web site hit counter Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (LibriVox Audiobook) - Ebooks PDF Online
Hot Best Seller

Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (LibriVox Audiobook)

Availability: Ready to download

'Pragmatism' contains a series of public lectures held by William James in Boston 1906–7. James provides a popularizing outline of his view of philosophical pragmatism while making highly rhetorical and entertaining lashes towards rationalism and other competing schools of thought. James is especially concerned with the pragmatic view of truth. True beliefs should be defin 'Pragmatism' contains a series of public lectures held by William James in Boston 1906–7. James provides a popularizing outline of his view of philosophical pragmatism while making highly rhetorical and entertaining lashes towards rationalism and other competing schools of thought. James is especially concerned with the pragmatic view of truth. True beliefs should be defined as, according to James, beliefs that can successfully assist people in their everday life. This is claimed to not be relativism. That reality exists is argued to be a fact true beyond the human subject. James argues, nevertheless, that people select which parts of reality are made relevant and how they are understood to relate to each other. Charles Sanders Peirce, widely considered to be the founder of pragmatism, eventually chose to separate himself intellectually from James, renaming his own theory to ‘pragmaticism’.


Compare

'Pragmatism' contains a series of public lectures held by William James in Boston 1906–7. James provides a popularizing outline of his view of philosophical pragmatism while making highly rhetorical and entertaining lashes towards rationalism and other competing schools of thought. James is especially concerned with the pragmatic view of truth. True beliefs should be defin 'Pragmatism' contains a series of public lectures held by William James in Boston 1906–7. James provides a popularizing outline of his view of philosophical pragmatism while making highly rhetorical and entertaining lashes towards rationalism and other competing schools of thought. James is especially concerned with the pragmatic view of truth. True beliefs should be defined as, according to James, beliefs that can successfully assist people in their everday life. This is claimed to not be relativism. That reality exists is argued to be a fact true beyond the human subject. James argues, nevertheless, that people select which parts of reality are made relevant and how they are understood to relate to each other. Charles Sanders Peirce, widely considered to be the founder of pragmatism, eventually chose to separate himself intellectually from James, renaming his own theory to ‘pragmaticism’.

30 review for Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (LibriVox Audiobook)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Buck

    Canadians of a certain age may recall a brilliant series of commercials put out by Carlsberg years ago. Aimed at thirty-something men, they cleverly extolled the joys of adulthood. A typical spot showed a horny couple sharing a pre-coital embrace in a motel room. The voiceover narrator explains: “A friend of mine once tried to tell me that the best sex I’d ever have would be with my wife.” Pause. “He was right.” And then the slogan: “Welcome to your Carlsberg years.” (Youtube is pretending not t Canadians of a certain age may recall a brilliant series of commercials put out by Carlsberg years ago. Aimed at thirty-something men, they cleverly extolled the joys of adulthood. A typical spot showed a horny couple sharing a pre-coital embrace in a motel room. The voiceover narrator explains: “A friend of mine once tried to tell me that the best sex I’d ever have would be with my wife.” Pause. “He was right.” And then the slogan: “Welcome to your Carlsberg years.” (Youtube is pretending not to know what commercial I’m talking about, and keeps recommending instead this cruelly hilarious clip of a shitfaced Orson Welles – at once the saddest and funniest thing ever.) Well, I’ve decided that pragmatism is a philosophy for people in their Carlsberg years. It has a sort of adult-contemporary vibe to it. By design, it’s very middle of the road. This sounds like a dig, but it’s really not. The fact is, I kinda like Wilco – and I kinda like William James. Warmed-over Nietzscheanism, a rakish dash of critical theory, a bit of Bataille when you’re feeling frisky: that’s all very well for your twenties, but sooner or later you settle down, buy a Suzuki Swift and start wondering how you’re going to get rid of that tribal tattoo on your arm. Nothing tragic about that. I won’t bore you with a detailed summary of pragmatism—that’s what Wikipedia’s for—but I’d just suggest that, if you’re reading this, you’re most likely, in some corner of your harried soul, a pragmatist already. Pragmatism—of the unofficial, half-assed variety—has become the default mode for most (secular) Westerners. This isn’t James’ doing, exactly. He just gave a local habitation and a name to something that was floating around in the zeitgeist. If you’re interested in pragmatism itself, you should probably just go straight to Richard Rorty for the modern-dress version. The only reason to read James is for the beauty of his prose—and for the particular tang of his humour and sanity. Even when he’s discussing the most dry-as-dust concepts, he can’t help being earthy and vivid: Matter is indeed infinitely and incredibly refined. To any one who has ever looked on the face of a dead child or parent the mere fact that matter could have taken for a time that precious from, ought to make matter sacred ever after...That beloved incarnation was among matter’s possibilities. When you remember that James himself lost a child, you start to realize just how much passion and seriousness went into the man’s writing. Already in the 19th century, there was a joke going around that William James was a novelist disguised as a psychologist, while his brother Henry was a psychologist trying to write novels. At this point in my life, William suddenly seems a lot more interesting and relevant than Henry, but that’s probably just another sign that I’ve entered my Carlsberg years.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dave Schaafsma

    I read this as I have read it before for a grad course I am teaching on Language, Literacy and Democracy. And Pragmatism. This book is a series of lectures James gave more than a hundred years ago to help explain pragmatism as a method, not as just yet another philosophical position. It's a method of approaching truth as against abstract theory. Seeing truth not as Truth and the self as something clear and solid we need to discover but multiple, social, shifting, flexible, continually constructe I read this as I have read it before for a grad course I am teaching on Language, Literacy and Democracy. And Pragmatism. This book is a series of lectures James gave more than a hundred years ago to help explain pragmatism as a method, not as just yet another philosophical position. It's a method of approaching truth as against abstract theory. Seeing truth not as Truth and the self as something clear and solid we need to discover but multiple, social, shifting, flexible, continually constructed in engagement with experience. Which makes it sound like a lot of contemporary postmodern philosophy. Right, the ideas have been around for centuries, nothing new, James says, and these skeptical "show me" ideas continued through the work of contemporary pragmatist practitioners such as Richard Rorty. Anti-"isms," which can be single theoretical explanations of the world, like Marxism, Feminism, anti-racism. Single bullet explanations that are fixed and a-contextual. Grand Theories that claim to explain How the World Works. Bull hockey to that, James says. The central idea here is that the meaning (or truth) of any idea — philosophical, political, social, or otherwise — has validity only in terms of its experiential and practical consequences. In other words, you think this, you believe this. . . so what? What difference does it make in the world? What good is to believe that? James and pragmatism HATE abstractions and the emptiest most ethereal reaches of philosophizing. They're anti-dogma. As one raised to believe in a Calvinist brand of religion, I have some history that leads me to say amen to James and draw closer to anarchy (against a fixed system of rules) than fascism, let's just say. James is also responding to Darwin, who was of course all the rage in the late nineteenth century. Darwin says, among other things, that we are mostly determined by our biology, by genetics. He shows us this true through scientific experiment. And he has a point. But James says nope, anything that claims you are completely determined by any one thing in particular ways is just plain limited. You are changing and always will be. Not fixed by experience but open because of it. James and the pragmatists say that you in part make yourself and your world. A hopeful view, perhaps a little naive, you say, you cynic, but as a teacher, I have to believe in possibilities for learning and life, and James helps me not be so. . . hopeless about the world and its future. He helps, at least. And as someone in academia, I hitting it helps to be less certain than too damned cocksure of oneself. James, the brother of novelist Henry, was one of the great thinkers of his time. He wrote Principles of Psychology to help found that field, he wrote Varieties of Religious Experience to examine people's experience with belief/religion/psychic phenomena, in various cultures. He's a little stuffy and not all of what he cared about then matters to me, but I still like his contribution to thinking about thinking.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    I love reading a book and saying at the end, 'this is fundamentally what I believe; this is generally how I think; this has always been a piece of MY philosophy.' I love reading a book and saying at the end, 'this is fundamentally what I believe; this is generally how I think; this has always been a piece of MY philosophy.'

