Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of ThinkingPragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking by William James
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sometimes the audiobook version is the only way to go, and this is a case in point. I listened to a Librivox volunteer read this series of lectures given by James in Boston in the early 1900’s, and he did a fantastic job. There is something about the way a person whose first language is not English can read clearly and slowly that helps with comprehension. Unfortunately, the actual content of the lectures underwhelmed me, but they were worth listening to nonetheless. James tries to find a middle way between empiricism and rationalism, but he does not make the path very clear in my mind. He could have accomplished all he wanted to say in one lecture, but he ends up repeating himself without adding any nuances. My favorite quote from the lectures came near the end of the last one:

I fear that my previous lectures, confined as they have been to human and humanistic aspects, may have left the impression on many of you that pragmatism means methodically to leave the superhuman out. I have shown small respect indeed for the Absolute, and I have until this moment spoken of no other superhuman hypothesis but that. But I trust that you see sufficiently that the Absolute has nothing but its superhumanness in common with the theistic God. On pragmatistic principles, if the hypothesis of God works satisfactorily in the widest sense of the word, it is true. Now whatever its residual difficulties may be, experience shows that it certainly does work, and that the problem is to build it out and determine it, so that it will combine satisfactorily with all the other working truths. I cannot start upon a whole theology at the end of this last lecture; but when I tell you that I have written a book on men’s religious experience, which on the whole has been regarded as making for the reality of God, you will perhaps exempt my own pragmatism from the charge of being an atheistic system. I firmly disbelieve, myself, that our human experience is the highest form of experience extant in the universe. I believe rather that we stand in much the same relation to the whole of the universe as our canine and feline pets do to the whole of human life. They inhabit our drawing-rooms and libraries. They take part in scenes of whose significance they have no inkling. They are merely tangent to curves of history the beginnings and ends and forms of which pass wholly beyond their ken. So we are tangents to the wider life of things. But, just as many of the dog’s and cat’s ideals coincide with our ideals, and the dogs and cats have daily living proof of the fact, so we may well believe, on the proofs that religious experience affords, that higher powers exist and are at work to save the world on ideal lines similar to our own.

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