On January 1, 2013, the William James book discussion group starts with the 1892 essay, “The Will to Believe”. I’m going to post a reminder almost once a week, giving information about William James and his work so that everyone with an interest has a chance to get into the discussion. (Thank you MsGrin for the idea)
After covering this short essay, we’ll poll the participants to decide whether to do another essay or to move on to one of his book length masterpieces, “The Variety of Religious Experience” and “Pragmatism”. The seeds of the two books are contained in “The Will to Believe”.
The word "pragmatism" was coined by Charles Sanders Peirce. His friend, William James, wrote about the concept extensively, putting it into our vocabulary.
Idealism and pragmatism are two approaches to Truth / truth. Idealism is typified by Plato who believed everything in this world to be imperfect shadows of perfect spiritual archetypes. In “The Republic” Plato focuses on ideals to imagine the best form of government. Plato’s pupil, Aristotle, typifies pragmatism. He attempted to find the best form of government by in depth analysis of dozens of Greek City-States which attempted to discern what worked and what didn’t.
Platonic ideals were very influential in Christianity. Aristotelian pragmatism has come to define the scientific method. Both concepts are at war in the political realm as well as within each of us.
Peirce was actually not a pragmatist, as we use the word today. While James was careful to always credit the term to Peirce, Peirce didn't want the credit because he believed James to mean something quite different. James helped Peirce to stay afloat financially over the years as Peirce was a brilliant man but a poor teacher.