chapter  4
22 Pages

William James and the Uncertain Universe

WithWilliam J. Leonhirth

Establishing the parentage of communication study in the United States has been an academic exercise for several decades. Various scholars have nominated Charles Horton Cooley, John Dewey, Carl Hovland, Harold Lasswell, Paul Lazarsfeld, Kurt Lewin, Walter Lippmann, George Herbert Mead, Robert Ezra Park, and Wilbur Schramm, among others, for at least a contributing role. The definitions of communication, what constitutes its study, and distinguishing the process of communication research from the academic disciplines whose members conduct such studies all have been at issue. The need for establishing its parentage may result from the relative youth of the field and its efforts to gain greater prestige in academia. Conflicts among its various schools of quantitative, qualitative, critical, and postmodern research also have contributed. Observers have viewed these contentions both as strengths and weaknesses. Their presence, however, also constitutes a reminder of ongoing philosophical debates about the natures of knowledge, perception, and reality. In such debates, the role of William James’ ideas comes to mind.