And another one (Pragmatist): William James (Part 2)

[Find the first part here: here. And the other parts about Rorty, Putnam and Pragmatism: Introduction, Truth , Peirce part1 and part 2.]psm_v77_d418_william_james

What is William James’ view of philosophy? Is he really a therapeutic philosopher like Rorty claims? What is even a therapeutic philosopher? This idea comes most popularly from Wittgensteins. A therapeutic philosopher is someone, who thinks that the problems of philosophy are just misunderstandings and everybody who believes that they are real problems should be cured like he has a mental illness. If you believe that there is a mind body problem, then read some therapeutic philosopher and he will show you that there is no problem to start with. (A metaphilosophy that is, most likely, wrong. There are some problems in philosophy, that are really problems.)

Actually, James is quoting Chesterton in the beginning of his lectures on pragmatism, with the following words:

There are some people – and I am one of them – who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy.

And then he himself continues:

I think with Mr. Chesterton in this matter. […] 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.

That are not the words of a philosopher who thinks that all problems in philosophy are just pseudo-problems that need to be cured. For James it is important to ask questions like how we life good and what our place as man is in the cosmos. His pragmatic method should settle metaphyical disputes, but settling is not dissolve.

One is wondering how Rorty could see an ally in James. On the other hand, Putnam appreciates James critique of the dichotomies like fact/value or theory/interpretation. He takes James direct realism in perception as example. And he holds up the pragmatic stance, that vocabular that is indispensible in our everyday practice should be taken metaphyisical serious. Putnam writes:

[If] there is one thing I have learned from classical pragmatists,  Peirce, Dewey, and
James, as well as from Wittgenstein, it is to take seriously – metaphysically seriously,
if  you  like  –  ways  of  talking  that  are  obviously  indispensable  to  our  lives  and  our thought.

That resonates with statements from James like this:

Common sense appears thus as a perfectly definite stage in our understanding of things, a stage that satisfies in an extraordinarily successful way the purposes for which we think.


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