Category Archives: William James

Pragmatic Turning

On February 13, 2013, Richard J. Bernstein, the 2013 Selzer Visiting Philosopher gave this lecture at Beloit College. Dr. Bernstein is the Vera List Professor of Philosophy at The New School for Social Research.

The standard philosophical conventions that divide philosophy into such “schools” as pragmatism, analytic philosophy and Continental philosophy obscures [their] common pragmatic themes. Once these ideological blinders are removed, the philosophical investigations of the classical pragmatists, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein take on a fresh and more
exciting character. If we bracket the standard and misleading philosophical classification and look at what these philosophers are actually saying and doing, then a very different panorama emerges. We discover commonalities in what pragmatists, Wittgenstein and Heidegger are all reacting against, in their critique of traditional epistemology and metaphysics, and especially in the sea change in philosophical orientation that they seek to bring out. The Pragmatic Turn, 2010

Richard Rorty: RR: [There have been in our century] three conceptions of the aim of philosophizing. They are the Husserlian (or ‘scientistic’) answer, the Heideggerian (or ‘poetic’) answer, and the pragmatist (or ‘political’) answer.

In the comments section attached to this video is a fundamentalist’s view: I just to want to know “Did our Prophet and his companion ever dance like this way to call almighty Allah” If yes, what is the proof?. If not, this is an innovation. Prophet (PBUH) said, every innovation is misguidance , and every misguidance leads to Jahannam / hell fire.” ?

As Bernstein argues in his book, Violence: Thinking Without Banisters, religious certainty is naturally violent.

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What Is Your Personal Culture?

culture-contextOne view of the reduction to practice, or to application.

In the fall of 1968 I entered ninth grade. I was, up to ninth grade, a lackadaisical student. What was at the time termed social studies, and english, were my favorite subjects. However, I was dreamy and had not internalized the point of it all. At the same time I had spent a good chunk of 1964-1966 reading/skimming through my family’s 1962 World Book Encyclopedia. All sorts of stuff fascinated me and I was a voracious reader.

Here I am describing experience that began to gather together the elements of my personal culture.  (This was happening in the First Order of my self-constitution, because at the time I knew nothing about culture or intentionality!)

Late in September 1968, the head of the experimental program that had been implemented for ninth graders at Roxboro Junior High, a chain-smoking professorial type named Jim McGuinness–teachers smoked in the classroom in this era–asked me into his office, where also sat an english teacher, Ron Palladino.

The shorter version of this meeting was that Mr. McGuinness requested Mr. Palladino

“Take Stephen under his wing and support in any way Stephen’s quest for knowledge while also helping Stephen organize particular presentations which will verify his learning.”

(His directive to his colleague was something like this.)

Oh, I went to classes too. Yet, the eventual upshot was: ninth grade was my single all-star year in the sweep of my formal education. I aced everything and, moreover, I learned a lot and learned I love learning.

One year later my parents had managed to leverage this stellar performance into my admission to Hawken School, a college preparatory day school. I did well in everything but the two subjects that came to thrash my transcript, spanish and math.

But, with the exception of an art teacher and a cross country coach, I was subject to educative mechanics which neither served: my narcissism, or my intrinsic motivation, or my developing culture. I learned mountains more from reading my way independently through a variety of subjects, until, I came onto my social personality in the counter-culture milieu devised by the affluent sons of the professional class, constituting a hippie tribe at prep school. Mainly, I was bored and turned off by the first institutional fault, no teacher cared to massage my narcissism by taking my wide-ranging fascinations seriously.

I loved learning on my own,  loved learning with customized support, but, I didn’t get school. And I surely didn’t understand that the purpose of schooling is potentially fulfilled when the student gets school. Nor did the fear factor over school performance and adult outcomes introduced into the mix by my professional parents take hold. Nor did either ever ask about or cared to understand my motivations. I arrested my development in one direction yet liberated it in another dimension.

All of these elements are crucial aspects of what is today, at sixty, my own personal culture. In turn, my personal culture reflects how it came to be, and, what are its main and side and untravelled roads.

