PHILOSOPHY SECOND SEMESTER- notes on William James
william james, 1842-1910
well known philosopher and psychologist
book - pragmatism
was first a series of public lectures to a general university audience
delivered in boston in november 1906, and columbia 1907, published in 1907
he wrote a sequel called
james was a psychologist and philosopher
what is pragamtism? theory of truth and knowledge
philosophical account of knowledge and truth that causes a reaction against other forms of rationalism
he's an empiricist
reacting agaisnt descartes' meditations
he says the foundation of knowledge is experience, first hand observation, using the senses. not clear
and distinct ideas. he says the first principles of knowledge is experience.
he was unhappy with experience truth and knowledge had been interpreted by early modern
old conceptions of truth had become problematic and needed to be replaced with a more Darwinian
conception of knowledge
william james born into a very religious family in new york, oldest of five children. his dad was friends
with a lot of famous philosophers including mill.
he went to private schools, went to england for a while then came back to the us, his dad was trying to
find proper educational institutions for his kids but was never satisfied. by 1858, williams decided to be
a painter and his dad was not okay with this so they went back to germany and switzerland so james
was fluent in 5 languages. went to harvard and studied chemistry and medicine. civil war began, his two
younger brothers enlisted.
at harvard he started teaching psychology then philosophy, then he got married and had five kids and
worked as a prof, then he died from a heart condition.
he thought pragmatism was going to be the philosophy of the future
c s pierce was the one who first introduced pragmatism in an article called, how to make our ideas clear
-knowledge, truth, identity, self - he said they were all vague and asked if there was a method we could
come up with to make them more clear he said the meaning of any idea is the difference it makes to our social practices and human actions
praxis - ancient greek work for action, pragmatism
ideas have practical real world consequences.
meaning of any idea begins in its real world social practices, james liked this and said the truth of an idea
can be determined by its consequences
james wants to turn pragmatism to a vague theory of ideas into a theory of truth/knowledge
pierce god mad and said he was not longer a pragmatist, but a pragmatacist and was a pragmaticism,
which are not really anything today.
rationalism - foundation of knowledge is the cogito - i think, i am. -descartes. he says the senses and
reason are flawed, so we can't trust them.
empiricists are the opposite, say the senses provide the foundation for all our knowledge, we get all our
info from the senses, even ideas like a unicorn come from our senses seeing a horse and a horn.
they argue the basic building blocks of knowledge are simple impressions
james was unhappy with how empiricism had been formulated, he said it wasn't radical enough, he
wanted to examine it from the root.
he says they were correct in saying the foundation of human knowledge is experience, but he says how
we understand experience is what they had wrong, and philosophers often debate on what experience
according to james we experience things in the world directly, but don't experience ideas or
representations. what is taken in by the mind is ideas, representations of objects, perceptions, ideas. the
mind doesn't have contact with physical objects, but ideas. your mind is only aware of your perceptions
of objects not the real object. so what is the relation between them? for james we experience relations
between objects not just objects themselves. you dont see the clock and wall as seperate, you see the
clock on the wall, you see "onness" as an experience. time, causality are all based non experience as
hume argued there is no foundation of cause and effect, there is no empirical observation of it. he said
that you need to scrutinize your experiences because you can't perceive a cause and effect, like
dropping a pen, and make predictions that the pen will fall because of the cause (gravity) you can
identify that the relation is not a coincidence. hume says we need to seperate the events into 1 and 2,
calls their relation the constant conjuntion, like every morning the sun rises. he says no it is not a
coincidence, but it is only the constant conjunction between the events, because there is no perception
of necessity, no one knows what necessity looks like. when you say causation, event two must floow
event one, but no one has ever seen "mustness" there is no legitimate experience of causality, so there
is no knowledge of it.
james - this became a large problem for other empiricists, james said as long as you define experience
in the way that hume did then there's nothing you can do, so he invented something called stream of
continuity. we have one sense impression at a time, an experience happens very quickly in succession, when you
describe how you experience the world, its not fragmented into deiscrete experiences, its more a
stream of sense impressions that the mind has to arrange into a continuity. james said his experience of
the world is ongoing.
experience of causality and time and onness. jan 29
hume says there's no experience of causality, so there's no knowledge of it, so our knowledge of the
world is far more limitted than we would like to think
james argues we need a new perception of experience, wants to get rid of old philosophical dichotomies
like the mind versus world, internal thought versus external world - james said pragmatism would get rid
of all these old dichotomies, like truth and falsity, subject and opinion. it will no longer be an either or.
