A Pluralistic Universe

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James then contrasts the idea of abstract oneness with the reality of concrete real things. Further, why must we be limited to only two choices? Surely, not just because we have two hands. In this lecture, James cannot resist attacking the famous Oxford professor, F.

A Pluralistic Universe

Bradley, who perhaps might have been in the audience as he was well-known as one of the top idealist philosophers at that time and a fanatical follower of Kant and Hegel. They were stalled at Step-One, as they could never understand how an influence could influence or a relation ever relate. Hegel the Prussian professor, who created the greatest citadel of Idealism in the history of philosophy, as a reaction to Immanuel Kant In this lecture he launches his own attacks on this creator of the Absolute.

James credits Hegel with an intense vision delivered in a tone of unquestionable authority. It is a pity that James falls into a similar trap, for in the middle of this chapter page 99 he writes a single sentence with six separate clauses, each separated by its own semi-colon. Ultimately, James dismisses Hegel as an original seer who can never learn to articulate. Fechner , few seemed to have read any of his extensive writings, which is why James who admires him devotes a whole chapter to him as he expects his fame to reach England perhaps, but not to many.


Although trained in medicine, Fechner never practiced medically but devoted his full life to physical science, taking ten years before he was appointed a professor of physics at the University of Leipzig, where he stayed for the rest of his life. This work derived from his original thought that bodily facts and conscious facts, though not reducible one to the other, are different sides of one reality. His extensive activities led to a nervous collapse that took three years before he recovered. He was susceptible to unwarranted extrapolations so that as our planet was vastly larger than any one of us then he simply assumed that Earth itself must have its own collective consciousness; this capacity was then extended across the whole solar system including the Sun, so that this must also be valid for the whole material elements in the universe becoming a single system of universal consciousness, to which men call God.

This living view of Nature has had a long history, stretching as far back as primitive times, when every thing in nature was seen alive: an idea known as Animism. James points out that the central metaphor of rationality is the grammatical sentence itself that conveys a meaning different and greater than its component words. This contrasts the fundamental distinction between analysis the preferred argumentative method of philosophers and its opposite: synthesis that is the intuitive, direct, method of creative artists.

James insists that the static timeless abstraction logic must succumb to superior reality. This is the self-deceit that intellectuals have understood the complexities of Nature seen as a collection of Things by simply giving them a NAME. Each concept implies a particular kind of thing with abstract defining properties called a Class. Once classed, then all the exemplars of that thing may be treated by the Rules for the Class Logic , so that we can come back to the concrete by pointing to a particular member of the class. Both Socrates and Plato were quite satisfied with verbal definitions, reducing reality to Essences of known Things, deeper than mere appearances.

James says this is an Old Error: a useful technique first becoming a method, then a habit and finally a tyranny that defeats the end it was first used for. So, concepts were invented to first make things intelligible but are clung to even when they make them unintelligible. Therefore, as most things were conceived of as independent objects, then one must logically deny the possibility of any connection whatever among them. The fallacy arises from our sensory inability to detect the actual interactions between the real existents of the world based on the invisible level of electrons.

It is a very useful first-approximation for humans to deal with most things in the world as independent objects. This must be the case if we build our worldview on the invariant nature of definitions. This implies that Platonism must be rejected as valid descriptive method for describing reality i. Aristotelian Metaphysics. It may flow unevenly. It is the real presence of consciousness that breaks the Determinism of the Past; thus, the mechanistic views of physics do not eliminate the dynamism of Biology.

In fact, our latest discoveries in neuro-science illustrate that the neurons in our brains operate along many pathways at the same time; further our reliance on memory eliminates all machine-like possibilities. It is appropriate that Bergson is credited with being the Father of Process Philosophy, rejecting static ideas for the intuitive, dynamic ones of motion, change and evolution. James knows that the reality of our immediately-felt life are quite unlike ideas that intellectualists hold and makes their calculations with. James challenges his audience with the statement that the name of the Absolute is a disguise for the persistent claim that reality can be mapped by words: the universal form of human communications.

