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Thus, he embraced the life of the peasants. Bunyan's transformation took a longer time, as he eventually let go of guilt and fear. He became a minister and suffered a year prison sentence for his nonconforming religious beliefs by law he was not allowed to preach , eventually completing The Pilgrim's Progress. While Tolstoy and Bunyan both "realized a good which broke the effective edge of his sadness," that sadness remained as an aspect of their faith. In his continued analysis of the twice-born James explains that they are divided, a common psychological phenomenon.

All people are, in a sense, a collection of selves with conflicting desires and goals. People either become more unified over time or make peace with their conflicting desires or at least learn to live with them. Still, conflicting desires bring misery to everyone. For example, people who struggle with their weight both want to indulge their appetites and at the same time want to have a thinner body, and this conflict is a torment to many.

Unifying the divided self is a perennial psychological problem for all. James's major point in this chapter is that unification may come either gradually or abruptly, but this is true whether unification involves a religious apprehension or not. While the term conversion is generally reserved for the unification that occurs within a religious context, it can be argued that it applies in any situation in which conflicting desires are suddenly resolved, and a person convinces himself or herself to embark without wavering on a new course of action.

Have study documents to share about The Varieties of Religious Experience? Upload them to earn free Course Hero access! Download a PDF to print or study offline. Download Study Guide. In text Course Hero. Chicago Bibliography Course Hero. Click to copy. Summary Lecture 8 continues with a discussion of the twice-born, who have two lives, the natural and the spiritual, and they must lose the former to participate in the latter.

Analysis In his continued analysis of the twice-born James explains that they are divided, a common psychological phenomenon. He thinks that most of us want a philosophical method that is firmly anchored in empirical facts, while being open to, rather than dismissive of, moral and religious values. He offers pragmatism as a philosophy that coherently meets both demands. Before we invest much time or effort in seeking the meaning of anything, we should consider what practical difference it would make if we could find out.

Providing an example to illustrate his point, James refers to the Hegelian notion of God as the all-encompassing Absolute Spirit. How should we decide whether this is what we should mean by God? From that pragmatic perspective, James rejects the Hegelian notion. Undoubtedly, philosophy provides us with only one legitimate approach to belief, as he observes in his fifth lecture, others being common sense with its basic concepts derived from experience and science. However, these others are impotent in dealing with questions of freedom and value Pragmatism , pp. It seems that anything knowable must be true.

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He begins with a standard dictionary analysis of truth as agreement with reality. By contrast, he advocates a more dynamic and practical interpretation, a true idea or belief being one we can incorporate into our ways of thinking in such a way that it can be experientially validated. He is a fallibilist, seeing all existential truths as, in theory, revisable given new experience. They involve a relationship between facts and our ideas or beliefs.

Because the facts, and our experience of them, change we must beware of regarding such truths as absolute, as rationalists tend to do Pragmatism , pp. This relativistic theory generated a firestorm of criticism among mainstream philosophers to which he responded in The Meaning of Truth. Western philosophers have traditionally viewed knowledge as justified, true belief.

So long as the idea of truth is pragmatically analyzed and given a pragmatic interpretation of justification, James seems to accept that view. His entire philosophy can be seen as fundamentally one of productive beliefs. All inquiry must terminate in belief or disbelief or doubt; disbelief is merely a negative belief and doubt is the true opposite of both.

Believing in anything involves conceiving of it as somehow real; when we dismiss something as unreal disbelief , it is typically because it somehow contradicts what we think of as real. Some of our most fundamental and valuable beliefs do not seem sufficiently justified to be regarded as known. He identifies four postulates of rationality as value-related, but unknowable, matters of belief; these are God, immortality, freedom, and moral duty Will , pp.

He proceeds to deal with each of them individually. Because we do not naturally experience the supernatural, James, the radical empiricist, thinks of faith in God as falling short of knowledge. Yet such faith is pragmatically meaningful to many people, and it is reasonable to wonder whether, how, and to what extent it can be justified. For James, the logical philosopher trained in science, both logic and science have limits beyond which we can legitimately seek the sentiment of rationality.

The Varieties of Religious Experience Lecture 8 Summary | Course Hero

James acknowledges that in our scientific age, there is something dubious about the voluntaristic view that, in some circumstances, we can legitimately choose to believe in the absence of any objective justification. However, he claims we naturally do so all the time, our moral and political ideas being obvious examples.

When you believe that your mother loves you or in the sincerity of your best friend, you have no conclusively objective evidence. In addition, you will never be able to secure such evidence. Yet it often seems unreasonable to refuse to commit to believing such matters; if we did so, the pragmatic consequences would be a more impoverished social life. Indeed, in some cases, believing and acting on that belief can help increase the chances of the belief being true. Now let us apply this argument to religious belief.

What does religion in general propose for our belief?