My own culture soon evoked the independent, wandering, perennial student, and this in turn is the ocean underneath the present-day experimenter, theorist, artist, and, colleague.

As a practitioner, and taking my lead from Jim McGuinness, it is required groundwork, when possible, to learn what are some of the cultural features of the learner. Practitioners carry their own unique culture into the situation of practice, and, every such situation also instantiates the culture of its subjects, those who are the unique individuals come to find themselves in the specific situation.

Where the tips of educator and learner intersect is the point at where the twined reduction of the total genetic systems of experience, learning, knowledge, and personal culture of both persons comes together and, out of these now entangled wellsprings, there is newly constituted a co-creative unique cultural production–so-to-speak.

Slides from my recent presentation at the quarterly EL-COP session.

No matter how complicated the background of practice may be, at the point of application there is a reduction to application-in-situ in the ad-mixture of the now entangled unque cultures of practitioner/client.

In the example of one-on-one practice there would be the point of contact constituting the reduction, and, underneath this contact, are two vast generative oceans of prior experience and learning.

The key question able to excavate personal culture, echoing the pragmatic turn of William James and John Dewey, is: What interests you?

Three schema purloined via google image search that suggest to me vectors for investigating personal culture, and this includes the kind of auto-ethnography a person can do for themselves, about their self.


Bell's quadrants

Bell’s quadrants

8 Ways of Aboriginal Learning

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A Round, A Hole


Some years ago, being with a camping party in the mountains, I returned from a solitary ramble to find everyone engaged in a ferocious metaphysical dispute, The corpus of the dispute was a squirrel -a live squirrel supposed to be clinging to one side of a tree-trunk; while over against the tree’s opposite side a human being was imagined to stand. This human witness tries to get sight of the squirrel by moving rapidly round the tree, but no matter how fast he goes, the squirrel moves as fast in the opposite direction, and always keeps the tree between himself and the man, so that never a glimpse of him is caught. The resultant metaphysical problem now is this: Does the man go round the squirrel or not? He goes round the tree, sure enough, and the squirrel is on the tree; but does he go round the squirrel?

In the unlimited leisure of the wilderness, discussion had been worn threadbare. Everyone had taken sides, and was obstinate; and the numbers on both sides were even. Each side, when I appeared, therefore appealed to me to make it a majority. Mindful of the scholastic adage that whenever you meet a contradiction you must make a distinction, I immediately sought and found one, as follows: “Which party is right,” I said, “depends on what you practically mean by ‘going round’ the squirrel. If you mean passing from the north of him to the east, then to the south, then to the west, and then to the north of him again, obviously the man does go round him, for he occupies these successive positions. But if on the contrary you mean being first in front of him, then on the right of him then behind him, then on his left, and finally in front again, it is quite as obvious that the man fails to go round him, for by the compensating movements the squirrel makes, he keeps his belly turned towards the man all the time, and his back turned away. Make the distinction, and there is no occasion for any farther dispute. You are both right and both wrong according as you conceive the verb ‘to go round’ in one practical fashion or the other.”
William James, excerpt from What Pragmatism Means, hat tip to the Mead Project




The really vital question for us all is, What is this world going to be? What is life eventually to make of itself? [src]

Our intelligence cannot wall itself up alive, like a pupa in its chrysalis. It must at any cost keep on speaking terms with the universe that engendered it. William James

I. Radical Empiricism – William James

I give the name of radical empiricism to my Weltanschauung. Empiricism is known as the opposite of rationalism. Rationalism tends to emphasize universals and to make wholes prior to parts in the order of logic as well as in that of being. Empiricism, on the contrary, lays the explanatory stress upon the part, the element, the individual, and treats the whole as a collection and the universal as an abstraction. My description of things, accordingly, starts with the parts and makes of the whole a being of the second order. It is essentially a mosaic philosophy, a philosophy of plural facts, like that of Hume and his descendants, who refer these facts neither to Substances in which they inhere nor to an Absolute Mind that creates them as its objects. But it differs from the Humian type of empiricism in one particular which makes me add the epithet radical.

