WILLIAM JAMES: SOME PROBLEMS OF PHILOSOPHY / by Caitlin Murray

[Chapter 1: Philosophy and it’s Critics]

The principles of explanation that underlie all things without exception, the elements common to gods and men and animals and stones, the first whence
and the last whither of the whole cosmic procession, the conditions of all knowing, and the most general rules of human action these furnish the problems commonly deemed philosophic par excellence; and the philosopher is the man who finds the most to say about them.

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explanation not description

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Philosophy, beginning in wonder, as Plato and Aristotle said, is able to fancy everything different from what it is…It can take things up and lay then down again.

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the doctrine of signatures [+ signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. ] [ep 3, Ulysses]

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the lodestone and the peacock

or

the proportionality of v to t and to t.

[Precious or beautiful things had exceptional properties. Peacock’s flesh resisted putrefaction. The lodestone would drop the iron which it held if the superiorly powerful diamond was brought near, etc. — and then Galileo]

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There was no question of agencies, nothing animistic or sympathetic in this new way of taking nature. It was description only, of concomitant variations, after the particular quantities that varied had been successfully abstracted out. The result soon showed itself in a differentiation of human knowledge into two spheres, one called Science, within which the more definite laws apply, the other General Philosophy/ in which they do not. The state of mind called positivistic is the result.

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To assume…that the only possible philosophy must be mechanical and mathematical, and to disparage all enquiry into the other sorts of question, is to forget the extreme diversity of aspects under which reality undoubtedly exists.

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hypothesis and verification

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[Chapter 2: The Problems of Metaphysics]

It means the discussion of various obscure, abstract, and universal questions which the sciences and life in general suggest but do not solve; questions left over, as it were; questions, all of them very broad and deep, and relating to the whole of things, or to the ultimate elements thereof.

Questions

left                                                 over

what can I know? what should I do? what may I hope?   [kant’s three essential metaphysical questions – what metaphysics answers]

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a very tender section: This book proposes to handle only a few separate problems, leaving others untouched. These problems are for the most part real;
that is, but few of them result from a misuse of terms in stating them. Things for example, are or are not composed of one stuff ; they either have or have
not a single origin; they either are or are not completely predetermined, etc. Such alternatives may indeed be impossible of decision; but until this is conclusively proved of them, they confront us legitimately, and some one must take charge of them and keep account of the solutions that are proposed, even if he does not himself add new ones. The opinions of the learned regarding them must, in short, be classified and responsibly discussed.

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the RATIONALIST, the EMPIRICIST

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[Chapter 3: The Problem of Being]

wonder

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“The philosophic wonder thus becomes a sad astonishment, and like the overture to Don Giovanni, philosophy begins with a minor chord.” – Schopenhauer

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from nothing to being there is no logical bridge…the absolute first…the question of being is the darkest in all philosophy (pp 46)

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[Chapter 4: Percept and Concept – The Import of Concepts]

the difference between thought and things (things are known to us by our senses {presentations/percept}, thoughts or ideas are {representations/concept}

“I myself have grown accustomed to the words percept and concept in treating of the contrast, but concepts flow out of percepts and into them again, they are so interlaced, and our life rests on them so interchangeably and undiscriminatingly, that it is often difficult to impart quickly to beginners a clear notion of the difference meant. Sensation and thought in man are mingled, but they vary independently.” pp 47

percepts are CONTINUOUS [many parts with an unbroken unity], concepts are DISCRETE  [the cuts we make are purely ideal]- “Not discrete in their being, for conception as an act is part of the flux of feeling, but discrete from each other in their several meanings…The perceptual flux as such, on the contrary, means nothing, and is but what it immediately is.”

“The intellectual life of man consists almost wholly in his substitution of a conceptual order for the perceptual order in which his experience originally comes.”

our legs to walk with

or

the platonic view: “every delightful thing is like a rift in the clouds, through which we catch a glimpse of our native heaven” —- ” Such concepts as God, perfection, eternity, infinity, immutability, identity, absolute beauty, truth, justice, necessity, freedom, duty, worth, etc., and the part they play in our mind, are, it was supposed, impossible to explain as results of practical experience [RATIONALISM]

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self-sufficing revelations, universals

or

the significance of concepts consists always in their relation to perceptual particulars – the concept coalescing with the percept

or

“It is possible therefore, to join the rationalists in allowing conceptual knowledge to be self-sufficing, while at the same time one joins the empiricists in maintaining that the full value of such knowledge is got only by combining it with perceptual reality again.” (pp 58)

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concepts: function vs content

THE PRAGMATIC RULE: “The pragmatic rule is that the meaning of a concept may always be found, if not in some sensible particular which it directly designates, then in some particular difference in the course of human experience which its being true will make. Test every concept by the question
What sensible difference to anybody will its truth make? and you are in the best possible position for understanding what it means and for discussing its importance…So many disputes in philosophy hinge upon ill-defined words and ideas, each side claiming its own word or idea to be true, that any accepted method of making meanings clear must be of great utility. No method can be handier of application than our pragmatic rule.”

