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Wallace “dabbled in religion,” as Matthew Gilbert put it in a 1997 interview with the author, but while he was openly intrigued by it, Wallace eschewed organized religion. Much of his work is characterized by a search for meaning that in other circumstances or periods would have constituted religious questing, and the absence of belief is generally portrayed in his work as part of the malaise of contemporary life. Religious language permeates the corpus, and religious iconography plays a significant role in several texts. Belief as a good in itself appears to be promoted in his work on politics, on aesthetics, and on culture, with the idea of faith central to his project of working against solipsism, but religion as a practice is often viewed with suspicion. This essay traces that pattern in Wallace’s writing, beginning with Broom’s connection of evangelical religion with capitalism by way of the G.O.D and the figure of John, the wasted prophet son of immense wealth, positioning a particularly American form of religious practice as pernicious and profit-driven. Don’s particular ambivalence about religion in Infinite Jest highlights a complex relationship between faith as a personal attribute and religion as a collective one. The essay argues that Wallace’s approach to religious thought bears the same ambivalent inflections as his work on art and entertainment, which can both inspire thought and suppress it. Nevertheless, the essay argues that while Wallace appeared to view organized religion with some wariness, the metanarratives of religion – belief, faith, transcendence and a sense of the sacred – constitute vital and consistent themes of his craft.
A belief is valuable when it “gets it right”. This “getting it right” is often understood solely as a matter of truth. But there is a second sense of “getting it right” worth exploring. According to this second sense, a belief “gets it right” when its concepts accurately match the way the world is objectively organized – that is, when its concepts are joint-carving, or have fidelity. In this paper, I explore the relationship between fidelity and epistemic value. While many philosophers (especially metaphysicians) acknowledge fidelity's value, they overlook just how much it might disrupt our understanding of epistemic value. To tease out this disruption, I draw on the Jamesian balance between seeking the truth and avoiding the false. A similar balance must be struck both within the pursuit of fidelity itself (“seeking the joints” and “avoiding the gruesome”) as well as between the pursuit of fidelity and the pursuit of truth. I then give an argument against the claim that truth is the higher epistemic good.
The relation between Kantian transcendental philosophy and Jamesian pragmatism is both historically and systematically crucial for the conception of pragmatism and truth developed in the book. Chapter 3 first introduces the basic idea of "transcendental pragmatism" - the integration of pragmatist, or pragmatically naturalized, and Kantian-inspired transcendental arguments identifying conditions for the possibility of things we take to be actual in our practices - and then offers a critical comparison between some of Kant's and James's key ideas, especially elaborating on their pessimistic conception of the human being and suggesting that Jamesian empirical meliorism (as distinguished from both optimism and pessimism) needs to be built upon Kantian transcendental pessimism about the limits of the human condition. Based on this development of transcendental pragmatism, the relation between ethics and religion - analogous in Kant and James - is critically considered: if religion can only be based on ethics, we will have to ask whether (ethically) legitimate religious faith inevitably remains insincere.
The introduction summarizes overall argument unfolding through the six main chapters of the book and provides basic motivation for pursuing the pragmatist considerations of the volume. It emphasizes that the concept of truth may seem to have become seriously threatened in our culture - especially due to familiar political events and the active use of the social media today. As pragmatism, particularly Jamesian pragmatism, might be considered partly responsible for these developments, a novel critical exploration of pragmatist resources for dealing with the issues concerning the responsible pursuit of truth across a wide range of human practices is needed. The introduction also offers preliminary reasons why the argument of the book moves through a rather complex discussion of Kantian transcendental philosophy (and transcendental pragmatism) instead of merely "directly" utilizing the classical pragmatists' views on truth as such.
This chapter continues the discussion of pragmatism and truth from the first chapter by further investigating pluralism about truth in the context of the philosophy of religion, particularly focusing on the debates on religious diversity. Arguing that pragmatism should firmly side with religious inclusivism instead of exclusivism, the chapter compares Jamesian pragmatic pluralism and individualism to Hannah Arendt's more politically framed conception of natality, i.e., human beings' capacity of spontaneously creating novelties into the world, of beginning something anew. This Jamesian-Arendtian entanglement of individuality and novelty can, the chapter proposes, be illuminated by means of holistic pragmatism (indebted to Morton White). The chapter also contains a critical discussion of Naoko Saito's views on what she calls "philosophy as translation" offering a distinctive perspective on pragmatist views on acknowledging diversity, pluralism, and otherness. A defense of Jamesian meliorism, as distinguished from Saito's Cavell-inspired "perfectionism", is also included.