To be radical, an empiricism must neither admit into its constructions any element that is not directly experienced, nor exclude from them any element that is directly experienced. For such a philosophy, the relations that connect experiences must themselves be experienced relations, and any kind of relation experienced must be accounted as real as anything else in the system. Elements may indeed be redistributed, the original placing of things getting corrected, but a real place must be found for every kind of thing experienced, whether term or relation, in the final philosophic arrangement.

Now, ordinary empiricism, in spite of the fact that conjunctive and disjunctive relations present themselves as being fully co-ordinate parts of experience, has always shown a tendency to do away with the connections of things, and to insist most on the disjunctions. Berkeley’s nominalism, Hume’s statement that whatever things we distinguish are as loose and separate as if they had no manner of connection. James Mill’s denial that similars have anything really in common, the resolution of the causal tie into habitual sequence, John Mill’s account of both physical things and selves as composed of discontinuous possibilities, and the general pulverization of all Experience by association and the mind-dust theory, are examples of what I mean.

The natural result of such a world-picture has been the efforts of rationalism to correct its incoherencies by the addition of trans- experiential agents of unification, substances, intellectual categories and powers, or Selves; whereas, if empiricism had only been radical and taken everything that comes without disfavor, conjunction as well as separation, each at its face value, the results would have called for no such artificial correction. Radical empiricism, as I understand it, does full justice to conjunctive relations, without, however, treating them as rationalism always tends to treat them, as being true in some supernal way, as if the unity of things and their variety belonged to different orders of truth and vitality altogether.


William James

Pluralism, Pragmatism, and Instrumental Truth – William James

James’s Application of Peirce (N.W. Williams)


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By Nothingness to Nirvana, Beyond Contrivance

Road to Nirvana

I have finally found myself compelled to give up the logic, fairly, squarely, and irrevocably. It has an imperishable use in human life, but that use is not to make us theoretically acquainted with the essential nature of reality. Reality, life, expedience, concreteness, immediacy, use what words you will, exceeds our logic, overflows and surrounds it. -William James

Kagyu Refuge Tree

The central teaching of the Karma Kagyu is the doctrine of Mahamudra, also known as the “Great Seal”. This doctrine focuses on four principal stages of meditative practice (the Four Yogas of Mahamudra):

The development of single-pointedness of mind,
The transcendence of all conceptual elaboration,
The cultivation of the perspective that all phenomena are of a “single taste”,
The fruition of the path, which is beyond any contrived acts of meditation.

The “ambiguity” in the sense of the indeterminacy or vagueness that permeates our existence in the world derives from the “ambiguity” of our embodied being in the sense of its irreducibility either to the transparency of self-consciousness or the inertia of matter. – Nabuo Kazashi

Highly recommended: The Social Self in Zen and American Pragmatism. By Steve Odin. (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996.)

by the same author: Whitehead & Ethics in the Contemporary World (pdf)

Philosophy of Nothingness and Process Theology – Yutaka Tanaka (pdf)

quotes from secondary source:
The Varieties of Pure Experience: William James and Kitaro Nishida on Consciousness and Embodiment
Joel W. Krueger

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Meta Plus Recursion (and a topos for truthiness)

This Is It

The idea of a universally shared source of truth called ‘reason’ or ‘human nature’ is, for us pragmatists, just the idea that such discussion ought to be capable of being made conclusive. We see this idea as a misleading way of expressing the hope, which we share, that the human race as a whole should gradually come together in a global community, a community which incorporates most of the thick moral- ity of the European industrialized democracies. It is misleading because it suggests that the aspiration to such a community is somehow built into every member of the biological species.This seems to us pragmatists like the suggestion that the aspiration to be an anaconda is somehow built into all reptiles, or that the aspiration to be an anthropoid is somehow built into all mammals. This is why we pragmatists see the charge of relativism as simply the charge that we see luck where our critics insist on seeing destiny. We think that the utopian world community envisaged by the Charter of the United Nations and the Helsinki Declaration of Human Rights is no more the destiny of humanity than is an atomic holocaust or the replacement of democratic governments by feuding warlords. If either of the latter is what the future holds, our species will have been unlucky, but it will not have been irrational. It will not have failed to live up to its moral obligations. It will simply have missed a chance to be happy. -Richard Rorty (Introduction, Philosophy and Social Hope)

Thank you Google for allowing me to search for the paragraph I need from A Recursive Vision: Ecological Understanding and Gregory Bateson (Peter Harries-Jones.)


