James Giles studied at the University of British Columbia and the University of Edinburgh, where he received his PhD in philosophy. He is Lecturer in the University of Cambridge, Institute of Continuing Education, and has also held appointments at La Trobe University, Australia, the University of Guam, the University of Edinburgh, Aalborg University, Roskilde University, the University of Copenhagen, and the Hawaii College of Kansai Gaidai University, Japan. Giles is also on the Editorial Board of Personal Relationships, the journal of the International Association for Relationship Research. He is a member of the American Philosophical Association, the American Psychological Association, the British Society for the History of Philosophy and the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy. He has travelled widely through India, China, South-East Asia, and the Pacific.
The overarching purpose of Giles' work is to create a philosophical psychology which explains the core features of the human condition. The unifying theme in his work is the fundamental role that human awareness, in its diverse modes, plays in that condition.
In his first book, A Study in Phenomenalism, Giles criticizes phenomenalists for abandoning empiricism and proposes a new account of perception that describes the material world as existing only from a point of view. Here, the material world flows through sense experience as part of its essential structure. Such awareness is thus nothing more than the material world from a point of view.
In No Self to be Found: The Search for Personal Identity, he explores the idea of a persisting self that lies behind awareness. Giles rejects this notion in its various avatars and proposes a no-self theory that eliminates the notion of personal identity altogether. In doing so he presents his theory of the body as a point of view and his idea of a constructed self-image. Re-interpreting Hume and Buddhism he argues that a person is a series of instances of awareness with no essential connection between them.
In his most recent book, The Nature of Sexual Desire, he shows why sexual desire is a decisive feature of human existence, ties it into a new account of the sexual process, and describes the object of sexual desire as the desire for mutual vulnerability and care of gendered bodies. In doing so he describes the experience of gender, the relation between love and sexual desire, and reveals the origin of sexual desire as an existential need.
Throughout his work he uses a blend of radical empiricism, psychoanalytic enquiry, Buddhist and Taoist philosophy, early Greek thought, existentialism, and phenomenological description, with the examination of human interaction as Gestalt forms.