  4. 4 out of 5

    Xander

    Pragmatism (1907) is William James' attempt to square the circle. It is his answer to the endless philosophical debate between rationalism and empricism. The rationalist claims there is an Absolute Truth, waiting for us to grasp it, while the empiricist claims there is a multitude of truths: all our experiences are truth. Both positions are an answer to the question: what is truth? Now, this debate has been raging ever since the ancient Greeks, and it has seen the invention of innovative and orig Pragmatism (1907) is William James' attempt to square the circle. It is his answer to the endless philosophical debate between rationalism and empricism. The rationalist claims there is an Absolute Truth, waiting for us to grasp it, while the empiricist claims there is a multitude of truths: all our experiences are truth. Both positions are an answer to the question: what is truth? Now, this debate has been raging ever since the ancient Greeks, and it has seen the invention of innovative and original philosophical systems (Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, among others). But it is safe to say the debate hasn't really been settled - and I'd even claim it hasn't progressed, at all. William James tries to concoct a totally new philosophical stance regarding the question 'what is truth?', by manoeuvring between rationalism and empiricism. But in doing so, I'm afraid that James has only brought us further from an answer. James' pragmatism centres around the question: what difference does it make in practice if I grant this idea or fact to be true (or not)? So truth, according to James, is nothing but the practical utility of an idea or fact to the person asking the question. A fact that is useful in practice is true; a fact that isn't useful in practice is false. (Since James takes utility (of an idea or fact) as the criterion with which to distinguish truth from falsehood, James' stance could - or should - rather be called 'epistemological utilitarianism'. This would make more sense, since pragmatism easily leads to confusion.) So what to think of James' pragmatism? The problem for James (and pragmatism in general) is that it isn't really an answer to the original debate, at all. Both empiricists and rationalists are looking for a criterion to distinguish truth from fiction, but both search in different areas: the rationalist will look for metaphysical principles, while the empricist will look for sense experience. Both will not be satisfied with such a childish answer (as James gives them): "you are both right, as long as the statement is useful to you, it is true." In James' view they are both right in their own ways - because their philosopoical stance is useful to them, in practice - and there really is no debate. I am perhaps a bit unfair regarding James' pragmatism, therefore let me use some citations, so you can judge for yourself: "True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate, and verify, false ideas are those that we cannot. That is the practical difference it makes to us to have true ideas; that, therefore, is the meaning of truth, for it is all that truth is known-as." (p. 77) And truth is, according to James, in a sense, agreement. But agreement to what? "Agreement thus turns out to be essentially an affair of leading - leading that is useful because it is into quarters that contain objects that are important. True ideas lead us into useful verbal and conceptual quarters, as well as directly up to useful sensible termini. They lead to consistency, stability, and flowing human intercourse.They lead away from excentricity and isolation, from foiled and barren thinking." (p 83) So to interpret this: truth is using ideas that are conducive to practical daily intercourse between human beings. The higher the ideas used, contribute to this goal, the more true they are. Therefore, utility in human intercourse, is James' "large loose way" (p. 83) of defining agreement (i.e. truth). I cannot really make it more clear than the above statements and interpretations. Pragmatism (at least James' version) judges truth of ideas or facts by the practical utility of the ideas or facts involved, related to our daily lives. James' pragmatism, it is soon realized, would quickly lead to objections. To take just two examples. (1) What about those ideas that we can use to destroy ourselves with? The atom bomb is based on scientific theory; we can destroy humanity with it; hence it doesn't promote 'human intercourse'. Indeed, the untruth of the atomic theory would be (at least in general, from the perspective of mankind as a whole) more conducive to human intercourse, so that would, almost by definition, make the atomic theory false. But the same atomic theory that lets us build a-bombs, lets us build nuclear reactors, which power our societies and give us energy, warmth, etc. This is utility in the flesh. So the theory is true after all? In chapter 5, James seems to get the gist of the above, when he says the following: "Its [our practical control of nature] rate of increase accelerates so that no one can trace the limit; one may even fear that the being of man may be crushed by his own powers, that his fixed nature as an organism may not prove adequate to stand the strain of the ever increasingly tremendous functions, almost divine creative functions, which his intellect will more and more enable him to wield. He may drown in his wealth like a child in a bath-tub, who has turned on the water and cannot turn it off." (p. 72) Although James seems to see the problem, he doesn't realize this is a serious objection to his stance on 'utility as a criterion for truth.' (2) What about the time when there were no human beings around for ideas to have practical utility in human intercourse? Since their existence (as an idea or fact) has no effect on our practical lives, is it true or untrue that dinosaurs existed? etc. etc. (Of course one could argue that our knowledge of the history of our planet is conducive to our daily lives, since it gives us meaning to our lives. Yet there are millions of human beings to claim that 'the existence of dinsoaurs as a fact' stands in the way to their practical lives as devout Christians. And it doesn't really answer the question in what sort of way our life would be different if we had no knowledge whatsoever of dinosaurs.) So what about the book? The book is short (one can read this in an afternoon), fairly readable, and accessible. Yet it uses arcane and outdated language, and is - without prior knowledge - at times hard to grasp for the layman. James has a certain attraction in his style of presentation, yet at times one wonders if he couldn't just cut the academic prose and plainly state what he means (especially since he is adressing a popular audience). Its content isn't all that interesting - it certainly doesn't need 8 chapters to bring the main message across. In sum, I cannot really recommend this book. As a last remark, I'd like to point to James' curious stance on humanism and religion. Since pragmatism judges the truth of statements by their utilitarian practical value, it follows that human beings (partly) create truth. This leads James to conclude (in chapter 7) that humanism and pragmatism go hand in hand. In a sense, pragmatism IS humanism. The same, in general, goes for religion. In chapter 8, James states that religion is fully compatible with pragmatism. I'm not so sure if the average religious believer will agree, though. James' pragmatism goes against dogmatism (i.e. rationalism; the claim that there is absolute Truth) and allows for a plurality of visions regarding truth. Monotheistic religions do make absolute truth claims, though, so I am not sure what James means when he claims "pragmatism can be called religious" (p. 116) while in the same sentence adding the conditional: "if you allow that religion can be pluralistic" (p. 116). So it seems that James' pragmatism tries to answer an important question but fails in its attempt and leaves us only with even more (new) questions and contradictions.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Zakaria Bziker

    I had to read this book to understand the age we're living in. I am not a fan of pragmatism. I think it reduces the philosophical inquiry to selfish pursuits and ties science to short term goals. Pragmatism, to my understanding, has no need for philosophy. “Science tells us what we can know, but what we can know is little, and if we forget how much we cannot know we become insensitive to many things of very great importance.” ― Bertrand Russell I had to read this book to understand the age we're living in. I am not a fan of pragmatism. I think it reduces the philosophical inquiry to selfish pursuits and ties science to short term goals. Pragmatism, to my understanding, has no need for philosophy. “Science tells us what we can know, but what we can know is little, and if we forget how much we cannot know we become insensitive to many things of very great importance.” ― Bertrand Russell