he says instead there are partial truths, different degrees of truth
subtitle for book - a new name for old ways of thinking. new name for empiricism, roots in socrates and
aristotle accoring to james
james says the most interesting thing about a person is the ideas that they hold, more important than
these ideas are not just of an academic nature, he says we should act on our ideas to
present dilemma in philosophy - the ideas we hold aren't as objective as we think. in philosophy your
thinking has to be rational and objective, that you need to be able to back up your ideas with good
if knowledge is objective, its not subjective (pertaining to the object instead of the personal opinion)
he says most peoples' ideas are just personal confessions of the individual and too subjective, not worth
taking seriously how you feel about it what's important is if it's true, this is especially emphasized in the
enlightenment. they say subjective knowledge doesn't count.
if we mean by objective having zero subjectivity, when you think it's you doing the thinking, not a
computer. james says humans are the only ones who can think, not a disembodied intellect. every
human being has a temperament, james says that they have their own psychological temperament
expressing itself through ideas, its not an accident/coincidence that rationalists tend to have a certain
temperament while empiricists have a different one, etc.
he says our intellectual frame of mind isn't something that you can bracket in intellectual thinking
he calls different intellectuals the tough minded or tender minded, not one or the other black and white,
but you tend to be more of one.
tough minded - you tend to be an empiricist, like facts, don't believe something until you can see it and
perceive it. metaphysical materialists who think the world is just matter in motion, tends to be none
religious, not factual enough. tends to be skeptical, says knowledge is elusive. they can be pessimistic or
tender minded - likes philosophical theorizing and speculation not just empirically demonstrable facts,
their thinking is more idealistic, aesthetic, religion, and sometimes dogmatic (very rigid in their
thoughts) james says the tough minded dominate the philosophical world. look to mathematics as a view for
philosophy. tough minded scientific temperament is rigorous, rational, but has its dangers. as our
worldview becomes more tough minded our world becomes stripped of meaning.
he says we need to return to more tender minded world views, less scientific, but more comforting.
james says pragmatism is a theory of knowledge that mashes together tough/tender minded ways of
thinking, is criticized very highly by tough minded philosophers
Chapter 2 - what pragmatism means
comes from the anceint greek word of practice
the ideas have to be judged in terms of their connections with practices or actions.
a rationalist like descartes says we know certain ideas to be true if his reason clearly and distinctly
perceives it. needs a divine guarantor that he can grasp his ideas clearly and distinctly with reason
james says this is never the case, there is no realm of pure reason that the scientist/mathematician can
occupy and instead it's always mixed up with experience and you can't separate them. he says to know
an idea is true, it's because the ideas allow us to do human action and actually happen in social
he says there is no such thing as purely conceptual rational though, and that it's disconnected from our
life it has no value or truth. the test of an idea will always be a pragmatic test - what difference does it
the question is it true really means what difference does it make to practical undertakings of human
notion of causality - is it true? hume says no we can't know it.
james says - what does the idea of cause mean? what practical difference does it make whether we
believe in causality? james says it makes every difference in practical life, that you couldn't even walk
down the street without the idea of causality, that the way things are aren't random but that they are
necessary. it would be very hard to cope with the world without causality.
causality allows us to act based on our predictions, cause and effect is indispensable to allow us to cope
with our experiences of the world.
you want to make assumptions, like the sun will rise, the snow of the future will be white, you feel
comfortable making these predictions because of your experiences and observances of causality.
can't assume that everything that passes for true now will pass for true in the future, so we can't say
something is true, you have to say that it passes for true. -he's not saying truth is arbitrary or subjective,
he's saying that you need to be able to demonstrate something as being true before it can pass for true,
but you also have to be able to know that someone in the future will probably come up with a different
and better worldview, and yours will no longer pass for true. jan 31
-quote page 40 - the whole function of philosophy ought to be to find out what definite differences
-aka the question to be asked, not any idea is it true, but what practical bearing does this question have
iun human expericne, this is the question of truth - this is the pragamatic test of any idea
-british empiricists were all foundationalists - basic principle is all knowledge claims have to be traced
down to a foundation of first principles.
