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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”.

Text of "The Will to Believe"
Wikipedia entry

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.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (10+ / 0-)

    Our reason is quite satisfied ... if we can find a few arguments that will do to recite in case our credulity is criticized... Our faith is faith in someone else's faith, and in the greatest matters this is most the case. - William James

    by radical empiricist on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 08:41:39 PM PST

  •  Long ago and far away, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Garrett, TomP

    I wrote my senior thesis on Charles Peirce.  I worked with a great professor and really enjoyed dissecting the material.  

    Now I can't remember the name of Peirce's damn essay!

    •  How to Make our Ideas Clear (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TomP

      I thought the article that inspired James to be very worthwhile reading. I confess to getting quickly bogged down with Peirce's other writings that I sampled.

      Our reason is quite satisfied ... if we can find a few arguments that will do to recite in case our credulity is criticized... Our faith is faith in someone else's faith, and in the greatest matters this is most the case. - William James

      by radical empiricist on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 09:11:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  History of Psychology (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    TomP

    Read some of James in my History of Psychology class in graduate school. Most of what I read is apparently lost in the fog of middle age.

    "It's the economy, stupid!" James Carville

    by BlueBeaumontBoyz on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 09:05:58 PM PST

    •  History of Psychology (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      TomP, wilderness voice

      One place where the philosophic concept of pragmatism has enjoyed total victory is psychology. The early twentieth century was plagued by the search for a perfect theory. Now therapists are generally happy to use any methods that work, even multiple methods that seem in theoretical conflict with one another.

      Our reason is quite satisfied ... if we can find a few arguments that will do to recite in case our credulity is criticized... Our faith is faith in someone else's faith, and in the greatest matters this is most the case. - William James

      by radical empiricist on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 09:21:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  well I'll be! (3+ / 0-)

    I've been thinking about reading some Pierce and James and then writing a diary about American Pragmatism! Must be something in the air or zeitgeist or maybe it's the water.... Anyway, it sounds very interesting!

    If your internal map of reality doesn't match external conditions, bad things happen.--Cambias

    by pimutant on Tue Nov 13, 2012 at 10:07:40 PM PST

  •  I look forward to more. (5+ / 0-)

    I've been appreciative of William James since my second year in college.  

    When I was 18 I had a full-blown, reality-shaking mystical experience out of the blue -- which then sent me on a years' long exploration of psychology, religions, philosophy, etc., just to try to find out what the heck had happened.

    In a class on "Psychology and Religion" a year or two later we looked into James' "The Variety of Religious Experience" and I was so grateful to find someone who not only seemed to know what I had experienced, but was very sympathetic to it.

  •  The Varieties of Religious Experience (4+ / 0-)

    . . . is a good read.  Gave me a place to put my "hot flash" of a mystical experience.

    I used to be Snow White. And then I drifted. - Mae West

    by CherryTheTart on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 01:24:54 AM PST

    •  Me too. Reading Varieties prefaced mine. (0+ / 0-)

      If I had not read "Varieties" i don't think my mind would have been open in the way necessary to experience my "Unexplainable Mystical Experience".  I am curious about your
      "mystical hot flash".  Could we share notes as I feel alone in having had one.
      johncoxatlanta@yahoo.com

  •  always liked to read James. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    poemworld, niemann

    I'm glad Barack Obama is our President.

    by TomP on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 04:55:05 AM PST

  •  The Varieties of Religious Experience . . . (3+ / 0-)

    was also my introduction to William James. Going to a fundamentalist church I was trying to understand my own yearning for faith and the contradictory faiths of those around me. Great book, but too big an initial bite for most. If you haven't read "The Will to Believe" you'll be surprised at what a good short summary of faith it is.

    Our reason is quite satisfied ... if we can find a few arguments that will do to recite in case our credulity is criticized... Our faith is faith in someone else's faith, and in the greatest matters this is most the case. - William James

    by radical empiricist on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 06:42:50 AM PST

  •  i loved "The Varieties of Religious Experience" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Dave in Northridge, niemann

    my fave quote just leapt out of the text at me when i first read it:

    "I recommend this matter to your serious pondering, for it is certain that the prevalent fear of poverty among the educated classes is the worst moral disease from which our civilization suffers."

    William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, pp. 402-403

    never more true than today, when the spectre of poverty has grown in reach and scope. i so admire those who soldier on in the face of destitution. they have true courage. fwiw

    "A union is a way of getting things done together that you can't get done alone." Utah Phillips

    by poemworld on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 06:43:08 AM PST

  •  The Varieties of Religious Experience (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    niemann

    introduced me to James too (via I think David Brion Davis, and if not it was the only bright spot in a course I took with Cushing Strout), and it's inflected my life in a lot of different ways.  I'm game, and this feels like a great idea.

    -7.75, -8.10; All it takes is security in your own civil rights to make you complacent.

    by Dave in Northridge on Wed Nov 14, 2012 at 06:53:14 AM PST

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