  6. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    I can’t “rate” this book because I only understood a tiny fraction of it. It’s a series of 8 lectures, and I had the impression it was not delivered to professional philosophers or even to philosophy students - but the attendees must have been quite well educated if they had any chance of comprehending the lectures. The book was published in 1907 but I think the lectures may have been given several years before that. Anyway, I “read” the book in some sense but vast portions were completely meani I can’t “rate” this book because I only understood a tiny fraction of it. It’s a series of 8 lectures, and I had the impression it was not delivered to professional philosophers or even to philosophy students - but the attendees must have been quite well educated if they had any chance of comprehending the lectures. The book was published in 1907 but I think the lectures may have been given several years before that. Anyway, I “read” the book in some sense but vast portions were completely meaningless to me. Oh well. I’m really fascinated by philosophy, but so much of it is impenetrable for me.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    William James’ erudite, though painfully long, volumes on The Principles of Psychology won me over when I read them. His intelligence and expansive view of the world, and our experiencing of it, was a wonderful blend of psychology and philosophy. A mixture that he serves up as “pragmatism” in Pragmatism: a New Name of Some Old Ways of Thinking. The only thing James knows is that no one knows the answers to the philosophical and religious questions we love to bicker about. Therefore, in the absenc William James’ erudite, though painfully long, volumes on The Principles of Psychology won me over when I read them. His intelligence and expansive view of the world, and our experiencing of it, was a wonderful blend of psychology and philosophy. A mixture that he serves up as “pragmatism” in Pragmatism: a New Name of Some Old Ways of Thinking. The only thing James knows is that no one knows the answers to the philosophical and religious questions we love to bicker about. Therefore, in the absence of real answers, how do you construct an ethic by which we satisfy our impulse to assign value while at the same time recognize scientific truths that dictate our reality? He has no desire to deprive the faithful of their comforts, but: [i]n this real world of sweat and dirt, it seems to me that when a view of things is “noble”, that ought to count as a presumption against its truth, and as a philosophic disqualification. The prince of darkness may be a gentleman, as we are told he is, but whatever the God of earth and heaven is, he can surely be no gentleman. His menial services are needed in the dust of our human trials, even more than his dignity is needed in the empyrean. Pg. 26> For James, our philosophic thinking must allow room to grow and learn. We are not at the apex of human understanding of the universe, our place in it, or even ourselves. Any belief that restricts the ability to move beyond our current understanding is unproductive. But that just means we need to redefine what we believe. James believes there is more than belief. As he states, “I firmly disbelieve, myself, that our human experience is the highest form of experience extant in the universe.” Pg. 107. Growth is the underlying value in James’ pragmatism. Whereas some call for unconditional love, or truth, or observance of dictated commands, as the core of their belief, James wants to learn more. Pragmatism embraces imagination and what causes us to strive past the boundaries of where we are. Those wanting certainty and distinct boundaries obviously reject such fluid thinking. James knew this, and even in these lectures, desperately wished that his detractors would not be so quick to dismiss these thoughts as mere principles of convenience or what is most expedient. If you believe the world is not tailor-made to be understood for our luxury, then, whether it be pragmatism or a belief in the unknowability of God’s purpose, there seems little choice but to acknowledge our ignorance and try to find a way forward. The alternative is simply standing still.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    And again, I doff my cap to Buck Mulligan for getting it right. I am not a pragmatist, but I respect what James is trying to do here. Also, I gotta say that in terms of writing philosophy, he (James) is definitely head and shoulders above many a profound, pithy, erudite thinker. I do think there's some essential value to well-written prose, especially when its not taking the form of fiction or poetry or what-have-you and the writer can be easily excused for obscurities, necessary obfuscations, And again, I doff my cap to Buck Mulligan for getting it right. I am not a pragmatist, but I respect what James is trying to do here. Also, I gotta say that in terms of writing philosophy, he (James) is definitely head and shoulders above many a profound, pithy, erudite thinker. I do think there's some essential value to well-written prose, especially when its not taking the form of fiction or poetry or what-have-you and the writer can be easily excused for obscurities, necessary obfuscations, arcane terminology and clunky grammar. It ain't easy writing philosophy, so I do grade on a curve in this corner of the literary world, but when someone can actually put their ideas down in a comprehensible, accessible form I will be the first to applaud, even if I'm not totally jibing with where they want to take me. Also, I'll never forget reading this at a tender age on a porch at night, by a beach, listening to the waves rumble, looking at the ice in my drink cast sparkling shadows on the wicker table as I'm reading about reality and appearance.

  9. 4 out of 5

    robin friedman

    James's Pragmatism In 1906 and 1907, William James delivered a series of eight lectures at the Lowell Institute, Boston, and at Columbia University, New York City which he published as "Pragmatism: A New Way for Some Old Ways of Thinking". This short book, which James further described as "popular" lectures on philosophy constituted James's fullest statement of his thought up to that time. It remains a provocative, valuable, and important work, a classic of American thought. I want to mention some James's Pragmatism In 1906 and 1907, William James delivered a series of eight lectures at the Lowell Institute, Boston, and at Columbia University, New York City which he published as "Pragmatism: A New Way for Some Old Ways of Thinking". This short book, which James further described as "popular" lectures on philosophy constituted James's fullest statement of his thought up to that time. It remains a provocative, valuable, and important work, a classic of American thought. I want to mention some important considerations in James's overall approach in this book. First, I was struck, in reading "Pragmatism", by the importance James attaches to the philosophical quest. He begins his opening lecture, "The Present Dilemma in Philosophy" with the observation that an individual's philosophy is the most important thing about that person because it gives his or her sense of "what life honestly and deeply means." James makes high and traditional claims for the importance of philosophical investigation -- claims which not been followed by a number of subsequent professional philosophers. Second, James wrote his book for a lay audience of educated individuals whom he called "amateur philosophers". People in this class, for James, were not technically trained academic philosophers but rather were those who had a sense of both the claims of religion and spirituality and the claims of empirical science. These amateurs, James continued, wanted, in our modern terminology to "have it all"; and they were inclined to overlook conflicts or inconsistencies between types of beliefs that they wished simultaneously to hold. Many of James philosophical successors did not follow James in writing for amateurs. They wrote instead for other philosophers. Third, James saw his role as a philosopher in mediating between the claims of Darwinian and physical science and religion. In a memorable phrase, he divided philosophers and philosophical tendencies into two broad types: "tender-minded" and "tough minded". The tender-minded thinkers of his day, the focus of much criticism in "Pragmatism" were the absolute idealists, American and British successors to Hegel. The tough-minded thinkers were empiricists, wedded to factual investigation and to materialism. Tough minded thinkers wanted nothing to do with metaphysical or religious abstractions. James conceived of pragmatism as a way to accept what was valuable in both tender-minded and tough-minded thinkers. Thus, in the body of his lectures, James developed pragmatism as a method and a theory of truth. Pragmatism is an instrumental philosophy which holds, James states at one point, that "ideas (which themselves are but parts of our experience) become true just in so far as they help us to get into satisfactory relation with other parts of our experience." (Note the reference to "ideas" in this definition which may tie James unduly to some previous methods of thinking that he would otherwise reject.) Philosophy is not a subject for intellectualist abstractions but rather a tool to help people understand themselves and their needs in specific situations, consistently with their needs in other situations. Pragmatism, for James, is a forward-looking philosophy which tests ideas by their consequences, both in matters of science and in matters of religious belief. Thus, for James pragmatism is a philosophy which mediates between science and religion. Unlike some of his fellow pragmatists, the religious life was important to James. James applies his basic approach to pragmatism to address traditional philosophical questions, including the nature of substance, personal identity and free-will. His discussions are still worth reading. For me, the strongest section of the book was the Lecture IV in which James contrasts philosophical monism and pluralism. This chapter helped me to both to understand and to question the fascination that claims to the unity of the world or of experience have exerted and continue to exert on many thinkers. This chapter is an excellent exposition of philosophical pluralism -- the view that there are many things and that they may only be imperfectly and incompletely connected. The lectures on "Pragmatism and Common Sense" and on "Pragmatism and Humanism" are contemporary and important in that they suggest the absence of fixed categories and the legitimacy of alternative means of describing experience for different purposes. James writes so beautifully that he sometimes lacks the technical precision that might make his ideas clearer. He frequently uses loose metaphors that, while intruiging, serve to obfuscate rather than clarify his position. This is particularly the case in lecture VI, "Pragmatism's Conception of Truth" in which James expounds upon his claim that the truth of an idea is the use we can make of it. As James himself points out, his position was subject to a great deal of criticism, much of which may be misdirected. But James does not entirely help himself in expounding his position on this difficult question. In the final chapter of his work, James explains his philosophical stance as a meliorist -- one who looks towards the future and tries to work to make his life and the world a better place. He finds that, for him, some form of religious theism is essential for this endeavor. While rejecting transcendental idealism and the absolute, James accepts the existence of a God, if not the all-powerful, all-knowing, unitary God of traditional Jewish-Christian theology. The method of knowing an idea by its use and consequence finds a place, for James, in both matters of the spirit and matters of science. Thus, James claims that pragmatic thought is able to honor both the claims of spirit and the claims of science. James modified his pragmatism in subsequent works and ultimately may have adopted a position closer to the idealism he criticizes in "Pragmatism". With many modifications and qualifications, much of James's strategy for mediating between science and religion remains important and has been developed by subsequent thinkers. He articulated an important mission for philosophy and made it a subject and a quest which could continue to inspire and to help people with their lives. James is a challenging thinker that deserves to be read. He still has a great deal to teach. Robin Friedman

