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PHIL 115 Lecture Notes - Foundationalism, Meliorism, Intelligent Design

Course Code
PHIL 115
Paul Fairfield

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Weeks 16-17 January 27th – February 8th, 2013
William James: Pragmatism
Works of James
Principles of Psychology (1890)
The Will to Believe (1897)
Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (1907)
A Pluralistic Universe (1909)
Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912)
Most of James' works, including “Pragmatism: are based on a series of public lectures
given mainly to universities, in particular philosophy professors and students but occasionally
to other students and the general public as well. His essays were published unrevised from
his lectures. This meant that they were not edited to be clear and precise so some definitions
are carelessly put, which was okay for a public audience, but not for philosophical academics.
William James
James was born in New York City to affluent and religious parents. His brother was
Henry James, a famous novelist. James' father was a friend of Mill, Tennyson, Thoreau who
were frequent visitors to his household. James was educated by private school and tutors,
which required a cross-world search for the best schools. From 1855-58, James lived in
England and France. In 1958 James and his family returned to Rhode Island and James
announced that he wanted to be a painter, which his father was not keen on. In 1859-60
James lived in Germany and Switzerland. From moving around so much, James became
fluent in 5 languages. James gave up on being a painter and went to Harvard to study
chemistry, then medicine. 1861 marked the American civil war. Two of James' brothers
enlisted while the others did not citing health reasons (depression and vision problems).
From 1867 to 1868 James returned to Europe. In 1968 he got his degree in medicine,
but he never practiced it. He began to study psychology. In 1870 James had a psychological
breakdown and had to financially rely on his father. The president of Harvard offered James a
job to teach physiology and anatomy at Harvard for 35 years (this was due to connections
James' father had).
James' main interests were in psychology and philosophy. At the time he was the
president of the American Psychological Association and the American Philosophical
Association. He was also interested in religious and psychic experiences. In 1909 he
announced that he'd had a conversation with a dead friend and published a 100 page
account. He married a woman named Alice and they had 5 children together. James died in
1910 from a heart condition.
Origin of Pragmatism
James wanted to make philosophy as empirical as science. His main criticism of
philosophy is that it is too rationalistic, which he wanted to replace with pragmatism. His
philosophical book on pragmatism would be criticized immediately, but some would catch on
(John Dewey, C.S. Peirce). Pragmatism would eclipse, but came back at the end of the 20th
century. Pragmatism was the first major contribution of an American to the world of
There were three major figures of pragmatism. C.S. Peirce focused on clarifying
philosophical ideas and concepts. He believed that a philosophical idea/concept is defined by

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Weeks 16-17 January 27th – February 8th, 2013
the consequences it holds for human practices. We can not define something out of context.
We don't need to know what it is as much as we need to know what it does. Peirce's
pragmatism was the theory of giving things meaning by explaining it's function.
James thaught this theory of meaning also functions as a theory of knowledge and
truth. Peirce didn't like this, so he gave his old theory a new name – pragmaticism – so the
two theories would not be associated.
The Conventional Theory of Truth
Not all, but most philosophers agree in the first 3 centuries of the modern era on the
definition of truth. The correspondence theory of truth implies that only a proposition/sentence
can be true or false. It is true if it corresponds to a fact in the world. James thinks it's
mysterious and odd that there's an objective mirroring between a sentence and fact. He
thinks this is not clear enough so he tries to clarify it.
Radical Empiricism
James and Dewey were supporters of radical empiricism. British empiricists like
Hobbes, Hume, and Locke weren't radical enough. We need to make empiricism more
radical. Pragmatism is based on the principle of the primacy of human experience (not human
ideas like Descartes suggested). We need to begin with our perception of the external world.
James thought that everything real must be experiencable somewhere. Every kind of
thing experienced must somewhere be real. This is why James was so into religious
experience and psychic phenomena. He wanted to find the object of these experiences (since
it follows that every experience involves an object being experienced). The basis of human
knowledge is experience.
James takes some issue with the idea that human experience can be broken down into
simple impressions as Human suggested. This gave rise to the problem of how these
impressions become unified – why we perceive these discrete moments as continuous.
James thinks that this problem doesn't have to be a problem if we simply think of human
experience as fluid through time and space – a stream of consciousness.
We need to think of experience as fluid, complex, and dynamic. We don't have an
impression at one moment in time, and another, and another that we string together. That's
not how we experience the world. Every moment flows into the next. There are no discrete
boundaries between experiences, they are not fragmented or disjointed.
We experience causality directly (unlike Hume says). We also experience time and
relations between things. For example, we see a mitt on a table, not a mitt; table. When we
speak of the world we speak like this, about relations. We speak of it as one experience that
unfolds over time, and we experience life like this too.
What makes empiricism radical? James thinks that Hume applied his scepticism in the
wrong direction. James is not necessarily a sceptic, but he's considered a radical empiricist
for two reasons:
He believes the mind experiences objects directly, not ideas/sense impressions
He believes we directly experience relations between objects including causality
and time.
James thinks that Hume's problem of causality is a question that can't be answered
because he poses it in the wrong way. In philosophy, questions, the meaning of words,
terminology, and distinctions are all very important. If we ask the wrong question we'll embark

