- Series: The Works of William James (Book 11)
- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press; 1st edition (August 2, 1978)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674697375
- ISBN-13: 978-0674697379
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #145,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Pragmatism and The Meaning of Truth (The Works of William James) 1st Edition
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From the Back Cover
James attacks the transcendental, rationalist tradition in philosophy and tries to clear the ground for the doctrine he called radical empiricism.
About the Author
William James (1842 –1910) was a pioneering American psychologist and philosopher who was trained as a physician. He wrote influential books on the young science of psychology, educational psychology, psychology of religious experience and mysticism, and on the philosophy of pragmatism. He was the brother of novelist Henry James and of diarist Alice James. William James was born at the Astor House in New York City. He was the son of Henry James Sr., an independently wealthy and notoriously eccentric Swedenborgian theologian well acquainted with the literary and intellectual elites of his day. The intellectual brilliance of the James family milieu and the remarkable epistolary talents of several of its members have made them a subject of continuing interest to historians, biographers, and critics. James interacted with a wide array of writers and scholars throughout his life, including his godfather Ralph Waldo Emerson, his godson William James Sidis, as well as Charles Sanders Peirce, Bertrand Russell, Josiah Royce, Ernst Mach, John Dewey, Walter Lippmann, Mark Twain, Horatio Alger, Jr., Henri Bergson and Sigmund Freud. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
The funny thing about reading this was my continued identification with James' critics. As I studied his ideas, I kept raising objections about his philosophy, only to have those objections countered by him later on in response to the critics (e.g. Russell). James continually makes reference to his difficulty in accepting that such intellectual and intelligent philosophers would so misunderstand his views. Part of the problem appears to be a) his continued redefinition of truth as not representing reality so much as it's working relation between subject and object, and b) his subtle modifications to his theory in response to criticism. Each of these prior points make for some confusion and hence seems to be the cause for much of the misunderstanding regarding his pragmatic philosophy.
Pragmatism holds a special use in epistemological inquiry given it's universality and pro-evolving character. As a philosophy it can encompass all fields of discovery and personal knowledge and is most open to change given sufficient reason (akin to the scientific method). However, in another sense it seems to longingly grasp for the universal as objections such as "Belief A may not be true but may still be useful" are not adequately dealt with by this philosophy. He actually at one point briefly mentions this objection and then brushes it off without further analysis.
I recommend this book for anyone looking for a heavy read into an alternate theory of truth. Absolutists will repeatedly cringe (and not always justifiably so) and relativists will delight (once again, not always justifiably so), but it is a thought-provoking look into how one can view the process of truth-verification.
The most controversial part of "Pragmatism" consisted of its theory of truth which James developed in Chapter VI. He argued that the truth of an idea was the use that could be made of it, or as he put it in the Preface of his book, "The Meaning of Truth," "true ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate, and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot." James's theory of truth appeared counter-intuitive to many people, philosophers and laymen alike, who believed that a true idea (or true statement, claim, proposition, etc) was one that corresponded in some sense to reality.
In order to explain further his view of truth and to respond to criticism, James gathered together thirteen of his published lectures and addresses on the subject. He added two additional lectures and a Preface and edited and published them in 1909 as a book "The Meaning of Truth: A Sequel to "Pragmatism". These essays show the development of James's thinking about the nature of truth and attempt to rebut criticism of the theory set forth in "Pragmatism". "The Meaning of Truth" differs in style from its famous predecessor. Where "Pragmatism" is nontechical and written for a lay audience, "The Meaning of Truth" was, for the most part written for professional philosophers. It is much more difficult to read and to understand. Yet it is essential to James's thought.
James had another explicit goal in writing "The Meaning of Truth." In addition to developing the pragmatic method, James also was committed to a philosophical view he called radical pluralism which he expounded in his 1907 book, "A Pluralistic Universe." In "Pragmatism", James had said that pragmatism could be accepted as a method without accepting radical pluralism. In the Preface to "The Meaning of Truth", James said that a major advantage to his theory of truth was that it cleared the philosophical ground of absolutes and of fixed, monistic entities behind, in some strange sense, the world of ordinary experience. With the need for absolutes or transcendental theories disposed of, James said, the doctrine of radical empiricism would be supported. That doctrine argued for the contingency, rather than necessity, of much of experience, and held further that the only things that philosophers could sensibly discuss were matters definable in terms drawn from experience.
The essays in "The Meaning of Truth" were originally written between 1884 and 1909, and in them James foreshadows, explains, defends, and subtly modifies the theory articulated in "Pragmatism". The most important single section of the book is the Preface which James composed for the volume to explain where he had been in the theory of truth and where he was going. I will comment briefly on some of the key essays.
The first essay, "The Function of Cognition," written in 1884, explains the theory of truth in psychological terms -- some critics argue that throughout his writings James tended to confuse psychological with philosophical issues. Of the other essays in the book predating "Pragmatism", I found "The Essence of Humanism" written in 1905 most useful in stating James's position.
James's most sustained attempt to rebut critics of his doctrine was in his essay "The Pragmatist Account of Truth and its Misunderstanders" published in 1908. In this essay, James set forth what he deemed to be eight misunderstandings of pragmatism and struggled to answer these misunderstandings. This essay is essential in considering James's views. The essay "Two English Critics", first written for the volume attempts to answer Bertrand Russell's criticisms of James, and in the concluding "Dialogue" James tries to show how the pragmatic theory answers questions about which we have no experience -- say back in the early days of the earth before human beings appeared.
James's theory of truth is difficult and slippery, and he seems to change it subtly in response to critics. Several objections to the doctrine note its idealistic character in that James's theory seems to make true statements independent of the existence of reality -- of physical objects, say, existing independent of the knower. In "The Pragmatist Account of Truth", in the subsequent essays, and in the Preface, James tries to answer this objection by insisting that his pragmatism is committed to metaphysical realism -- to the existence of objects outside the knower and that his theory of truth works because it is about these objects. (In "A Pluralistic Universe", James's metaphysics seems more idealist in character.) Some readers take this response as qualifying James's pragmatic theory or even as giving away the game as it imparts a realist component to his epistemology that is over and above his theory of truth as what works, consistent with other beliefs. Ultimately it seems to me that James wants to have it both ways between a representational theory and a pragmatic theory.
Pragmatism as developed by James, Peirce, Dewey, and others is, in many forms and varieties, still much alive today. James laid the foundation for the doctrine in "Pragmatism" and in "The Meaning of Truth" but he did not say the last word. The former book is a grand introduction to the subject while the latter book is detailed and technical. Taken together the works will help the reader think about pragmatism and to understand a distinctive American contribution to philosophy.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Along with Charles Pierce and later on John Dewey , William James is the great creator of...Read more