  10. 5 out of 5

    Graychin

    Like his younger brother Henry, William James had a gift for language. Anyone in love with the possibilities of English prose will enjoy reading him. Years ago I read his Varieties of Religious Experience and return to it now and then just to hear him talk. The first two lectures in Pragmatism are especially thick with little surprises of phrasing and insight. I marked up my library copy shamelessly (but only with pencil!). That said, James’s attempt to reform philosophy along “pragmatic” lines Like his younger brother Henry, William James had a gift for language. Anyone in love with the possibilities of English prose will enjoy reading him. Years ago I read his Varieties of Religious Experience and return to it now and then just to hear him talk. The first two lectures in Pragmatism are especially thick with little surprises of phrasing and insight. I marked up my library copy shamelessly (but only with pencil!). That said, James’s attempt to reform philosophy along “pragmatic” lines is less compelling and more confusing than the clarity of his prose might lead us to hope for. James wants us to reconsider the Aristotelian correspondence theory of truth, according to which an idea or assertion is true as far as it reflects the way things really are. According to this model, the truth of a statement is independent of our having tested it. So, for example, if I were to give you an envelope and tell you it contained a dollar bill, the statement would be either true or false depending on what was actually in the envelope, even if you never opened it to check my statement against reality. Most people would agree with this, of course. It’s our common-sense notion of truth in the western world. But James suggests that rather than using the word “truth” to describe, in philosophical terms, that “timeless relation” of assertion and reality, we reserve the word only for things that have, one way or another, passed a test of verification, or proven themselves somehow beneficial. Ideas, according to Pragmatism, are tools, and if they don’t “work” for us, they’re meaningless. Reduced like that, James’s idea sounds simple enough, and possibly appealing, but James gets overexcited and there are passages in Pragmatism where he seems to want to discard the correspondence theory of truth altogether. To return to my example of the envelope with the possible dollar bill inside it, James might say, for instance, that the assertion “becomes true” when and if we open the envelope and find that it does indeed contain a dollar bill. Truth, James says when he gets carried away with himself, is something that “happens” to an idea. To be fair to James, he doesn’t really want to do away with the Aristotelian notion of truth, and he spent some sweat and labor after the publication of Pragmatism trying to calm the apprehensions he roused in so many of his readers. But James had been impressed by his friend Charles Pierce’s elucidation of the law of errors which states that minute scientific observations inevitably vary along a plottable curve, allowing us to infer an accurate-enough position (of a star, say) but never making for absolute certainty. Unless we want to go for a ride with Bishop Berkeley, then, and deny the independent material existence of sense objects altogether, there is an unbridgeable (if infinitesimal) gap between things in themselves and our perceptions of them. While that gap may look small from an everyday distance, it can be philosophically dizzying. With his pragmatic redefinition of truth James wanted to build a bridge to cross it while keeping the vertigo down to an acceptable level. James was also laboring under the glowering shadows of 19th century German metaphysics and a Darwinian scientific worldview that was just flexing its muscles. Whereas the rationalists wanted to describe a world in which matter is governed hierarchically by mind, science made forceful arguments for mind’s governance by matter instead. James wanted a way to honor his pro-scientific empiricist sympathies while at the same time respectably making room for God. Pragmatism’s careful adjustment of terms allows James to test his idea of God, find it psychologically beneficial (i.e. a “working” idea), and proclaim it therefore true. James might have found it easier to support his theism nowadays as Hegel and Kant recede in the distance and science with its quantum theory and dark matter allows more room for interested speculation. In the end I think I have to agree with the late Martin Gardner's assessment (in his essay 'Truth: Why I am Not a Pragamatist') and say that Pragmatism was more an attempt to rewrite the dictionary than a philosophy in its own right, and that philosophies departing from the common uses of terms and resorting to private definitions can have little enduring value. If Pragmatism fails, in other words, it fails because it isn't pragmatic enough.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mitch Flitcroft

    Pragmatism, according to James, is an approach which evaluates theories or beliefs by their practical application. James argues for pragmatism both as a method of inquiry and as a theory of truth. As a method of inquiry, I find it a tempting alternative to the idle metaphysical speculation that I've become accustomed to during my philosophy degree. However, as a theory of truth, I think it raises some interesting arguments but ultimately goes too far in its human-centeredness. Nevertheless, it's Pragmatism, according to James, is an approach which evaluates theories or beliefs by their practical application. James argues for pragmatism both as a method of inquiry and as a theory of truth. As a method of inquiry, I find it a tempting alternative to the idle metaphysical speculation that I've become accustomed to during my philosophy degree. However, as a theory of truth, I think it raises some interesting arguments but ultimately goes too far in its human-centeredness. Nevertheless, it's a compelling and beautifully-written book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Illiterate

    Pragmatism rightly ties truth to action. Unfortunately James ties it to utility, thereby suggesting emotional comfort could be as relevant as successful action.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Bob Nichols

    The history of philosophy, James says, is "to a great extent that of a certain clash of temperaments" that "loads" thought to justify one position over another. These he divides into the "tender minded" who need monistic, religious, rationalistic certainty and the "tough minded" who are materialistic, pluralistic, and irreligious. Given these different value-laden base points, disputes tend to be unresolvable. Pragmatism is James' way to escape competing visions of the truth. Pragmatism evaluate The history of philosophy, James says, is "to a great extent that of a certain clash of temperaments" that "loads" thought to justify one position over another. These he divides into the "tender minded" who need monistic, religious, rationalistic certainty and the "tough minded" who are materialistic, pluralistic, and irreligious. Given these different value-laden base points, disputes tend to be unresolvable. Pragmatism is James' way to escape competing visions of the truth. Pragmatism evaluates competing claims by responding to one simple question: What is the "concrete consequence" of some abstract position for the life of the individual? So, rather than arguing about whether God does or does not exist, James' approach is to say that it doesn't really matter because religion gives people hope. "Nirvana" is not a problem concept because it "means safety from this everlasting round of adventures of which the world of sense consists." Whether we have free will or not, belief in free will gives us hope we can make the world a better place. James' central observation that the two broad philosophical schools are based on differences in temperament and, accordingly, value differences, helps to explain why philosophical and religious disputes are difficult to resolve. His attempt to steer an alternative course, however, bumps into some problems. While there is considerable value in asking the question about the practical consequences to abstract notions and evaluating them in terms of the concrete differences they make in people's lives, how one makes such assessment is itself a product of value differences. Where jihad means hope and motivation to many, it means a threat to others. Also, cultural tribalism and educational background may have as much to do with philosophical differences as temperament. It is, for example, hard to believe that all in the materialist West are "tough minded" whereas those in the non-materialistic Muslim world are "tender minded." Clearly, more is involved in accounting for religious and philosophical differences. When James calls for a pragmatic or "melioristic" type of theism as an alternative to "crude materialism" and "transcendental absolutism," he is on his weakest ground. James seems willing to entertain falsity in place of truth if there's some practical benefit involved. Also, to have hope and security requries more credibility than James' "wink-wink, it's o.k. to have your belief because it's makes you feel better" type of approach. On the whole, this is a thoughtful attempt to suggest fresh ways of looking at old, intractable problems.