The first chapter asks whether there is a threatening slippery slope from William James's pragmatist conception of truth (as presented in his 1907 work, Pragmatism), via Richard Rorty's radical neopragmatism, to Donald Trump's and other populists' fragmentation of the concept of truth, or even ultimately to the destruction of truth depicted in George Orwell's dystopic novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), whose character O'Brien was interestingly analyzed by Rorty in a 1989 essay on Orwell, arguing for the primacy of freedom over truth. The chapter criticizes Rortyan pragmatism by arguing that the concept of freedom also presupposes the concept of truth (and not just the other way round), also suggesting that, despite the unclarity of some of James's original ideas about truth, there is a sound core to the Jamesian conception of the pursuit of truth. It is, furthermore, suggested that the concept of truth may itself receive a plurality of interpretations within a (meta-level) pragmatist understanding of truth, one of them being the realistic correspondence account, which remains highly relevant, e.g., in the context of combatting post-truth politics.
The "will to believe", introduced by James in his 1897 essay with the same title, is presumably one of the most famous - or, according to some, notorious - ideas in pragmatist philosophy of religion. This Jamesian strategy of argumentation can be extended from the philosophy of religion to other "existential" matters, including the question concerning the freedom of the will. By considering the will to believe argument and interpreting it in the context of holistic pragmatism, this chapter continues the discussion of pragmatist philosophical anthropology and individualism (started in the previous chapters) and thus provides novel perspectives on the notion of pragmatist truthfulness and truth-seeking in worldview-related (including ethical and religious) matters. The will to believe is, furthermore, explored (holistically) in terms of vice- and virtue-epistemology, drawing attention to the role it may play in a self-critical development of an individual's doxastic character. The concept of sincerity thus again turns out to be crucial to a proper understanding of not just the pursuit of truth generally but of the will to believe as well.
It is commonly believed that populist politics and social media pose a serious threat to our concept of truth. Philosophical pragmatists, who are typically thought to regard truth as merely that which is 'helpful' for us to believe, are sometimes blamed for providing the theoretical basis for the phenomenon of 'post-truth'. In this book, Sami Pihlström develops a pragmatist account of truth and truth-seeking based on the ideas of William James, and defends a thoroughly pragmatist view of humanism which gives space for a sincere search for truth. By elaborating on James's pragmatism and the 'will to believe' strategy in the philosophy of religion, Pihlström argues for a Kantian-inspired transcendental articulation of pragmatism that recognizes irreducible normativity as a constitutive feature of our practices of pursuing the truth. James himself thereby emerges as a deeply Kantian thinker.
This is the first study of Renaissance architecture as an immersive, multisensory experience that combines historical analysis with the evidence of first-hand accounts. Questioning the universalizing claims of contemporary architectural phenomenologists, David Karmon emphasizes the infinite variety of meanings produced through human interactions with the built environment. His book draws upon the close study of literary and visual sources to prove that early modern audiences paid sustained attention to the multisensory experience of the buildings and cities in which they lived. Through reconstructing the Renaissance understanding of the senses, we can better gauge how constant interaction with the built environment shaped daily practices and contributed to new forms of understanding. Architecture and the Senses in the Italian Renaissance offers a stimulating new approach to the study of Renaissance architecture and urbanism as a kind of 'experiential trigger' that shaped ways of both thinking and being in the world.
Rorty believed that taking the linguistic turn meant rejecting the idea of “immediate experience,” and he was equally certain that philosophy had nothing of value to offer social and political theory. Those convictions distinguished his version of neopragmatism from those of his contemporaries Hillary Putnam, Ruth Anna Putnam, and Richard J. Bernstein, and from the ideas of his predecessors William James and John Dewey. In his last book, Achieving Our Country, Rorty sought to respond to the critics who challenged his public/private dualism by aligning himself with the Cold War-era labor movement. He remained unwilling, however, to acknowledge the costs of moving from the social democratic “historical Dewey” to his preferred “hypothetical Dewey,” an insouciant proto-Rorty who attributed progressive changes to “lucky accidents” and championed the poetized culture of liberal ironism over the hard work of forging new democratic alliances among a new generation of activists inspired by demands for recognition as well as redistribution.