A Pluralistic Universe by William James, ebook | Global Grey

He despairs that that he must leave it to life to teach them the lesson. He closes with the hope that the discussions about reality focus on reality. He acknowledges that the Oxford philosophical commitment is to Plato and Aristotle with their excessive intellectualism but alerts them to being too confined to narrow, logical considerations and they should never forget the particulars of life.

His originality was merging psychology with philosophy. The psychology pioneered by James focused on the very difficult thus, long ignored issue of consciousness seen as multiple, simultaneous mental activities that he called Pluralistic Empiricism. James was a recent convert to a new school of American philosophy called Pragmatism that judged ideas, not by their Truth, but what they delivered to those who believed in them.

These were both radical ideas that when combined could prove a revolutionary force to change the foundations of western thinking, which had been growing incrementally for years. However, James was a man of his time: a well-educated professor who wished to continue believing in his Christian God and was very well-mannered; he was not going to assault his audience.

His own extensive exposure to traditional philosophy meant that he would try to convince his listeners by using only rational argumentation and introductions to little-known, new philosophers.

Key Features

Ancient Greek thinkers were rigidly loyal to the idea of the ONE. This is why James deliberately included the provocative reference to Pluralism in the title to these lectures and book and spends far too much time, at first, in the One-versus-Many arguments that have been obsoleted by the modernist preference for the many particulars.

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This new direction led to an increasing interest in psychology and how people know what is real a basic area in metaphysics called Epistemology. The German system-building philosophers peaked with the dominant thinker, Georg Hegel, whose new ideas over-whelmed many academic philosophers, even in the English-speaking universities, not least because this style of thinking provided a rational basis for a belief in God.

James admits to the weaknesses of Analysis but offers no insights into its complement: Synthesis. James reserves his strongest argument for the last few pages of this page book. As an intuitionist, Bergson was aware that our notion that the Present was just a point-in-time was the illusion while the Future is intrinsically different from our Past. Ultimately, James relies on his own experiences to confirm his views on psychology and philosophy but knows this cannot be communicated verbally as they are too subjective.

About the Book

This insight exposes the uselessness of rational philosophy that is really only a skill in memorized argumentation. Our latest science Quantum Experiments indicates that the physical world is not continuous certainly in time so the old obsession with the object idea and nouns must be now be replaced with a dynamic systems view of relationships and their critical interactions. James has been proved correct in anticipating a pluralistic view of our subjective thinking as demonstrated by modern neurology and psychology; all of these developments ultimately threaten to destroy the ancient ideas that were firmly believed by the audience of philosophers at Oxford.

In fact, there is a growing awareness since Bergson that Intuition is a more personal guide to life than the sterility of formal logic and objective Rationalism. Related Papers. In order to utilize all of the features of this web site, JavaScript must be enabled in your browser. Is life worth living? Trained as a doctor, James never practiced medicine. Perhaps due to his own struggles with depression and melancholy, he was drawn to philosophy and psychology.

That interest turned into a serious academic career. Known as the father of American psychology, James is the founder of functional psychology and cofounder of the James-Lange Theory of Emotion. He also wrote an important work on the psychology of religious experience.

In A Pluralistic Universe , James directly attacks philosophical monism, specifically, the concept of the Absolute. This idea, which has dominated philosophy since Plato , is the belief in a single essence that makes up the universe. It is the belief that the universe is coherent and that all experience of it is of more or less the same ilk. Against this, James argues for pluralism.

Everything you can think of, however vast or inclusive, has on the pluralistic view a genuinely external environment of some sort or amount. Things are with one another in many ways, but nothing includes everything, or dominates over everything.

Ultimately, the world is many, not one. In the digital edition, this valuable volume is enhanced by amazing functionality. Scripture citations link directly to English translations, and important terms link to dictionaries, encyclopedias, and a wealth of other resources in your digital library. Take the discussion with you using tablet and mobile apps.