, science and religion had parted company, and, despite the endurance of religious convictions and widespread confidence in science, professionals in both fields expressed belief in terms of hypotheses and probabilities rather than absolutes. Croce highlights the essential issues debated during this shift by investigating the education of James and the circle of intellectuals of which he was part. In particular, the implicit probabilism of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection, especially as interpreted by Charles Sanders Peirce's recognition of the fallibility of knowledge, set the stage for James's reconstruction of belief based on uncertainty. Croce is writing a second volume dealing with the intellectual development of the mature William James.

About the Author

Paul J. Croce is professor and chair of American studies at Stetson University.
For more information about Paul J. Croce, visit the Author Page.


“Croce’s work is significant and valuable. Well written and highly readable, it constitutes a fine model of cultural biography, provides fresh insight into the relation between science and religion in nineteenth-century America, and offers a new and potentially fruitful interpretation of Victorian intellectual life.”--Journal of Religious History

“An illuminating look at the intellectual career of William James.”--Isis

"Croce's book is a splendid account of the impact of the second scientific revolution, 'the shock of Darwin,' on the thought of William James. This carefully documented intellectual history provides all of the important positive influences on James as well as the lofty idealisms that had to be abandoned in the wake of Darwin."--Choice

"[Croce] has written a fascinating account of the conflicts and turmoil of the American nineteenth century, alerting the reader to seminal scenes of contradictions in the shaping of the overall image of this decisive phase in the making of American cultural history."--Journal of American History

"Croce's book is a lively and nuanced contextualization of William James, the decline of certainty, and the rise of probabilistic thinking that will be of great interest to readers in a variety of disciplines."--George Cotkin, author of William James, Public Philosopher

"Croce's perceptive and subtle exploration of William James's intellectual coming of age deepens our understanding not only of James but also of his intellectual circle and indeed of the post-Darwinian universe of ideas. A beautifully crafted and richly rewarding book."--Paul Boyer, University of Wisconsin