Week 5 05/02/2013 07:28:00
Pragmatism, Chapter 3
1. Applications to metaphysical problems:
2. Common Sense
We should not take a philosopher‟s word for it when he says “there is an
issue with x.”
There must be more reasoning from the philosopher to convince the
reader that there is a problem. There must be a pragmatic issue for it to
constitute a problem.
Philosophy should always make a tangible, practical difference with how
we cope with the world.
What is a human being?
Hume: there is no experience of the self, only of the body, mental states,
emotions, etc. If there is no experience, there is no knowledge.
Hume: cannot agree with the Cartesian self. This is empty metaphysical
James must take Hume‟s position seriously to attack it.
Locke‟s self: for what reason do I say that I am the same person right
now that I was 5 minutes ago, 10 minutes ago, or 20 years ago? I don‟t
know it in the sense that my properties and characteristics were the same
in the past.
Answer: I know that I am the same person as I was in the past
since there is a continuity in my self-consciousness through my
memory. I remember who I was ten years ago.
James considers Locke‟s belief of the self as a good position for the
empiricist and pragmatist.
Design argument: rejected by Hume and James, but for differing reasons.
There is no proof of God‟s existence, whether by nature or reason.
What is the evidence of „design?‟ What difference does it make to our
experience of the world if we believe that there is design in nature or not?
The belief in the existence of a designer could give us a hope for a more
positive future, James says hesitantly. Free will vs. determinism: James considers us free. But what difference
does it make if we take a side?
The notion of free will enhances human dignity.
Dignity, reason, and freedom are inseparable.
This will make a moral difference rather than a difference of
experience. There is no other difference.
All that morality presupposes is instinct and utility. If someone does what
is right, he will be rewarded.
It cannot be an empty conviction.
We say an idea is true because it solves a problem that it is intended to
solve, not just any problem.
Thinking begins with a problem, and only about that problem. It does not
consider others that may be solved.
It is important that we believe in progress.
Chapter 5: Pragmatism and Common Sense
Common sense is defined as concepts and distinctions by James.
We tend to think of these notions as totally uncontroversial.
Common sense is nothing of the kind; it is something that must be
We must question how our common sense notions passed on to social
James: common ideas are inventions, artefacts. They were made for a
Stock: we acquire new knowledge by adding it to old knowledge.
Everything added to soup stock modifies the flavour of the stock, and the
stock modifies the ingredients.
Common sense is not a set of eternal truths. They are a set of truths that
have been handed down for many generations.
(85) The notion of a thing or object, the distinction between same and
different, the notion of kinds, the distinction between mind and body,
time and space, the distinction between subject and object, the notion of
causality, the distinction between the real and the apparent.
James: there are no self-evident truths. There are true ideas which may
be new or old, but are true on the grounds that they enhance our ability
to cope with the world. 1. (94): We have seen reason to suspect it
2. We must be fallibilists regarding knowledge. All pragmatists are
fallibilists. The status of knowledge is that it is always contingent and
nothing is necessary. If this is so, we need to be a lot more open-minded
about truths, including common sense ideas.
February 8, 2013
Pragmatism and Humanism
James defends humanism.
He introduces a distinction: truth vs. the truth
He wants the most pragmatically workable hypothesis that generates
consensus among the most competent inquirers of a subject.
The truth and particular truths vs. the laws and particular laws: When
people say things like “you must obey the law” or “nobody is above the
law,” what is the law? Nobody has ever experienced either the truth or
o You come into conflict with particular laws through misconduct, but
the law is non-existant.
o Likewise, the truth is an abstraction. Laws and truths can be used