  14. 5 out of 5

    David

    William James shows why people are reading his philosophy a century after he delivered the lectures that make up the bulk of this work. His writing style is highly readable, and yet he does not shy away from untranslated Greek or German phrases and concepts. In a too-short summary, his idea of pragmatism could be described as assigning utility to an argument based on the outcomes that the argument can yield - if the resolution to an argument does not lead to a tangible difference in observable r William James shows why people are reading his philosophy a century after he delivered the lectures that make up the bulk of this work. His writing style is highly readable, and yet he does not shy away from untranslated Greek or German phrases and concepts. In a too-short summary, his idea of pragmatism could be described as assigning utility to an argument based on the outcomes that the argument can yield - if the resolution to an argument does not lead to a tangible difference in observable reality, then the argument is deemed unfruitful and discarded. This insight cuts the Gordian knot of resolving debates between members of differing faiths - and I include Atheism in my list of faiths for this purpose. Consider the Hitchens/Dawkins atheistic positions of recent vintage: their disputes with believers can be far better answered via pragmatic approaches. Is there a difference in day-to-day existence regarding whether God created fossils pre-buried in the rock or whether the Earth is older than the Biblical literalists claim? (Interestingly, nearly all of the literalists rely on reading the Bible in translation - in Hebrew there is a lot more nuance than may be presupposed). To answer the rhetorical question, the differences in day-to-day existence are few, thus rendering that debate of relatively meager significance. A passage I particularly liked comes near the end of his last lecture, in discussing the impact of pragmatic approaches to religion: In the end it is our faith and not our logic that decides such questions, and I deny the right of any pretended logic to veto my own faith. I find myself willing to take the universe to be really dangerous and adventurous, without therefore backing out and crying 'no play.' I am willing to think that the prodigal-son attitude, open to us as it is in many vicissitudes, is not the right and final attitude towards the whole of life. I am willing that there should be real losses and real losers, and no total preservation of all that is. I can believe in the ideal as an ultimate, not as an origin, and as an extract, not the whole. When the cup is poured off, the dregs are left behind for ever, but the possibility of what is poured off is sweet enough to accept.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    This became a pretty tedious read after the first couple chapters. He seems to keep repeating the same basic ideas and applying them to a variety of subjects. He states at one point how a theory goes through a few different stages in it's introduction and adoption. Eventually a theory becomes so commonplace that it's taken as obvious and trivial. I think that's what's happened to Pragmatism over the last 100+ years, since it was first formally stated. It's still a powerful idea and one that's usef This became a pretty tedious read after the first couple chapters. He seems to keep repeating the same basic ideas and applying them to a variety of subjects. He states at one point how a theory goes through a few different stages in it's introduction and adoption. Eventually a theory becomes so commonplace that it's taken as obvious and trivial. I think that's what's happened to Pragmatism over the last 100+ years, since it was first formally stated. It's still a powerful idea and one that's useful. I'm not entirely sure I understand the full force of it's implications, and I want to now read James's essay on truth for a more thorough discussion on that. I would have preferred a more concise presentation of his ideas than this book. I prefer the secondary literature I've read on the topic. The book is actually a text taken from a series of lectures James did. I read it on Gutenberg - so I'm not sure this applies to the print versions - but a lot of the important points are presented in all capitals, and I imagine James screaming at the audience to emphasis these. I started to hate James by the end of the book, his constant repetitions and dull prose, so this helped me picture him as an asshole.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Marts (Thinker)

    William James's explanations on the philosophical tradition of pragmatism. As mentioned in lecture 2: "Pragmatism represents a perfectly familiar attitude in philosophy, the empiricist attitude... A pragmatist turns his back resolutely and once for all upon a lot of inveterate habits dear to professional philosophers. He turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and origins. He t William James's explanations on the philosophical tradition of pragmatism. As mentioned in lecture 2: "Pragmatism represents a perfectly familiar attitude in philosophy, the empiricist attitude... A pragmatist turns his back resolutely and once for all upon a lot of inveterate habits dear to professional philosophers. He turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and adequacy, towards facts, towards action and towards power. That means the empiricist temper regnant and the rationalist temper sincerely given up. It means the open air and possibilities of nature, as against dogma, artificiality, and the pretence of finality in truth." All eight lectures can be read online here: http://www.authorama.com/pragmatism-1...

  17. 5 out of 5

    Will Graham Tyler

    More than anything else that I've read, this aligned with and further cohered my philosophical outlook. He perfectly nails my beliefs about the best mode for evaluating hypotheses and operating in the world -- skeptic relying on available evidence, distrustful of default intuitions -- while also aligning with my belief in the immense practical utility and necessity of faith coherent stories and purpose. This middle road between the "tough-minded empiricist" and the "tender-minded rationalist" is More than anything else that I've read, this aligned with and further cohered my philosophical outlook. He perfectly nails my beliefs about the best mode for evaluating hypotheses and operating in the world -- skeptic relying on available evidence, distrustful of default intuitions -- while also aligning with my belief in the immense practical utility and necessity of faith coherent stories and purpose. This middle road between the "tough-minded empiricist" and the "tender-minded rationalist" is exactly the balance that I think is important. He articulates these points in clear and compelling fashion with ample examples. This was occasionally dense or difficult to follow. He also makes some broad claims that warrant additional skepticism and pushback. But overall, this was one of the most profound and useful pieces I've ever read. Very much the right time and context for me to read this.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Peter Aronson

    Three-and-a-half stars. (This would have been four stars, but the occasional racist comment threw me a bit. Yeah, he was just a man of his times, but still, it's my rating.) This is a dense, but thin book, where James lays out the principles of the philosophy call "pragmatism", which is interested in what can be proved to be useful, making it (in my mind) a cousin to "utilitarianism". This includes abstract ideas, which can be proved to be useful if they help actual people. James has little use o Three-and-a-half stars. (This would have been four stars, but the occasional racist comment threw me a bit. Yeah, he was just a man of his times, but still, it's my rating.) This is a dense, but thin book, where James lays out the principles of the philosophy call "pragmatism", which is interested in what can be proved to be useful, making it (in my mind) a cousin to "utilitarianism". This includes abstract ideas, which can be proved to be useful if they help actual people. James has little use or patience for abstractions that to not provide some use, even if just consolation at the way of the world, to actual humans. Pragmatism as presented is not too much out of line with my view of the world, so I didn't find much to disagree with, aside from James' occasional inability to distinguish between how he felt and how the world worked (for instance, deep concern with how the universe ends isn't a sign of higher feelings to me, but rather a sign of neuroticism). As in The Varieties of Religious Experience, James suffers from having all his knowledge of non-western religion, history and culture be from secondary and tertiary sources. I don't believe he's ever had a handle on any religion other than Christianity, and it shows. I think my favorite takeaway from this book was James' discussion of how temperament biases our reasoning (from the near the beginning of the first lecture) before we even start thinking, by making us pay more attention to one set of facts or another. This explains a lot of disagreements I have seen.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jeffrey Howard

    Still as important as ever.

  20. 5 out of 5

    P

    From friends that have studied the pragmatist tradition at length and/or identify as pragmatists, there's often a (weakly) suppressed but discernible sigh and eye-roll when discussing Jamesian pragmatism. Recently, a friend suggested that James might be using intentionally ambiguous vague language in order to make his brand of pragmatism accessible to the audience of laypersons and "amateur philosophers" to whom these lectures were delivered. So, a caveat: from these experiences and my own studi From friends that have studied the pragmatist tradition at length and/or identify as pragmatists, there's often a (weakly) suppressed but discernible sigh and eye-roll when discussing Jamesian pragmatism. Recently, a friend suggested that James might be using intentionally ambiguous vague language in order to make his brand of pragmatism accessible to the audience of laypersons and "amateur philosophers" to whom these lectures were delivered. So, a caveat: from these experiences and my own studies, I realize that Pragmatism represents James' conception of the movement, and I fully plan (and can't wait!) to start delving into Peirce and Dewey. With that said, it's really no wonder pragmatism has been historically derided as a cop-out if this is taken as the representative text. Initially masquerading as concerned about the place of God in the "tough-minded" empirical landscape of the early twentieth century, James' more intentional goal seems to be caricaturing and ad hominem-ing the shit out of rationalists and their arguments, which gets old. Fast. Perhaps equally exasperating, for the non-pragmatist, pragmatism is self-defeating, for if pragmatism (or any given moral/political/epistemological/&c. ideals some advocate) is not, in fact, pragmatic for an individual or group, then pragmatism has no "cash-value" (ugh) and thus fails on its own terms. Paradoxically, on the other hand, for the pragmatist every idea/action could conceivably be reduced to the pragmatic attitude (though not necessarily through use of the methodology), and could thus be viewed as a brute fact, psychologically; and this is how James reads philosophy he approves of: Berkeleyan subjective idealism, Lockean theories of personal identity, Kantian categories. At one point, James quotes a friend, who is of the opinion that pragmatism "might accentuate the narrowness of narrow minds," an objection to which James never actually responds, just talks around as if this were an insane and completely unfounded concern. Infuriating, as his un-intellectual verificationism and ill-argued nominalism (Peirce himself was a realist, right?), neither of which I resolutely and fundamentally reject, but the presuppositional way in which they are brought to the pragmatist table is just lazy and not philosophical. I can't go on. I really wanted to love this. Dewey, Peirce, help!!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ben Labe

