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New Meetup: Philosopher William James: The Pragmatic Method

From: Steve
Sent on: Monday, October 12, 2009 6:25 PM
Announcing a new Meetup for Plato's Cave - The Orlando Philosophy Meetup Group!

What: Philosopher William James: The Pragmatic Method

When: November 22,[masked]:00 PM

Austins Coffee
929 West Fairbanks Avenue
Winter Park, FL 32789

Philosopher William James: The Pragmatic Method

William James, psychologist and philosopher, was the founder of the movement of thought called Pragmatism, which not only spread throughout America, but also over Europe as the fashionable philosophy for more than twenty years. At Harvard, he had been a member of "The Metaphysical Club," an informal group that met to discuss philosophy and included Charles Sanders Peirce, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., and Chauncey Wright, all of whom were to become well known in the pragmatist movement.

James is generally considered not only the most influential of all American philosophers but the very representative of American thought. However, the results of his thinking are by no means confined to his native country, and his background is anything but exclusively American. Very few American families maintained such intimate contact with Europe as did Henry James, Sr., a theologian and philosophical writer, and a great amateur of wide culture, and his sons William and Henry, the great novelist, who, on his part, was more at home in France and England than in the land of his birth.

William James was born in New York in 1842 and died in 1910. He studied medicine at Harvard University, and went to Germany to complete his studies in psychology in 1867. After his return to America, he taught at Harvard, and later, for short periods, at Columbia University and at Stanford.

James was first among the Harvard faculty giants a century ago, a man who?d tutored Teddy Roosevelt, W. E. B. DuBois and Gertrude Stein, a famous international lecturer who also dabbled in drugs and mind-bending gases and who, on his death-bed asked his brother Henry to linger in Cambridge for 6 weeks post-mortem, to receive if possible William?s messages from the next world.

James' Pragmatic Method
James starts from a Positivist viewpoint, that is, from experience, which for him is established by psychological facts. The psychological facts make their appearance as an undifferentiated stream. In this psychic stream the mind makes a distinction between subject and object, sensations and concepts. Concepts arise out of the necessity of organizing the confused facts of experience. Hence their value is not absolute but relative to their utility in practice, i.e., relative to their practical consequences (Pragmatism).

"The pragmatic method," says James, "tries to interpret each notion (concept) by tracing its respective practical consequences." The value of concepts whose practical consequences have not yet been experienced scientifically, depends upon the will. Thus between two hypotheses, neither of which can be tested scientifically, the choice is made by the will on the basis of utility.

For example, the question of the existence of God is reduced to the following: "What would be the practical consequences if we believed that matter produces all things, or if we believed that God exists and that the world is the work of His providence?" In the first hypothesis, James observes, the world would appear deeply enshrouded in the coldness of death; in the second hypothesis the world appears solid, warm,, full of real meaning. Thus our choice must be made in favor of the second hypothesis.

Plato's Cave philosophers are invited to read the materials in our files section, listen to the suggested audios, and join our critical review of James' philosophy and pragmatic method.

Listen here:

. . . and check regularly for new files and postings.

NOTE: There will be no meeting in October.


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