William James: Views And Influences On Pragmatism Essay
William James: Views And Influences On Pragmatism
William James, in Lecture II, tells us about his views on pragmatism, when he explains that, “All these, you see, are anti-intellectualist tendencies. Against rationalism as a pretension and a method pragmatism is fully armed and militant. But, at the outset, at least, it stands for no particular results. It has no dogmas, and no doctrines save its method. As the young Italian pragmatist Papini has well said, it lies in the midst of our theories, like a corridor in a hotel.
Innumerable chambers open out of it. In one you may find a man writing an atheistic volume; in the next some one on his knees praying for faith and strength; in a third a chemist investigating a body’s properties. In a fourth a system of idealistic metaphysics is being excogitated; in a fifth the impossibility of metaphysics is being shown. But they all own the corridor, and all must pass through it if they want a practicable way of getting into or out of their respective rooms.
James goes on to tell us that, “No particular results then, so far, but only an attitude of orientation is what the pragmatic method means. The attitude of looking away from first things, principles, ‘categories,’ supposed necessities; and of looking towards last things, fruits, consequences, fasts. So much for the pragmatic method! You may say that I have been praising it rather than explaining it to you, but I shall presently explain it abundantly enough by showing how it works on some familiar problems.
Meanwhile the word pragmatism has come to be used in a still wider sense, as meaning also a certain theory of truth. I mean to give a whole lecture to the statement of that theory, after first paving the way, so I can be very brief now. But brevity is hard to follow, so I ask for your redoubled attention for a quarter of an hour. If much remains obscure, I hope to make it clearer in the later lectures. ” James’ assertion that the value of a truth depends upon its use to the individual who holds it is known as pragmatism.
Additional tenets of James’ pragmatism include the view that the world is a mosaic of diverse experiences that can only be properly understood through an application of “radical empiricism. ” Radical empiricism, distinct from everyday scientific empiricism, presumes that nature and experience can never be frozen for absolutely objective analysis, that, at the very least, the mind of the observer will affect the outcome of any empirical approach to truth since, empirically, the mind and nature are inseparable.
James’ emphasis on diversity as the default human condition — over and against duality, especially Hegelian dialectical duality — has maintained a strong influence in American culture, especially among liberals, and his radical empiricism lies in the background of contemporary relativism. James’ description of the mind-world connection, which he described in terms of a “stream of consciousness,” had a direct and significant impact on avante garde and modernist literature and art.