    "The pragmatic method" as William James defines it, "...is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences." Those consequences may become manifest in "concrete fact" or in "conduct consequent upon that fact." James outlines two functions of pragmatism: as prescribing a mode of solving metaphysical disputes and as offering a theory of truth in its own right. James diagnoses the greatest philosophical tension of his time as consisting of a battle between "tender-h "The pragmatic method" as William James defines it, "...is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences." Those consequences may become manifest in "concrete fact" or in "conduct consequent upon that fact." James outlines two functions of pragmatism: as prescribing a mode of solving metaphysical disputes and as offering a theory of truth in its own right. James diagnoses the greatest philosophical tension of his time as consisting of a battle between "tender-hearted" rationalists and "hard-hearted" pluralists. The book is an attempt to reconcile the two. James major thesis concerning metaphysics is that metaphysical beliefs are true insofar as they are meaningful and are consistent with the rest of our body of knowledge. To be meaningful an idea must have consequences for human experience. It must make a practical difference whether the idea be true or false. James' metaphysical account of truth assumes a similar character. "True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate, and verify. False ideas are those that we can not." While "Pragmatism" contains a host of useful insights, it sometimes suffers from a lack of conceptual precision. First of all, James never quite defines what he means by our ideas having practical consequences. He agrees with the view that our beliefs about the cosmos pervade our daily lives, yet his noncommittal attitude toward it and his proximity to relativism leave the reader wondering whether there can be any beliefs without consequences at all. When those consequences are allowed to be psychological, it seems that any belief would be a viable candidate. James also fails to account for the dependence of the apparent practical consequences of certain beliefs on our other beliefs. Nonetheless, James' book is useful for the way that it sets a stage for the relativistic and analytic philosophies which followed the pragmatist school. I suspect that, had he been pressed, James would have ultimately come down on the side of analytic philosophy, and that we would agree more than I felt like we agreed while I read his flawed book.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Frank Spencer

    This is as good as any of a summary of James' philosophical ideas. There are eight lectures delivered in Boston and New York in 1906 and 1907. The tough minded vs. tender minded and monistic vs. pluralistic distinctions are presented. You get more understanding of the idea that the practical difference made is an important aspect of what something is. How James brings Pragmatism and religion together is made clear in the last lecture. He quotes Taylor as saying, "'Reality' is in general what tru This is as good as any of a summary of James' philosophical ideas. There are eight lectures delivered in Boston and New York in 1906 and 1907. The tough minded vs. tender minded and monistic vs. pluralistic distinctions are presented. You get more understanding of the idea that the practical difference made is an important aspect of what something is. How James brings Pragmatism and religion together is made clear in the last lecture. He quotes Taylor as saying, "'Reality' is in general what truths have to take account of." The lectures almost make you willing to sacrifice being dead already for having been there.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    This book is based on the Lowell lectures delivered by William James in 1907. Today the term pragmatism is often used to substitute for expedient, but, when it was initially formulated by James, CS Peirce and others in the early 20th century, it described a way of thinking and a theory of truth. It was a departure from what James refers to as philosophies (and religions) based on absolute truths or ideals. In the pragmatic method or approach to problems, solutions are to be found by comparing th This book is based on the Lowell lectures delivered by William James in 1907. Today the term pragmatism is often used to substitute for expedient, but, when it was initially formulated by James, CS Peirce and others in the early 20th century, it described a way of thinking and a theory of truth. It was a departure from what James refers to as philosophies (and religions) based on absolute truths or ideals. In the pragmatic method or approach to problems, solutions are to be found by comparing the practical consequences of choosing one of the possible ways forward, with no need to refer to metaphysical thinking…just what works. He further develops pragmatism by arguing that truth is discovered by ensuring that new beliefs are consistent with already existing beliefs and new experience. In other words reconciling what you thought was true with actual experience. “A new opinion counts as ‘true’ just in proportion as it gratifies the individual’s desire to assimilate the novel in his experience to his beliefs in stock” (p28) The implications of this, of course, is that truth is a process, something that evolves over time as new experience is reconciled with what went before. The relationship of these insights to the scientific method and the way that science progresses is clear. Unlike other pragmatists, James does not suggest that pure empiricism replace religious thinking (something he explored in greater depth in On the Varieties of Religious Experience), rather, “…pragmatism may be a happy harmonizer of empiricist ways of thinking with the more religious demands of human beings.” (p31). As he emphasizes: “If theological ideas prove to have a value for concrete life, they will be true, for pragmatism, in the sense of being good for so much. For how much more they are true, will depend entirely on their relations to the to the other truths that also have to be acknowledged.” (p32) Pragmatism doesn’t exclude any experience or hypothesis from consideration. “In short, she [pragmatism] widens the field of search for God. Rationalism sticks to logic and the empyrean. Empiricism sticks to the external senses. Pragmatism is willing to take anything, to follow either logic or the senses and to count the humblest most personal experiences. She will count mystical experiences if they have practical consequences. She will take a God who lives in the very dirt of private fact-if that should seem a likely place to find him.” (pp35-36). James demonstrates his wide scope of knowledge in considering issues such as: ‘spirit and matter’ (pp37-48) ‘the question of design in nature’ (p48-51) and ‘free will’ (p51-54). His lectures took place in the challenges that philosophers and society in general were facing with the implications of Darwin’s writings. It is important to recall also that James and the other pragmatists were living in the shadow of the American Civil War and the vast destruction that entailed. The effects of this on ideas evolving in America is dealt with in detail in Louis Menand’s fabulous book The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America. His use of similes I found very helpful. In illustrating the relationship between abstract ideas and concrete realities (theory and empiricism) for example, he refers to the phenomenon of ‘total reflexion’ in Optics: “Hold a tumbler of water a little above your eyes and look up through the water at it’s surface…You will see an extraordinarily brilliant reflected image say of a candle-flame, or any other clear object, situated on the opposite side of the vessel. No ray, under these circumstances gets beyond the water’s surface: every ray is totally reflected back into the depths again. Now let the water represent the world of sensible facts, and let the air above it represent the world of abstract ideas. Both worlds are real of course, and interact; but they interact only at their boundary, and the locus of everything that lives, and happens to us, so far as full experience goes, is the water. We are like fishes swimming in the sea of sense, bounded above by the superior element, but unable to breathe it pure or penetrate it. We get our oxygen from it, however, we touch it incessantly, now in this part, now in that, and every time we touch, we turn back into the water with our course re-determined and re-energized. The abstract ideas of which the air consists are indispensable for life, but irrespirable by themselves, as it were, and only active in their redirecting function… It [this simile] shows how something not sufficient for life in itself, may nevertheless be an effective determinant of life elsewhere.” (pp55-56). One of the consequences of pragmatism is the one has to allow for differences of experience and beliefs…pluralism. “New truths…are resultant of new experiences and old truths combined and mutually modifying one another.”(p74). Since our experiences and beliefs, justifiably, will differ, pragmatism must allow for this. For pragmatists, truth is contingent on being able to connect past beliefs with new experience whereas: “…for rationalism reality is readymade and complete from all eternity, while for pragmatism it is still in the making, and awaits part of its complexion from the future.” (p113)

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shane Wagoner

    Core idea is fantastic, additional remarks unique to James (such as his comments on religion and free will) are disappointing.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Esteban del Mal

    James is too happy for my tastes.