Although the received view of Ernst Mach comported well with Mach’s historical influence on members of the Vienna Circle , it is inadequate, and it is now giving way to a more realistic and nuanced ‘neutral monist’ view. I defend the neutral monist tradition and show that it is actually a form of scientific realism, not positivism. I also argue that it is more in line with Mach’s contemporary reception, and that it leads to the views of American Realists, as well as to the views of our contemporary neutral monists. I start with a characterisation of some tenets of neutral monism in general, many of which were shared by William James and Bertrand Russell, both deeply influenced by Mach. I then detail the evidence for these views in Mach’s texts (including his notebooks and other documents). Seeing Mach as a kind of realist also casts much light on his scientific views and corrects a number of historical misconceptions regarding both atomism and Mach’s philosophy of space and time. Finally, I discuss Mach’s place in the neutral monist movement of James, Russell, and the American Realists, and the revival of these views in recent philosophy of mind.
Ernst Mach and William James were personal friends and intellectual allies. Might there have been an American pragmatist influence on Logical Positivism via James’s influence on Mach? I explore the relationship between these two friends, arguing that, if anything, Mach’s instrumentalism about science actually influenced James more than James’s pragmatism influenced Mach. What is more, empirical and not philosophical issues dominated their intellectual exchanges, and I examine the three topics about which they most frequently engaged one another: the role of the semicircular canals in the perception of bodily orientation, the question of whether there is a distinctive 'feeling of effort' (Innervationsgefühl), and the nature of visual spatial perception. The debate over the Innervationsgefühl is particularly interesting because James apparently convinced Mach to reverse his position on the matter. In short, we remember Mach as a master experimentalist and James as a philosophical populariser, so it is a surprise to learn that the main philosophical influence apparently flowed from Mach to James, while the main influence when it comes to matters of empirical interest actually flowed the other way.
This volume presents new essays on the work and thought of physicist, psychologist, and philosopher Ernst Mach. Moving away from previous estimations of Mach as a pre-logical positivist, the essays reflect his rehabilitation as a thinker of direct relevance to debates in the contemporary philosophies of natural science, psychology, metaphysics, and mind. Topics covered include Mach's work on acoustical psychophysics and physics; his ideas on analogy and the principle of conservation of energy; the correct interpretation of his scheme of 'elements' and its relationship to his 'historical-critical' method; the relationship of his thought to movements such as American pragmatism, realism, and neutral monism, as well as to contemporary figures such as Friedrich Nietzsche; and the reception and influence of his works in Germany and Austria, particularly by the Vienna Circle.
Chapter two turns to Henry James’s supernatural classic, The Turn of the Screw (1898), to show the backlash of the literary intelligentsia against New Thought and the inner child. This chapter reads The Turn of the Screw as a critical response to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy that mocks the book’s saccharine portrayal of innocent children and its New Thought overtones. While siblings Miles and Flora initially resemble Lord Fauntleroy in their youth, beauty, and apparent innocence, their subsequent actions could not be more different. Whereas Burnett’s protagonist heals his grieving mother and depressed grandfather and brings them spiritual peace, Miles and Flora lead their governess to the brink of madness by consorting with evil spirits. James, who wrote so perceptively about the inner life of a child a year earlier in What Maisie Knew (1897), deliberately portrayed Miles and Flora as opaque, unsympathetic, and allied with dark forces. In so doing, he skewered New Thought's relentless idealization of children as conduits to God. He also paved the way for more recent depictions of evil children in horror fiction and in films such as The Bad Seed (1956), The Omen (1976), or We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011).
In the first part of the chapter, I review evidence showing that the same centers controlling laughter are also involved in generating the affective aspect accompanying laughter, in line with pragmatists’ theories of emotion. Subsequently, I discuss new data showing that these centers can be activated by the passive observation of others’ laughter, hence a “mirror mechanism” for laughter. Inspired by James’ assumption that “the whole function of thinking is but one step in the production of habits of action”, I argue that this mechanism boosts two distinct sets of “habits of actions”, at different timescales. First, laughter mirroring underpins behavioral phenomena such as facial mimicry and laughter contagion that, in turn, play a crucial social function in boosting social bonding. Second, the consequences of laughter mirroring impact on social customs, traditions, and habits which, in turn, impacts on individual brains and emotions – in line with theories on the social genesis of self, advanced by all classic pragmatists.