Richard Rorty’s argument for the boundless description and explanation that is pragmatically resolved as a matter of these being true enough as a matter of being useful enough, is related to commission–as long as commission is flexible enough to denote: useful. Even if this stretches the similarity too far, the Batesonian epistemology is partly concerned with the rightness in doing. Crucially: the abductive reason is adequate and commensurate for the purpose of supposing usefulness for Bateson, James, Dewey, and Rorty.

(Richard Rorty, in A World Without Substances and Essences  (1994) argues for a crisp eliminativist, anti-essentialist monism not contemplated by Bateson at all. The two monists had different senses of what is possibly ecological.)


Two Pragmatic Moral Universes: James vs. Dewey and Rorty by Scott Segrest (SSRN)
Dewey and Rorty On Truth by Alexander Kremer (pdf)
Foucault and Rorty on Truth and Ideology: A Pragmatist View from the Left by Chandra Kumar (pdf)

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My thesis is that if we start with the supposition that there is only one primal stuff or material in the world, a stuff of which everything is composed, and if we call that stuff pure experience, then knowing can easily be explained as a particular sort of relation towards one another into which portions of pure experience may enter. The relation itself is a part of pure experience; one of its terms becomes the subject or bearer of the knowledge, the knower, the other becomes the object known. This will need much explanation before it can be understood. The best way to get it understood is to contrast it with the alternative view; and for that we may take the recentest alternative, that in which the evaporation of the definite soul-substance has proceeded as far as it can go without being yet complete. If neo-Kantism has expelled earlier forms of dualism, we shall have expelled all forms if we are able to expel neo-Kantism in its turn. William James from What Is Consciousness?

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Rabbit Holes

Enactivist Grid - a form for a heuristic inquiry

Enactivist Grid – a form for a heuristic inquiry

I’ve been reviewing current so-called Integral literature over the last few weeks, but it was Ken who had much earlier got me going back toward that development dynamic when I toppled over ‘into it’ in the intellectual sense from our discussing Giegerich’s critique of classical Analytical Psychology.

I’m not an Integralist.  Understanding in a meta-systems sense that the best and the lesser are sometimes necessarily retained, and, transcend-and-include turns out to be an arbitrary imposition if it then, at times, results in the baby following promptly the bathwater, highlights the fundamental points of distinction between my messy/rigorous viewing site and the seemingly reductive AQAL territories.

I note as much when I peruse the neatly reductive diagrams that have been recently multiplying; and most strike me initially to be graphical, intellectual kitsch. But then I get out my scraper.



I’d be very interested in scratching beneath the surface of the presumably poetical ” ‘live eros,’ springing forth from chaos.”

What a human system apparently is (to a degree mediated by a, or several, or all domains,) is what he or she entails, and what he or she can possibly entertain, and, so, what I and you feel, and, that which I and you may create from the, my/your, our, current entailment, and, also, how future potentials are foresight worthy. In a nutshell, this is a (my own,) provisional perspective that, at least and as far as I do foresee, is able to encompass just about any ol’ additional perspective which could be tossed toward it, at it, into it, or, even land neatly and dynamically as a tangent, and with enough energy in such a circuit to cause further differentiation and a foundation for adaptation or sudden evolution.

Development is often non-linear.

Horizon is the root of horizontal.

We, you and I, are able to discuss the future. (Maybe this is among the most singular human features.)

The Map never gets close, and that it gets closer is an illusion provided by what I term the sunk perspective. In noting this, at the same time, all sorts of adventurous turns may tumble out of the dynamical interplay caused by being gripped and enthused by the current sunk perspective! Such perspectives then become relativized–and this is may be much different than being transcended and included.

Someday my squaring of radical empiricism and human (or social,) cybernetics will fall down the hole too.