  26. 5 out of 5

    John Martindale

    I had a hard time getting into this book until the 6th lecture when James finally started to unpack the Pragmatist concept of truth. Though I am not fully on board or in agreement with him, I still thought he has some interesting insights and reflections. Rather then try to summarize the tidbits that stood out to me from his 6th and 7th lecture, I decided I'd just copy them here, so you can get a sense of pragmatism in his own words. “I have honestly tried to stretch my own imagination and to rea I had a hard time getting into this book until the 6th lecture when James finally started to unpack the Pragmatist concept of truth. Though I am not fully on board or in agreement with him, I still thought he has some interesting insights and reflections. Rather then try to summarize the tidbits that stood out to me from his 6th and 7th lecture, I decided I'd just copy them here, so you can get a sense of pragmatism in his own words. “I have honestly tried to stretch my own imagination and to read the best possible meaning into the rationalist conception, but I have to confess that it still completely baffles me. The notion of a reality calling on us to ‘agree’ with it, and that for no reasons, but simply because its claim is ‘unconditional’ or ‘transcendent,’ is one that I can make neither head nor tail of” “The great assumption of the intellectualists is that truth means essentially an inert static relation. When you’ve got your true idea of anything, there’s an end of the matter. You’re in possession; you KNOW; you have fulfilled your thinking destiny. You are where you ought to be mentally; you have obeyed your categorical imperative; and nothing more need follow on that climax of your rational destiny. Epistemologically you are in stable equilibrium. Pragmatism, on the other hand, asks its usual question. “Grant an idea or belief to be true,” it says, “what concrete difference will its being true make in anyone’s actual life? How will the truth be realized? What experiences will be different from those which would obtain if the belief were false? What, in short, is the truth’s cash-value in experiential terms?” “The truth of an idea is not a stagnant property inherent in it. Truth HAPPENS to an idea. It BECOMES true, is MADE true by events. Its verity is in fact an event, a process: the process namely of its verifying itself, its veri-FICATION. Its validity is the process of its valid-ATION.” “You can say of it then either that ‘it is useful because it is true’ or that ‘it is true because it is useful.’ Both these phrases mean exactly the same thing” “Truth lives, in fact, for the most part on a credit system. Our thoughts and beliefs ‘pass,’ so long as nothing challenges them, just as bank-notes pass so long as nobody refuses them. But this all points to direct face-to-face verifications somewhere, without which the fabric of truth collapses like a financial system with no cash-basis whatever. You accept my verification of one thing, I yours of another. We trade on each other’s truth. But beliefs verified concretely by SOMEBODY are the posts of the whole superstructure.” “Our ideas must agree with realities, be such realities concrete or abstract, be they facts or be they principles, under penalty of endless inconsistency and frustration. So far, intellectualists can raise no protest.” Here it is that pragmatism and intellectualism begin to part company. Primarily, no doubt, to agree means to copy, but we saw that the mere word ‘clock’ would do instead of a mental picture of its works, and that of many realities our ideas can only be symbols and not copies. ‘Past time,’ ‘power,’ ‘spontaneity’— how can our mind copy such realities?... To copy a reality is, indeed, one very important way of agreeing with it, but it is far from being essential. The essential thing is the process of being guided. Any idea that helps us to DEAL, whether practically or intellectually, with either the reality or its belongings, that doesn’t entangle our progress in frustrations, that FITS, in fact, and adapts our life to the reality’s whole setting, will agree sufficiently to meet the requirement. It will hold true of that reality.” Our account of truth is an account of truths in the plural, of processes of leading, realized in rebus, and having only this quality in common, that they PAY... Truth is MADE, just as health, wealth and strength are made, in the course of experience. Here rationalism is instantaneously up in arms against us. I can imagine a rationalist to talk as follows: “Truth is not made,” he will say; “it absolutely obtains, being a unique relation that does not wait upon any process, but shoots straight over the head of experience, and hits its reality every time. Our belief that yon thing on the wall is a clock is true already, altho no one in the whole history of the world should verify it. The bare quality of standing in that transcendent relation is what makes any thought true that possesses it, whether or not there be verification. You pragmatists put the cart before the horse in making truth’s being reside in verification-processes. These are merely signs of its being, merely our lame ways of ascertaining after the fact, which of our ideas already has possessed the wondrous quality. The quality itself is timeless, like all essences and natures. Thoughts partake of it directly, as they partake of falsity or of irrelevancy. It can’t be analyzed away into pragmatic consequences.” “Ptolemaic astronomy, euclidean space, aristotelian logic, scholastic metaphysics, were expedient for centuries, but human experience has boiled over those limits, and we now call these things only relatively true, or true within those borders of experience. ‘Absolutely’ they are false; for we know that those limits were casual, and might have been transcended by past theorists just as they are by present thinkers.” “I have already insisted on the fact that truth is made largely out of previous truths. Men’s beliefs at any time are so much experience funded. But the beliefs are themselves parts of the sum total of the world’s experience, and become matter, therefore, for the next day’s funding operations. So far as reality means experienceable reality, both it and the truths men gain about it are everlastingly in process of mutation-mutation towards a definite goal, it may be — but still mutation.... Truths emerge from facts; but they dip forward into facts again and add to them; which facts again create or reveal new truth (the word is indifferent) and so on indefinitely. The ‘facts’ themselves meanwhile are not TRUE. They simply ARE. Truth is the function of the beliefs that start and terminate among them.” When may a truth go into cold-storage in the encyclopedia? and when shall it come out for battle? Must I constantly be repeating the truth ‘twice two are four’ because of its eternal claim on recognition? or is it sometimes irrelevant? Must my thoughts dwell night and day on my personal sins and blemishes, because I truly have them?— or may I sink and ignore them in order to be a decent social unit, and not a mass of morbid melancholy and apology? ““In everything, in science, art, morals and religion, there MUST be one system that is right and EVERY other wrong.” How characteristic of the enthusiasm of a certain stage of youth! At twenty-one we rise to such a challenge and expect to find the system. It never occurs to most of us even later that the question ‘what is THE truth?’ is no real question (being irrelative to all conditions) and that the whole notion of THE truth is an abstraction from the fact of truths in the plural, a mere useful summarizing phrase like THE Latin Language or THE Law. Truth grafts itself on previous truth, modifying it in the process, just as idiom grafts itself on previous idiom, and law on previous law. Given previous law and a novel case, and the judge will twist them into fresh law. Previous idiom; new slang or metaphor or oddity that hits the public taste:— and presto, a new idiom is made. Previous truth; fresh facts:— and our mind finds a new truth. ‘REALITY’ IS IN GENERAL WHAT TRUTHS HAVE TO TAKE ACCOUNT OF; 13 and the FIRST part of reality from this point of view is the flux of our sensations. Sensations are forced upon us, coming we know not whence. Over their nature, order, and quantity we have as good as no control. THEY are neither true nor false; they simply ARE. It is only what we say about them, only the names we give them, our theories of their source and nature and remote relations, that may be true or not. “In all these cases we humanly make an addition to some sensible reality, and that reality tolerates the addition. All the additions ‘agree’ with the reality; they fit it, while they build it out. No one of them is false. Which may be treated as the more true, depends altogether on the human use of it.” “We plunge forward into the field of fresh experience with the beliefs our ancestors and we have made already; these determine what we notice; what we notice determines what we do; what we do again determines what we experience; so from one thing to another, altho the stubborn fact remains that there IS a sensible flux, what is true of it seems from first to last to be largely a matter of our own creation.” “It is identically our pragmatistic conception. In our cognitive as well as in our active life we are creative. We ADD, both to the subject and to the predicate part of reality. The world stands really malleable, waiting to receive its final touches at our hands. Like the kingdom of heaven, it suffers human violence willingly. Man ENGENDERS truths upon it... ...The essential contrast is that for rationalism reality is ready-made and complete from all eternity, while for pragmatism it is still in the making, and awaits part of its complexion from the future. On the one side the universe is absolutely secure, on the other it is still pursuing its adventures.” When Berkeley had explained what people meant by matter, people thought that he denied matter’s existence. When Messrs. Schiller and Dewey now explain what people mean by truth, they are accused of denying ITS existence. These pragmatists destroy all objective standards, critics say, and put foolishness and wisdom on one level. A favorite formula for describing Mr. Schiller’s doctrines and mine is that we are persons who think that by saying whatever you find it pleasant to say and calling it truth you fulfil every pragmatistic requirement. I leave it to you to judge whether this be not an impudent slander.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Fraser Kinnear