-he says knowledge on the other hand doesnt have an absolutely incontrevertible foundation. not
certain objective foundation, but james says it does have a kind of basis.
-but the foundation is contigent, so so is our knowledge, in every case. all knowledge is contingent
philosophers are theorists, theory is a reflection that transcends the world of practice
james says theoretical reflection is about theoririzing about life
practise is the starting for theoretical reasoning - purpose of reasoning is to establish relfection to our
practise and undertakings
james is demoting theory
evolution is a good example, what made it so successful
take all the relevant evidence to a theory and give a coherent account of it, explain it in such a way that
you can now do practical things like make predictions
he says scientific theories are true because they allow us to do practical things like cure diseases and
page 34 - what does it mean to say something true? that ideas become true, any idea that we can go
prosperously, working securely, simplifying, saving labour, then the idea becomes instrumentally true
pragmatism is an instrumental view of turth - truth is what works. like evolution is a hypothesis that
works. causality is a notion that works. so its true.
hume said he doesnt know what necessity looks like, so causality has no experience or knowledge so its
a speculation, but james gives a reply to this - he says - when you see the same two events in the same
order over and over again, sooner or later you have to realize its not a coincidence, and you can make a
prediction. when your predictions are proven because event two happens after event one, so your
hypothesis is correct,
james says that truth is a complex notion, more complex than the corespondence theory
correspondence theory - the truth of a fact is determined by how it relates to and descirbes the world
he wants to supply the notion of 'fact' with a meaning and 'correspondence' with meaning
what does it mean that a sentence could correspond to a fact?
james says this is stupid because how could you say that a fact corresponds to a the world. james wants
to reject it and replace it with pragmatism. correspondence and agreement are synonyms - fact=reality, so 2+2=4 corresponds to reality
agreement has to mean something more
saying that an idea agrees with reality has to mean something dynamic, like if agreement means the
agreeable, ability to make the world be coherent.
quote from the sequel to the book - the meaning of truth - pragmatism defines agreeing, the desk
exists, for the desk to be real you have to be able to go shake it, draw it, make it real for you, it has to
agree with your reality. you have to have something to be able to determine it.
he's saying "it is sunny outside" is true when it works to say so. correspondance theorists would say that
it's true, if it's true. if it corresponds to reality.
causality is true because it leads you from antiticpating evetn one to anticipating event two. all these
experiences are a stream of experience.
true ideas are true because they make our expeirences seemless and coherent and free of contradiction.
ideas are to make our practical feelings of the world flowing like a stream lol
-other book quote - the greatest of our intellectual or cognitive interests is consistency, what goes with
other occasions, compare truth with truth to see if they're compatible.
can't have contradictions in law/knowledge, because then one of our beliefs has to go.
he says its necessary all your moral beliefs have to not contradict your political/religious/scientific
(this has all been chapter two)
dejection is just denying a truth
according to western philosophy truth is objective, its out there, its a fact. its something you discover,
he says others want to regard truth as other wordly, but he says its not true
why do we value the truth? if truth is a correspondence of sentences and facts why would we desire to
know it or have a duty to know truth as philosophers say?
a theory of truth should be able to answer this question
most philosophers say its a theory of correspondence, but it doesnt explain why we value it
james says pragmatism does
james made a few statements that his critics argued - an idea is true so long as to believe it is profitable
to our lives. the true is whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief.
-prof says this is misleading and james needs to clarify it, because in the sense that a solution to a
problem is good if its fits that particular problem, james says an idea is true if it does what its supposed
to do feb 4
chapter 3 of book
going to try to apply pragmatism to metaphysical problems
metaphysical problems need to arise from human experience, if it doesnt have a bearing then its a
problem thats not an issue that philosophers need to stop worrying about, james believes there are
many philosophical discussions that are pseudoproblems, resulted by a mistaken way from setting up a
problem/ a mistaken view
needs to touch down to thwe world of human practices if it doesnt forget about it
first problem - human nature - what is it? one? many? is there such a thing? descartes argued it was to
be a thinking thing, empiricits would argue they have no experience of a self, no spiritual soul substance,
hume thinks the self is just a fiction, an object of perception
john locke says for what reason do you say you were the same person as years ago? its true but how do
you know on empirical grounds? your characteristics change over time, locke says its the continuity of
your self-consciousness - james likes this idea, because its grounded in experience.