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Weeks 16-17 January 27th – February 8th, 2013
on a line of enquiry that is a dead end. Hume's conundrum of causality is a direct result of
how he describes human experience. Hume claims that the mind experiences discrete,
separate ideas (sense impressions) of an object, and no relation of objects. James counters
this saying that we experience a pen on a table, not just a pen and a table. We experience the
relations between objects, not just the objects themselves. We also don't experience a
perception of a pen or table, we experience them directly.
James thinks we do experience causality, or one event causing another. This is
because our consciousness flows continually over time and space. Consciousness is not
fragmented into small units of ideas and impressions. But we have never seen an impression
of an object. When we see a skier going down a hill, we don't see it in stop-frame, we see it
continuously. The average human experience is not a split second long.
Hume's problem is that he's viewing experience as fragmented and he can't figure out
how to unify them to prove causality. James' stream of consciousness bypasses this problem
because we don't need to unify individual impressions.
Lecture 1: The Present Dilemma in Philosophy
We all have a philosophical view or a worldview set of ideas which are the most
important or interesting thing about a person. Our whole culture is organized around ideas.
Our philosophical opinions are not academic, but urgent. The dilemma is that philosophy is
not as objective and rational as philosophers want it to be to find pure knowledge. Since the
Enlightenment, philosophers have been encouraged to follow a rational line of argument
where it leads and let this conclusion be your belief. To say that this line of thinking is
objective means that it does not reflect the thinker and their personal wishes and identity. All
of these factors should be bracketed in order to follow an objective, rational line of thought to
conclusions of the same sort. We should not create an idea and then try to justify it.
James disagrees, saying that no one is perfectly objective. No one can bracket their
temperament. James describes the two types of philosophical temperaments. They aren't
mutually exclusive, people just tend to exhibit one more than the other. The two
temperaments are the tough- and tender-minded. Tough-minded people are like Hume: they
prefer hard facts, are empiricists, they don't like theories and speculation, they are
materialists, fatalistic, pessimistic, and they are not religious. Tender-minded people are like
Plato: the are optimistic and religiously inclined, rational, dogmatic, speculative, theorizing,
and imaginative. James thinks that tough-minded philosophers outnumber the tender-minded
philosophers. James wants to split the difference between the two in his own work.
Having a tough-minded temperament isn't a bad thing, and we can't help our
temperament (we have it by nature). It is also impossible to bracket your temperament. Every
philosopher ends up with a worldview that reflects their temperament. We find that we choose
to be either tough or tender, there is no middle ground (we can't be rational and empirical).
Our temperament is a non-choice. We go with the worldview that reflects our temperament.
Our modern society values science and technology much more than art or poetry so
we value the philosophy that reflects science. If a field of knowledge isn't scientific, we don't
take it seriously.
Lecture 2: What Pragmatism Means
James gives a preliminary and rough outline of what pragmatism is. Pragmatism
comes from praxis. Peirce defined it as a theory of meaning and consequence of meaning.
James extended it to be a theory of truth and the consequences of holding a certain belief.
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