    I had high hopes at the start of the book when I saw this passage: The history of philosophy is to a great extent that of a certain clash of human temperaments. Undignified as such a treatment may seem to some of my colleagues, I shall have to take account of this clash and explain a good many o the divergencies of philosophers by it. Of whatever temperament a professional philosopher is, he tries when philosophizing ot sink the fact of his temperament. Temperament is no conventioanlly recognized I had high hopes at the start of the book when I saw this passage: The history of philosophy is to a great extent that of a certain clash of human temperaments. Undignified as such a treatment may seem to some of my colleagues, I shall have to take account of this clash and explain a good many o the divergencies of philosophers by it. Of whatever temperament a professional philosopher is, he tries when philosophizing ot sink the fact of his temperament. Temperament is no conventioanlly recognized reason, so he urges impersonal reasons only for his conclusions Yet his temperament really gives him a stronger bias than any of his more strictly objective premises. It loads the evidence for him one way or the other, making for a more sentimental or a more hard-hearted view of the universe, just as this fact or that principle would. He trusts his temperment. Wanitng a universe that suits it, he belives in any representation of the universe that does suit it. He feels men of opposite temper to be out of key with the world's character, and in his heart considers them incompetent and 'not in it,' in the philosophic business, even tho they may far excel him in dialectical ability. It's rather cheeky to point out inherent bias in all philosophers to an audience of philosophers (this book is transcript of a lecture series James gave in 1907), but I feel like it's totally appropriate. I was further buoyed by James's response, which is scattered throughout but easiest to quote in Lecture VI: Pragmatism... asks its usual question. 'Grant an idea or belief to be true,' it says, 'what concrete difference will its being true make in anyone's actual life? Who will the truth be realized? What experiences will be different from those which would obtain if the belief were false? What, in short, is the truth's cash-value in experiential terms? I was more familiar with this acceptance of the demarcation problem from Karl Popper, but James predates him by half a century. He goes on from the above quote to say: The moment pragmatism asks this question, it sees the answer: True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot. That is the practical difference it makes us to have true ideas; that, therefore, is the meaning of truth, for it is all that truth is known-as. And while in my bones I really believe this philosophical sentiment, the book was a struggle to get through because it was rather boring.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Zo

    Fun and lucid writing that manages to be philosophically deep at the same time. I was amazed how similar James felt to the tone/style/thinking of the contemporary rationalist movement at times. But, unlike the rationalist community, I think James manages to package his thinking in a more appealing and powerful moral vision. It is a fine line to toe between empiricism/rationalism (in the traditional, not previously used, sense), and at times I'm unsure if "pragmatism" doesn't just fall into empir Fun and lucid writing that manages to be philosophically deep at the same time. I was amazed how similar James felt to the tone/style/thinking of the contemporary rationalist movement at times. But, unlike the rationalist community, I think James manages to package his thinking in a more appealing and powerful moral vision. It is a fine line to toe between empiricism/rationalism (in the traditional, not previously used, sense), and at times I'm unsure if "pragmatism" doesn't just fall into empiricism, but I think James makes about as good an effort at doing so as one can. I thought the psychological elements of his philosophical analysis were best. The opening chapter is brilliant. It nearly perfectly outlines a division that I think is still highly relevant today, and his diagnosis of the psychology of the debate is great. I am less sure where I fall on more broader pragmatic theories of truth and certain metaphysical debates. I think I lean towards agreeing with James naturally, but having recently read Deutsch's book, I am more aware of the counter-arguments and think I need to read both sides more to come to any sort of certainty. I also was struck by how familiar James voice and thinking felt, and it made me question some of my natural pragmatist inclinations. How much are they due to being bred in a similar(ish) cultural world to James, and would I understand other philosophers better if I shared more background with them? I hadn't fully thought about this before, but the distinctive American character and familiarity of this work brought it to the fore. Also was fascinating to see what James emphasized in his lectures as a window into the thinking of the time.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Piers Haslam

    I very much enjoyed this. Looking over the other reviews here, however, I can see some of the drawbacks. The first two lectures are certainly the best; these are the ones which introduce us to James's idea of 'temperament' as a determining factor of philosophical viewpoints (an idea which presumably derives from James's career in psychology). From this perspective, people who believe in absolute, singular truth are dogmatic and assured in their worldview, whereas those who emphasise the many-nes I very much enjoyed this. Looking over the other reviews here, however, I can see some of the drawbacks. The first two lectures are certainly the best; these are the ones which introduce us to James's idea of 'temperament' as a determining factor of philosophical viewpoints (an idea which presumably derives from James's career in psychology). From this perspective, people who believe in absolute, singular truth are dogmatic and assured in their worldview, whereas those who emphasise the many-ness of things are more fluid and open to confronting the unknown. But in earnest, the lectures don't expound on this theme at length; they concern Pragmatism and its application to various key philosophical debates (as they were at the turn of the last century). Pragmatism is a method with which one evaluates philosophical ideas in regards to the difference that they make —their use. This seems a useful enough tool, and James makes it clear that it's not a view in itself, and could be used to argue from many viewpoints (although he admits that there are some views more amenable to Pragmatism than others). I was never bored in these later parts, but I wasn't as enchanted as I was in the first two lectures. I think the appeal of them lies with James's ability to cut across different philosophies, bringing them to the level of personal sentiment and temperament (something which I suspect we all feel plays some role in even the most refined worldviews). I suppose, ultimately, James presents Pragmatism — by virtue of its ability to mediate between extremes and to dig down to what is most important — as an antidote to the subjectivity of all philosophy.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lauren

    I enjoyed the first couple lectures in this book, but didn't get much out of the book after that. I appreciated that Truth isn't a pure idea of right and wrong - it's tied to information that's valuable to us as a species. A new opinion counts as `true` just in proportion as it gratifies the individual`s desire to assimilate the novel in his experience to his beliefs in stock. It must both lean on old truth and grasp new fact; and its success (as I said a moment ago) in doing this, is a matter fo I enjoyed the first couple lectures in this book, but didn't get much out of the book after that. I appreciated that Truth isn't a pure idea of right and wrong - it's tied to information that's valuable to us as a species. A new opinion counts as `true` just in proportion as it gratifies the individual`s desire to assimilate the novel in his experience to his beliefs in stock. It must both lean on old truth and grasp new fact; and its success (as I said a moment ago) in doing this, is a matter for the individual`s appreciation. When old truth grows, then, by new truth`s addition, it is for subjective reasons. THE TRUE IS THE NAME OF WHATEVER PROVES ITSELF TO BE GOOD IN THE WAY OF BELIEF, AND GOOD, TOO, FOR DEFINITE, ASSIGNABLE REASONS. Surely you must admit this, that if there were NO good for life in true ideas, or if the knowledge of them were positively disadvantageous and false ideas the only useful ones, then the current notion that truth is divine and precious, and its pursuit a duty, could never have grown up or become a dogma. In playing devil's advocate and trying to think about things that are true, but also bad to believe, I couldn't come up with much. The only thing that comes to mind is statistics that are interpreted in specific ways - using them in a one-dimensional way to support certain ideas or theories that I would consider bad / false. But that still wouldn't be considered 'truth' in the definition above. So in all, this book helped me loosen my idea of what truth is and how our intuition around truth may have developed.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.