William James was one of the most influential American psychologists and philosophers. His writings remain thought-provoking and relevant more than a century after his death. His seminal ideas range from free will, determinism, the nature of consciousness, the mechanisms responsible for our emotions, religious and spiritual experiences, psychic phenomena, and the veracity of mediumship. This chapter focuses on what is less well known, that behind the appearance of success he lived a life burdened with recurrent depression, hypochondria, and myriad physical afflictions, most of them psychosomatic in nature. His search for a career path was long and torturous. At different stages in his life, he was a frustrated artist, a reluctant physician, and a drifter. He found his calling in teaching. His lifelong search for the nature of the mind and the soul was deeply entangled with his father’s, whose tragic and accidental loss of a leg in childhood led to a relentless lifelong quest for “real” answers. The chapter also touches on Ralph Waldo Emerson, his godfather, and includes brief descriptions of William James’ famed novelist brother, Henry James, Jr., as well as his sister, Alice James, the brilliant reclusive diarist.
Pragmatism arose in response to the dominant philosophical ideas of the time, one of which was neo-Kantianism. Present approaches in cognitive science often derive from basic neo-Kantian ideas, notably the notion that social life and language depend on shared “frames.” Pragmatism rejected these neo-Kantian ideas, and instead relied on an extended notion of habit. But the extension required a response to some core neo-Kantian concerns. Pragmatism provided some psychological thinking, especially in William James, and in the critique of the reflex arc concept. This was paralleled and extended by Russian psychologists. They developed a research program which supported alternative accounts of the key problematics of neo-Kantianism, such as the nature of categories and of abstraction. This bears directly on social theory, which uncritically adopted ideas of shared frameworks as an explanatory shortcut, without providing a psychological or cognitive account of how this kind of sharing was possible.
What role is played by habitual behaviors in sport skill? To answer this question we examine and contrast two different views on habit: the intellectualist and the enactivist. Intellectualism, which can be traced back to William James’ mechanist account of habits as reflex-like automatic dispositions, claims that deliberation and explicit goal-representation are necessary to make behavior intelligent and flexible because habits alone do not have this capacity. Enactivism, on the contrary, claims that habits are both necessary for and constitutive of the development of sports skills because they can be inherently intelligent and flexible. After reviewing behavioral and neuro-cognitive evidence in favour of each view, we offer an anti-intellectualist argument to support the enactivist view: habitual behaviors are legitimate sources of prereflective motivation and bodily know-how. Accordingly, skillful action control is not constrained but disclosed by habit formation. Automatism then is not a drawback for strategic control and improvisation but their pragmatic foundation.
The most accessible paper in this volume, “Philosophy as Ethics” traces the historical origins of philosophy and the initial spur to philosophizing to the desire to justify values. Ethics, on this view, includes “aesthetics, political philosophy, and the philosophical parts of moral theology” and is at the root of the main branches of philosophy – metaphysics, logic, epistemology, even science. Yet it is only when questions cease to have ethical implications, Rorty argues, that they are ceded to these areas of inquiry. In the spirit of William James, Rorty underscores the futility of the two-thousand-year “pathetic history” of failed attempts to justify ethical imperatives. Still, he finds a positive lesson here, arguing that “a bad reason may be a good story.” He uses James’s theory of truth to show that there is a pragmatic way to argue an “ought” to an “is” that avoids problems associated with positivism and foundationalism.
Recognizing the complexity, strangeness and variety of the Decadent interest in religion, this chapter asks what about religion proved so attractive. Noting some of the scholarly developments in this area since the turn of the twenty-first century, the chapter considers the limits of a secular purview and invites readers to join with the Decadents in seeking a more capacious understanding of what religious belief might entail. The work of reimagining belief has long been part of the life of faith, and the chapter explores this point by developing a theological account of desire in the work of Oscar Wilde and Michael Field. Just because the Christian faith is fluid and complex in the work of the Decadents, it does not follow that Decadence is inevitably heterodox. However, the Decadents’ interest in religion did sometimes take them beyond the Christian faith to other faith traditions and to mysticism and the occult.