Pragmatism

“I know that you, ladies and gentlemen, have a philosophy, each and all of you, and that the most interesting and important thing about you is the way in which it determines the perspective in our several worlds. You know the same of me. And yet I confess to a certain tremor at the audacity of the enterprise which I am about to begin. For the philosophy which is so important in each of us is not a technical matter; it is our more or less dumb sense of what life honestly and deeply means. It is only partly got from books; it is our individual way of just seeing and feeling that total push and pressure of the cosmos.

The history of philosophy is to a great extent that of a certain clash of human temperaments. (…) Of whatever temperament a professionla philospher is, he tries when philosophizing to sink the fact of his temperament. Temperament is no conventuonally recognied reason, so he urges impersonal reasons only for his conclusions. Yet his temperament really gives him a stronger bias than any of his more strickly objective premises. It loads the evidence for him one way or the other, making for a more sentimental or a more hard-hearted view of the universe, just as this fact or that principle would. He trusts his temperament. Wanting a universe that suits it, he believes in any representation of the universe that does suit it.

There arises thus a certain insincerity in our philosophic discussions: the potentest of all our premises is never mentioned. (…) But the one thing that has counted so far in philosophy is that a man should see things, see them straight in his own peculiar way, and be dissatisfied with any opposite way of seeing them.

… a very similar contrast expressed in the pair of terms rationalist and empiricist, empiricist meaning your lover of facts in all their crude variety, rationalist meaning your devotee to abstract and eternal principles. No one can live an hour without both facts and principles, so it is a difference rather of emphasis; yet it breeds antipathies of the most pungent character between those who lay the emphasis differently. Now what kinds of philosophy do you find actually offered to meet your need? You find an empirical philosophy that is not religious enough, and a religious philosophy that is not empirical enough for your purpose. (…) What you want is a philosophy that will not only exercise your powers of intellectual abstraction, but that will make some positive connexion with this actual world of finite human lives.

It is a this point that my own solution begins to appear. I offer the oddly-named thing pragmatism as a philosophy that can satisfy both kinds of demands. It can remain religious like the rationalisms, but at the same time, like the empiricisms, it can preserve the richest intimacy with facts. The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable. The pragmatic method in such cases is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences.

There can be no difference anywhere that doesn’t make a difference elsewhere.

William James

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