Pragmatism By William James PDF

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I find a fine example of revolt against the airy and shallow optimism of current religious philosophy in a publication of that valiant anarchistic writer Morrison I.

Swift. Mr. Swift’s anarchism goes a little farther than mine does, but I confess that I sympathize a good deal, and some of you, I know, will sympathize heartily with his dissatisfaction with the idealistic optimism now in you.

He begins his pamphlet on Human Submission with a series of city reporter’s items from newspapers (suicides, deaths from starvation, and the like) as specimens of our civilized régime.

For instance: “After trudging through the snow from one end of the city to the other in the vain hope of securing employment,

and with his wife and six children without food and ordered to leave their home in an upper east-side tenement house because of non-payment of rent, John Corcoran, a clerk, today ended his life by drinking carbolic acid.

Corcoran lost his position three weeks ago through illness, and during the period of idleness, his scanty savings disappeared.

Yesterday he obtained work with a gang of city snow-shovelers, but he was too weak from illness and was forced to quit after an hour’s trial with the shovel.

Then the weary task of looking for employment was again resumed. Thoroughly discouraged, Corcoran returned to his home last night to find his wife and children without food and the notice of dispossession on the door. On the following morning, he drank the poison.

“The records of many more such cases lie before me [Mr. Swift goes on]: an encyclopedia might easily be filled with their kind.

These few I cite as an interpretation of the Universe. We are aware of the presence of God in his world,’ says a writer in a recent English review.

[The very presence of ill in the temporal order is the condition of the perfection of the eternal order, writes Professor Royce (The World and the Individual, 11, 385).

The Absolute is the richer for every discord and for all the diversity which it embraces, says F. H. Bradley (Appearance and Reality, 204).

He means that these slain men make the universe richer, and that is philosophy.

But while Professors Royce and Bradley and a whole host of guileless thor roughed thinkers are unveiling Reality and the Absolute and explaining away evil and pain,

this is the condition of the only beings known to us anywhere in the universe with a developed consciousness of what the universe is. What these people experience is Reality.

You know the same of me. And yet I confess to a certain tremor at the audacity of the enterprise which I am about to begin.

For the philosophy which is so important in each o f us is not a Jechnical matter; i t is our more or less dumb sense oLw^tJife lionestljL_and .deeply means.

It is only partly got from books ; it is our individual way of just seeing and feeling the total push and pressure of the cosmos.

I have no right to assume that many of you are students of the cosmos in the classroom sense, yet here I stand desirous pf ieteresting you^in a philosophy which tono small extent has to be_technically treated.

I wish to fill you with sympathy with a contemporaneous tendency in which I profoundly believe, and yet I have to talk like a professor to you who are not students.

Whatever universe a professor believes in must at any rate be a universe that lends itself to lengthy discourse, A universe definable in two sentences is something for which the professorial intellect has no use.

The founder of pragmatism himself recently gave a course of lectures at the Lowell Institute with that very word in its title, — flashes of brilliant light relieved against Cimmerian darkness! None of us, I fancy, understood all that he said — yet here I stand, making a very similar venture.

I risk it because the very lectures I speak of drew — they brought good audiences. There is, it must be confessgd^a curious f ascinationin heaxm^^eepJthiii^Jf^^ about, even though neither we nor the disputants understand them.

We get t hejBTobleatta tic thrill , weJeeL the pre§gnce_o£ the vastness. Let a controversy begin in a smoking-room anywhere, about free-will or God’s omniscience, or good and evil, and see how every one in the place pricks up his ears.

AuthorWilliam James
Language English
No. of Pages335
PDF Size7.8 MB

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