If you should speak and try a hundred ways to express it,
‘Tis useless; the mystery becomes no clearer. …
A horse of wood is useless on dry land,
It is the special conveyance of voyagers by sea.
Silence is this horse of wood,
Silence is the guide and support of men at sea.
This Silence which causes you annoyance
Is uttering cries of love audible to the spiritual. (Rumi)


One conception of the psyche that one can get from studying Jung’s work, above all the work of early Jung, is that the psyche has a clear- cut orderly structure that can be presented in the geometric forms of concentric circles (the ego as the center, surrounded first by the realm of consciousness, then of the personal unconscious and finally of the collective unconscious) or of a cone (with different layers, the deepest of which would be that of the collective unconscious whereas the tip would represent the ego) as well as in the imaginal form of personified figures (ego, persona, shadow, anima/animus, self). To this conception, Jung’s psychological typology with its compass-like representation of the four orientation functions fits very neatly. The crux of this conception is that it starts out from the human person. The human being is here the container or vessel of the soul and accordingly also the horizon of psychology A psychology based on this fantasy clearly operates with the division between man and world, subject and object, inner and outer, psychology and physics and feels competent for only half of this divided whole.

Psychology’s belonging to one side manifests for example in the concept of “extraversion” and in the “object-level” method of dream interpretation. Psychology is here what goes on inside the human person, which is why I speak of the anthropological fallacy. This fallacy is of course by no means a specialty of (the early) C. G. Jung. It is, and has been, the generally accepted, conventional idea about psychology ever since there has been a scientific discipline by this name, an idea that seemed so natural, so self-evident that it was not felt to be in need of any argumentative justification.

In depth psychology the anthropological fallacy had the practical consequence that the individual was urged to turn inwards and, in the case of Jungian analysis, to develop his or her self and to strive for his or her wholeness. Not only the “individuation process,” but Jung’s adamant emphasis on the individual as “the measure of all things” (CW 10, par.523) and “the makeweight that tips the scales” (par. 586) affirmed and highlighted this concentration on the person. It is true, Jung repeatedly insisted that “individuation” and his psychological stance in general does not exclude, but include, the world. But such a semantic statement does not undo the underlying structure or syntax of this thinking, namely that it irrevocably starts out from a human being who has the world (“external reality”) outside and vis-a?-vis himself. Even synchronicity as the meaningful coincidence of an inner and an outer event still has the anthropological conception of psychology as its background and precisely by trying to overcome the opposition of psychology and physics in the direction of the idea of unus mundus once more confirms the anthropological stance.

A serious consequence of this methodological standpoint is that the soul is logically relegated to second rank, as much as it may be prioritized, semantically and emotionally. The human being is here the substrate or actual substance and the psyche is merely one of the attributes of this substrate.

But the human being as the substrate personality is not itself the topic of psychology. It lies outside psychology’s field of vision. Psychology’s topic is the soul, is psychic life (which, however, often manifests in people). The moment psychic life is defined as being the life of the substrate personality, psychology has the task of exploring something (namely, psychic life), whose actual substantial reality (namely, the human being) is pre-supposed as lying outside (“pre-”) its own precincts of competence and responsibility…. The soul, not the person, is what I have to focus on.

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Bergson & James


 “The essential contribution of Bergson to philosophy is his criticism of intellectualism. In my opinion he has killed intellectualism definitively and without hope of recovery. I don’t see how it can ever revive again in its ancient platonizing role of claiming to be the most authentic, intimate, and exhaustive definer of the nature of reality.”

“Intellectualism here does what I said it does — it makes experience less instead of more intelligible.”

intellectualism = (roughly,) abstract reasoning; and tending to morph, often without warrant, idealism into (something like) idealistic realism or ‘a’ positivism

hat tip to excellent article: Henri Bergson and William James on Vicious Intellectualism vis partiallyexaminedlife

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Commit it then to the flames

David Hume

David Hume, 300th birthday today.

