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Pragmatism & American Philosophy

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 897 words Published: 18th Sep 2017

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Bree Dela Rosa 

William James presents pragmatism as a concept that can be applied when settling two claims that provide contrasting views. Science, religion, and morality each present diverse view on different issues, and James suggests that pragmatism can be used to settle these views. For James, the concept is significant as it offers people with a form of overcoming dilemma when faced with different perspectives from science, morality, and religion and other fields. Indeed, through the application of pragmatism, one realizes that the three areas that present divergent views are not in any competition. Further, for James, pragmatism is a “method of settling metaphysical disputes that might otherwise be interminable” (James, 94) he believes that the truth has no correspondence with knowledge and we should come to an agreement and act on the truth to make it true. An analysis of the lecture reveals the pragmatic method which is advanced by James, but at the same time raises objections which can be addressed by James’s arguments.

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James begins his analysis by presenting the pragmatic method and how it can help in solving metaphysical disputes. In this instance, James gives the example of the arguments surrounding the question of whether the world is one or many. Indeed, religious and scientific arguments have been advanced to explain whether the earth is one or many. James argues that there is no practical difference in the viewpoints hence the notions are unending (James, 94) meaning that the application of the concept pragmatic method in such a case is to deduce the respective consequences of each argument, for example from science and religion. If pragmatism demonstrates that there is no practical difference between the arguments, then they are principally the same (James, 94).  This example brings out James’s primary thesis that the pragmatic method can be used to resolve the disputes that arise from different schools of thought. If both parties in the argument do not present a considerable difference that would make their argument correct since the disagreement is idle (James, 94), therefore, the distinction makes no sense or has no meaning. For example, in the argument in the number of worlds, science may make a claim that there are some worlds while religion maintains that there is the only one which implies that there is no practical difference in both arguments.

James and other scholars advanced the pragmatist theory of truth. In his lecture, James argues that truth is the property of our beliefs. These ideas, “which themselves are but parts of our experience become true just in so far as they help us get into satisfactory relations with other parts our experience” (James, 100). In this instance, James argues that one must be satisfied with the experiences that they have with the belief so that they can deem it to be true. For example, James gives a case of a squirrel and a man going around a tree with the latter apparently hiding from the man. However, he reminds his friends that it depends on what they mean by going around to get which party is right. The example that he gives to present this theory is how geologists, biologists, and philologists presented their ideas based on events.

However, I contemplate that some of the claims that James makes about truth can be criticized. For example, I disagree with James that truth can only happen when the consequences are good as well as work in each way. Additionally, James argues that truth only happens to ideas that are based on previous events. For instance, if a new medication is given during a clinical trial and it works, James’s pragmatism would not be applicable since it is not based on any past event.

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Nevertheless, James can address this criticism by referring to his views presented in the lecture. Notably, the theory of truth can provide him with a foundation for arguing against such an argument (James, 100). James can argue that his view of reality is based on an analysis of previous events and observations by other philosophers hence my argument does not hold like in the case of biologists and geologists (James, 100). Moreover, James argues that the claims must be based on events while my claim is not necessarily based on any. For example, the concept that I would come up with can be criticized by James as something that is not based on any past or new events hence cannot be true (James, 100). His argument builds on the occurrence of past events while my concept does not. The idea that I came up with does not fulfill any aspects of the theory of truth presented by James. Hence it could be wrong.

Conclusively, William James’s pragmatism is a concept that can be used to resolve different viewpoints. With the fields of science, religion, and morality presenting divergent views on various aspects with each proponent arguing that theirs is true, pragmatism can help in resolving such disputes. Indeed, James provides an analysis of various examples such as the number of worlds and the squirrel and man to demonstrate his pragmatist method and the theory of truth. In general, it is up to an individual to decide on whether they agree or disagree with James’s pragmatism.


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