“If you claim that any idea is true, assign at the same time some difference that its being true will make in some possible person’s history, and we shall know not only just what you are really claiming but also how important an issue it is, and how to go to work to verify the claim.” [FUNCTION]

“particular consequences are the only criterion of a concept s meaning, and the only test of its truth.”

{infinite : as many units in the part as in the whole / God: you can dismiss certain kinds of fear}

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“With concepts we go in quest of the absent, meet the remote, actively turn this way or that, bend our experience, and make it tell us whither it is bound. We change its order, run it backwards, bring far bits together and separate near bits, jump about over its surface instead of plowing through its continuity, string its items on as many ideal diagrams as our mind can frame. All these are ways of handling the perceptual flux and meeting distant parts of it.” (pp 64)

harnessing perceptual reality in our concepts in order to drive it better to our ends

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the necessary cat (look at the causes) / a topographic system, a system of the distribution of things

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a theoretic conquest over the order in which nature originally comes – the exaltation of conception

“poor scraps, mere crumbling successes” /  the ideal vs the particular (the sordid particulars)

What do concepts do?:

1. They steer us practically every day, and provide an immense map of relations among the elements of things, which, though not now,
yet on some possible future occasion, may help to steer us practically;

2. They bring new values into our perceptual life, they reanimate our wills, and make our action turn upon new points of emphasis ;

3. The map which the mind frames out of them is an object which possesses, when once it has been framed, an independent existence. It suffices all by itself for purposes of study. The eternal truths it contains would have to be acknowledged even were the world of sense annihilated.

[what is better to live or to understand life][We must do both alternately, and a man can no more limit him self to either than a pair of scissors can cut with
a single one of its blades.]

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[Chapter 5: Percept and Concept – The Abuse of Concepts]

the senses (organs of wavering illusion) / the insuperability of sensation

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All conceptual content is borrowed: to know what the concept color means you must have seen red or blue, or green.

Rationalism assumes a static reality.

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Many physicists now think that the concepts of matter, mass, atom, ether, inertia, force, etc. are not so much duplicates of hidden realities in nature as mental instruments to handle nature by after-substitution of their scheme. They are considered, like the kilogram or the imperial yard, ‘artefacts,’ not revelations.

Use concepts when they help, and drop them when they hinder understanding; and take reality bodily and integrally up into philosophy in exactly the perceptual shape in which it comes. pp 95

The deeper features of reality are found only in perceptual experience. Here alone do we acquaint ourselves with continuity, or the immersion of one thing in another, here alone with self, with substance, with qualities, with activity in its various modes, with time, with cause, with change, with novelty, with tendency, and with freedom.

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[Chapter 6: Percept and Concept – Some Corollaries]

Empiricism proceeds from parts to wholes – each part fundamental to the order of being and the order of knowledge – parts are percepts built into wholes by conceptual additions. Percepts are constantly changing – always in flux – concrete novelty. This novelty cannot be described conceptually because concepts deal with what has already been seen or given – actual novelty therefore escapes conceptual treatment  (post-mortem preparation) altogether.

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Empiricist philosophy renounces the pretension to an all-inclusive vision – it stays inside the flux of life expectantly, recording facts, not formulating laws, and never pretending that man’s relation to the totality of things as a philosopher is essentially different from his relation to the parts of things as a daily patient or agent in the practical current of events. Philosophy, like life, must keep the doors and windows open.

Reality is created temporally day by day / What is it to be “real”? / anything is real of which we find ourselves obliged to take account in any way / Concepts are thus as real as percepts, for we cannot live a moment without taking account of them. But the eternal kind of being which they enjoy is inferior to the temporal kind, because it is so static and schematic and lacks so many characters which temporal reality possesses.

Many realms of mutually interpenetrating realities.

The world we practically live in is one in which it is impossible, except by theoretic retrospection, to disentangle the contributions of intellect from those of sense.

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[Chapter 7: The One and the Many]

This doctrine rationalism opposes, contending that the whole is fundamental, that the parts derive from it and all belong with one another, that the separations we uncritically accept are illusory, and that the entire universe, instead of being a sum, is the only genuine unit in existence, constituting (in the words often quoted from d Alembert) un seul fait et une grande verite.

pluralism (distributive) vs. monism (collective): Monism must mean that all such apparent disconnections
are bridged over by some deeper absolute union in which it believes, and this union must in some way be more real than the practical separations that appear upon the surface.

mysticism vs. substance

Suppose there is a oneness in things, what may it be known-as? What differences to you and me will it make? -We must seek something better in the way of oneness than this susceptibility of being mentally considered together, and named by a collective noun. What connections may be perceived concretely or in point of fact, among the parts of the collection abstractly designated as our world ?

