Week 4 29/01/2013 07:19:00
William James‟ Pragmatism
James is a radical empiricist. It is distinguished from older forms of British
empiricism for the following reasons:
1. The mind experiences objects directly, not ideas.
2. We experience relations between objects such as time and causality.
a. There is a knowledge of causality. The problem Hume gave us is a
pseudo-problem. If we end up describing human experience the
way Hume did, then we effectively do not know anything about
b. James argues that one experiences the relations between objects.
One sees the cat on the mat. One does not see a perception of the
pen like Hume suggests.
c. Experience is comparable to a stream. There is continuity through
time and space.
d. Human experiences unfold over time.
Pragmatism is a new school of thought.
1: The Present Dilemma of Philosophy
We all have a philosophy, or worldview of ideas.
Your philosophical views are the most important attributes that you hold.
Your whole life is organized around beliefs, ideas, and convictions.
The dilemma: philosophy isn‟t strictly objective and rational as its
proponents have wanted it to be.
Follow a rational course of arguments, and let the conclusions be
Meditations on First Philosophy: Descartes brackets all his previous
beliefs in order to find truth.
James claims that this is not possible; nobody is perfectly objective.
They never bracket their temperaments.
Types of philosophical temperaments:
o Tough-minded (Hume), usually empirical and preferring hard
facts. They are metaphysical materialists with no religious
beliefs and highly sceptical. o Tender-minded: rationalistic, idealistic, optimistic, religiously
inclined, aesthetical, but unfortunately dogmatic
The tough-minded philosophers overshadow the tender-minded.
This is because we value scientific methodology and technology
more so than poetry. It is more pragmatic to learn hard sciences
over the arts.
Nobody has choice of his or her temperament. If you are a tender-
minded person, you will reflect a worldview that reflects that.
We feel compelled to choose between either a tough or tender-
minded worldview, as we feel that a middle-ground philosophy is
impossible to find.
The choice between rationalism and empiricism is a non-choice that
is almost pre-determined.
2: What Pragmatism Means
Pragmatism: rooted in „praxis.‟ It is a theory of the connection between the
meaning of an idea and the consequences that are borne from their
James believes that this is also a theory of truth.
We need to regard ideas as means to ends. All you need to know if an
idea is true is if your mind can grasp it.
The realm of rational thought is separate from the realm of human action.
You have to regard all ideas in the service of our pragmatic undertakings.
Theories are essentially instruments by which we improve our practices.
This includes all theories, no matter from what discipline.