"to be is to be perceived"
"leap of faith"
intellectual love of God"; bliss = acceptance or "resignation"
the "owl of Minerva"
"principle of sufficient reason"; "best of all possible worlds"
eternal recurrence; "God is dead"
"Sapere aude!" (Have courage to use your own reason.)
language games; forms of life
Dasein ("There-Being"); Being-in-the-World
"one must consider Sisyphus happy"
stream of experience; radical empiricism
Emerson. Berkeley. James. Heidegger. Wittgenstein. Kierkegaard. Hegel. Camus.
Spinoza. Nietzsche. Leibniz. Kant
Thoreau, Emerson and the other New England
Transcendentalists brought the tradition of Kant and Hegel
to America, giving it a distinctive New World flavor.
It is never too late
to give up your
William James (1842-1910),
on the border of philosophy
and psychology, exalted
experience and a "radical
empiricism" that would resist
the compromises and false
turns of the earlier empiricists.
But he was sure that J.S. Mill
"would be our leader if he
were with us today."
"He first popularized
pragmatism and brought it
out of the halls of Harvard
into the mainstream of
American intellectual life."
And he agreed with
Dewey that the problems
of philosophers should be
no other than the
problems of men.
Pragmatism is nothing more
or less than a method for
testing ideas by challenging
them to make a difference in
our experience of the world.
A New Name for Some
Old Ways of Thinking
By William James (1907)
...delivered at the Lowell Institute in Boston in November and
December, 1906, and in January, 1907, at Columbia University, in
To the Memory of John Stuart Mill
from whom I first learned the pragmatic openness of
mind and whom my fancy likes to picture as our
leader were he alive to-day.
I know that you, ladies and gentlemen, have a philosophy,
each and all of you, and that the most interesting and
important thing about you is the way in which it determines
the perspective in your several worlds. You know the
same of me...
the philosophy which is so important in each of us is not a
technical matter; it is our more or less dumb sense of what
life honestly 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...
Most of us have a hankering for the good things on both sides of the line... our
esteem for facts has not neutralized in us all religiousness. It is itself almost religious.
Our scientific temper is devout.
What Pragmatism Means
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
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
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 conceivethe verb 'to go round' in one practical fashion or the other."
John Dewey (1859-1952) said children learn by doing
and participating, not just listening, reading, and
spectating; and they learn best what they love to do.
"Education is experience, and experience is the
process of problem-solving, participatory and engaged."
Bertrand Russell’s atomism tried to reduce the world’s
complexity to its simplest linguistic and logical constituents,
or “atoms” - an attempt to diagnose and then repair the
confusions and errors of ordinary language, in favor
of an idealized logical language that presumably would
mirror reality... to the extent that reality is the sort of
thing any language can replicate.
But there was a lot more to Russell
(1872-1970) than mathematics and
logic. His technical philosophy was
a search for logical atoms and an
attempt to "reduce the complexity
of the world," but his popular
philosophy showed real awareness
and appreciation of the possible
richness of experience. Unlike
most analytic philosophers, he was
a genuine "public intellectual." In a
time of crisis and horror, formal
and technical philosophy could
indeed seem more irrelevant (a
"waste of time") than consoling (a
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) eventually revised his own
early picture theory of linguistic meaning, in favor of the view
that meaning depends on the purposes and uses of sentences.
The world is everything that is the case. *
What is the case, the fact, is the existence of atomic facts.
The logical picture of the facts is the thought.
The thought is the significant proposition.
Propositions are truth-functions of elementary propositions.
(An elementary proposition is a truth-function of itself.)
The general form of truth-function is: [, , N()].
This is the general form of proposition.
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
Heidegger said we should acknowledge our own personal
mortality and admit that “I will die.”
“Heidegger's Clothes” - Robert January
Albert Camus (1913-1960) as philosopher -
Sisyphus rescues his life from meaninglessness and affirms
its worth by embracing the tedium and repetition of his
“rock-pushing” - and so may we all.
Camus died "absurdly" in a car
crash, after pondering Sisyphus
and his rock... and concluding
that Sisyphus was "happy" (and
not, at least, dead by his own
hand). Suicide (literal, not
philosophical) is our primary
question, and once we face it
down we're free to find a kind of
contentment and meaning in
the shadow of that free choice.
We have it in our own power to
confer that meaning.
...I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain!
One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the
higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too
concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master
seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each
mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world.
The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart.
One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) said we’re always free to
choose, and to change our attitudes and behaviors; and
that it’s “bad faith” to see oneself in terms of a fixed and
“Atheistic existentialism, of which I am a representative, declares
that if God does not exist there is at least one being whose
existence comes before its essence, a being which exists before it
can be defined by any conception of it...”
Existentialism is a Humanism
Simone de Beauvoir
"Surprisingly few philosophers talk
very much about the family..." Few
women could break into the "old
boys" clubs of philosophy, let alone
professional schools, until very
recently. But there have always
been female philosophers. Hypatia
was one of the earliest. Others
include Hannah Arendt and
"One of the most radical changes
feminism has provoked is the
centrality of a personal
‘standpoint'..." Pluralism is not an
exclusively feminist value, but
perhaps it is in important respects
characteristically feminine to seek
inclusion and diversity rather than
“Postmodernism” is roughly the
view that western philosophy is
obsolete and the search for truth
is irrelevant. There are only
"‘discourses," no center or
"mainstream" in philosophy. But
if this is the case, it is a
deficiency that our times require
us to overcome. We have too
many challenges, global,
political, interpersonal, spiritual...
to rest content with the
marginalization of intellectual
“New Age” philosophy is very loosely
based on the premise that mind can
manifest reality directly, that we can
get what we want if we want it in the
right way. There's room for it if it is a
beginning of thought, not its
Solomon and Higgins have little regard for the
excesses of postmodernism or the silliness of
the newest New Age fads.
But they rightly note that the popularity of such
notions clearly indicates a continuing, widespread
general interest in ideas that philosophers should
In this respect, the future of philosophy looks
promising – if the philosophers will heed the
example of William James, John Dewey, and
others who believed that philosophy must concern
itself not with the problems of philosophers but with
the problems of men, and women.