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Kinds of oneness

Total unity – the sum of many partial unities – the world is “one” in some respects and “many” in others

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[Chapter 8: The One and the Many – Values and Defects]

Problems with absolute idealism: it does not account for our finite consciousness; it creates a problem of evil (if perfection is the source, how is there imperfection?); contradicts reality as perceptually experienced; it is fatalistic.

free will means nothing more than real novelty

But pluralism, accepting a universe unfinished, with doors and windows open to possibilities uncontrollable in advance, gives us less religious certainty than monism, with its absolutely closed-in world. pp 141

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Pluralism, on the other hand, is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, but melioristic, rather.

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The advantages of pluralism: it is more scientific; it agrees with the moral and dramatic expressiveness of life; it is very hard to prove monism.

[Chapter 9: The Problem of Novelty]

considering the parts rather than the whole

an originality exist? / “The same returns not, save to bring the different” – Time keeps budding into new moments, every one of which presents a content which in its individuality never was before and never will be again.

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Can our earth ever cover itself again with those gigantic ferns, those immense equisetaceans, in the midst of which the same antediluvian monsters will crawl and wallow as they did of yore? (J. Delbceuf: Revue Philosophique, vol. ix, p. 138 (1880).

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New men and women, books, accidents, events, inventions, enterprises, burst unceasingly upon the world.

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the possibility of novelty the question of the infinite

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[Chapter 10: Novelty and the Infinite – The Conceptual View]

discontinuity theory: the law of the “threshold” /experience – no content, no change or content and change / experience in buds and drops of perception

the problem of the infinite: how can the finite know the infinite? Zeno’s Paradox – If a flying arrow occupies at each point of time a determinate point of space its motion becomes nothing but a sum of rests, for it exists not, out of any point; and in the point it doesn’t move. Motion cannot truly occur as thus discretely constituted. Achilles Paradox – Suppose Achilles to racewith a tortoise, and to move twice as fast as his rival, to whom he gives an inch of headstart. By the time he has completed that inch,or in other words advanced to the tortoise’s starting point, the tortoise is half an inch ahead of him. While Achilles is traversing that half inch, the tortoise is traversing a quarter of an inch, etc. So that the successive points occupied by the runners simultaneously form a convergent series of distances
from the starting point of Achilles. Each time that Achilles gets to the tortoise s last point it is but to find that the tortoise has already moved to a further point; and although the interval between the points quickly grows infinitesimal, it is mathematically impossible that the two racers should reach any one point at the same moment.

Kant – Any existent reality is countable, a definite number is applicable / infinity is that which defies complete enumeration / if an effect be given (ex. a certain date), then the whole series of causes must have been given (ex. the previous dates before the given date).

Renouvier – absolute novelties, unmediated beginnings, gifts, chance, freedom and acts of faith.

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[Chapter 12: Novelty and Causation – The Conceptual View]

 

the principle of causality : the effect always exists in the cause, therefore the effect cannot be absolutely novel

the first definite inquiry into causes was made by Aristotle – the why of anything is furnished by four principles: 1. the material cause of it (when bronze makes a statue); 2. the formal cause (when the ratio of two to one makes an octave); 3. the efficient cause (as when a father makes a child); 4. the final cause (as when one exercises for health).

the efficient cause : that which produces something else by a real activity proceeding from itself – the view of common sense : 1. no effect can come into being without a cause; 2.the effect is always proportionate to the cause, and the cause to the effect; 3. whatever is in the effect must in some way, whether formally (cause resembles the effect), virtually (the cause involves the effect but does not resemble it – “as when an artist causes a statue but possesses not himself its beauty), or eminently (the cause, though unlike the effect is superior to it in perfection “as when a man overcomes a lion’s strength by cunning), have been also in the cause

Nemo dat quod non habet, literally meaning “no one gives what he doesn’t have”

Each moment in its totality causes the next moment – if successive moments of the universe be causally connected, no genuine novelty leaks in

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occasionalism / descartes (mental and physical substance, the one consisting purely of thought, the other purely of extension, were absolutely dissimilar. Any such causal intercourse between mind and body is irrational.

“For thinkers of that age, ‘God’ was the great solvent of absurdities.” / Leibnitz freed God from the duty of lending all this hourly assistance.

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[Chapter 13: Novelty and Causation – The Perceptual View]

In nature’s numerous successions so many links are hidden, that we seldom know exactly which antecedent is unconditional or which is close. Often the cause which we name only fits some other cause for producing the phenomenon.