We may observe in human nature a principle which, if strictly examined, will be found to diminish extremely the assurance, which we might, from human testimony, have, in any kind of prodigy. The maxim, by which we commonly conduct ourselves in our reasonings, is, that the objects, of which we have no experience, resemble those, of which we have; that what we have found to be most usual is always most probable; and that where there is an opposition of arguments, we ought to give the preference to such as are founded on the greatest number of past observations. But though, in proceeding by this rule, we readily reject any fact which is unusual and incredible in an ordinary degree; yet in advancing farther, the mind observes not always the same rule; but when anything is affirmed utterly absurd and miraculous, it rather the more readily admits of such a fact, upon account of that very circumstance, which ought to destroy all its authority. The passion of surprise and wonder, arising from miracles, being an agreeable emotion, gives a sensible tendency towards the belief of those events, from which it is derived. And this goes so far, that even those who cannot enjoy this pleasure immediately, nor can believe those miraculous events, of which they are informed, yet love to partake of the satisfaction at second-hand or by rebound, and place a pride and delight in exciting the admiration of others. (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding)

As a (William) Jamesian, Hume was the precedent. Called the greatest philosopher “who wrote in English,” to me, he was the foremost “proto modern philosopher,” and the philosopher, besides, James, I’ve spent the most time with. From my perspective, skepticism as empirical approach, is what allows for one to see the many, albeit partial, sides of a problem, viewpoint, ideology. Also, as approach and attitude, it’s related to systems awareness in our modern sense, thus, for example, this moves us to regard all the factors of influence and inflection, especially the human subjective factors, in any description, explanation, prediction, or idealization of a system, or systems of systems.

But setting aside some metaphysicians of this kind, I may venture to affirm of the rest of mankind, that they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with an inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement. Our eyes cannot turn in their sockets without varying our perceptions. Our thought is still more variable than our sight; and all our other senses and faculties contribute to this change: nor is there any single power of the soul, which remains unalterably the same, perhaps for one moment. The mind is a kind of theatre, where several perceptions successively make their appearance; pass, repass, glide away, and mingle in an infinite variety of postures and situations. There is properly no simplicity in it at one time, nor identity in different, whatever natural propension we may have to imagine that simplicity and identity. The comparison of the theatre must not mislead us. They are the successive perceptions only, that constitute the mind; nor have we the most distant notion of the place where these scenes are represented, or of the materials of which it is composed. (A Treatise On Human Nature)

Robert Bell David Hume’s Fables of Identity

The Humean Assault


David Hume’s Birthday at Crooked Timber

David Hume’s Birthday at Cognition and Culture

The Hume Society

article by Yumiko Inukai, University of Pennsylvania The historical Buddha (Gotama), Hume, and James on the self: Comparisons and evaluations

We are inclined to believe that we are persisting, unified subjects that undergo experience, whether or not we believe in souls or substantial entities of some sort that are often posited as persisting subjects. Where does this belief come from? To deal with this question, I examine David Hume’s and William James’ accounts of the self, both of whom attempt to provide the empirical basis for such a belief. In the Appendix to A Treatise of Human Nature , Hume acknowledges that his account of our belief in a persisting self offered earlier in that work involves a profound problem that he has no hope to solve. Contrary to the common interpretation that puts Hume’s newly-found problem in his very account of the idea of the self, I suggest that it arises from his presupposition throughout Book One of the Treatise that perceptions are initially bundled together. I argue that Hume’s theoretical commitment to the radical independence of perceptions does not allow him to maintain the initial unity of perceptions (i.e., a unified self). Nor is he able to explain the formation of it. I call this the Bundling problem. In contrast, James improves upon Hume by developing more detailed descriptions of experience and simply avoids the Bundling problem by rejecting Hume’s atomistic theory of experience, affirming that experience is fundamentally unitary and continuous, which he calls “the stream of consciousness.” A rigorous analysis of experience enables James to account for our belief of a persisting subject on empirical grounds. Consideration of James’ accounts sheds a great light on Hume’s fundamental problem. I argue that Hume’s atomistic theory of experience–which proves to be the source of the Bundling problem–is a metaphysical theory, which is in conflict with his own professed empiricist methodology. The Bundling problem is not, therefore, inherent in his empiricism itself. Hence, there still is hope for an empiricist account of our belief in a persisting self, and this hope is found in James.

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