The Divided Self of William James

The two-pronged answer is that ultimate reality is most valuable and that we are better off if we believe that. Committing to that two-pronged belief is meaningful, as is the refusal to do so. At any given moment, I must either make that two-pronged commitment or not; and how I experience this life, as well as prospects for a possible after-life, may be at stake. Whether one makes that commitment or not, pragmatic consequences can be involved. Nor should we imagine that we could avoid having to make a choice, as the commitment not to commit is itself a commitment Will , pp.

This definition indicates that religion does not require faith in a transcendent, monotheistic God, and that it does not mandate the social dimension of religious community.

James develops lengthy analyses of religious conversion, saintliness, and mysticism. He critically considers traditional arguments for God—the cosmological argument, the argument from design, the moral argument, and the argument from popular consensus—finding none of them particularly cogent, but exhibiting the most respect for the argument from design. He likewise weighs in the balance and finds wanting arguments for metaphysical and moral divine attributes, finding the latter of more pragmatic relevance to human values, choices, and behavior than the former.

Given that thought and feeling both determine conduct, James thinks that different religions are similar in feeling and conduct, their doctrines being more variable, but less essential. Most generally, these doctrines attempt to diagnose a fundamental uneasiness about our natural state and to prescribe a solution whereby we might be saved Varieties , pp. He believes there is more to reality than our natural world and that this unseen realm generates practical effects in this world. James describes himself as a supernaturalist rather than a materialist of a sort less refined than idealists and as unable to subscribe to popular Christianity.

He is unwilling to assume that God is one or infinite, even contemplating the polytheistic notion that the divine is a collection of godlike selves Varieties , pp.

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We are free to make our own moves; yet the master knows all the moves we could possibly make, the odds of our choosing one over the others, and how best to respond to any move we choose to make. This indicates two departures from the traditional Judeo-Christian concept of God, in that the master is interacting with us in time rather than eternal and does not know everything in the future, to the extent that it is freely chosen by us.

We can love and respect God to the extent that we are committed to the pursuit of common values.

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Elsewhere, rejecting the Hegelian notion of God as an all-encompassing Absolute, he subscribes to a God that is finite in knowledge or in power or in both, one that acts in time and has a history and an environment, like us Universe , pp. Normally we can inhabit more than one of these and be able to discriminate among them. Part of what makes James a great philosopher in the grand tradition is that, unlike so many post-Hegelian Western philosophers, he advocates the pivotal importance of metaphysics.

The theory of reality in general provides a crucial foundational context for philosophy of human nature, philosophy of religion, ethics, social philosophy, and so forth. Philosophy essentially is an intellectual attempt to come to grips with reality, as he says on the first page of Pragmatism. In its third lecture, James approaches four standard metaphysical issues using his pragmatic method, those of 1 physical and spiritual substance, 2 materialism vs.

For each of these, we cannot conclusively establish where we should stand based merely on what experience discloses about the past, but can take reasonable positions based on pragmatic anticipated future consequences. As modern philosophy demonstrates, we can never directly and immediately experience any sort of substance; however, we do experience physical qualities and mental events and can best make sense of them by attributing them to bodies and minds.

The world is what it is, regardless of whether it is the result of divine activity or of the random interactions of atoms moving in space; whether or not it was intelligently designed in the distant past has no bearing on the fact that we experience it as we do. But a world intelligently designed by a deity pragmatically involves the possibility of a promising future, whereas one resulting from unconscious physical forces promises nothing more than a collapse into meaningless obliteration.

On the one hand, if everything we may do or fail to do is determined, why bother doing anything?

On the other hand, if we are free to choose at least some of our actions, then effort can be meaningful. In the fourth lecture, James states that our world can be viewed as one monism or as an irreducible many pluralism. There are certain ways in which we humans generate a unity of the objects of our experience, yet the absolute unity to which monism is committed remains a perpetually vanishing ideal. James intended Some Problems of Philosophy to be largely a textbook in metaphysics, which he defines in terms of the ultimate principles of reality, both within and beyond our human experience.

Monism, pursued to its logical extreme, is deterministic, setting up a sharp dichotomy between what is necessary and what is impossible, while pluralism allows for possibilities that may, but need not, be realized. The former must be either optimistic or pessimistic in its outlook, depending on whether the future that is determined is seen as attractive or unattractive.

Pluralism, being melioristic, calls for our trusting in and cooperating with one another in order to realize desirable possibilities that are not assured Problems , pp. In his Essays in Radical Empiricism , James attempts to distance himself from the philosophical dualism that sees physical reality bodies and spiritual reality minds as essentially distinct.

We never experience mind in separation from body, and he dismisses as an illusion the notion of consciousness as substantial; however, he does not want to reject the reality of mind as a materialist might do. So after years of opposing monism, he adopts an admittedly vague sort of neutral neither materialistic nor idealistic monism that sees thoughts and things as fundamentally the same stuff, the further definition of which eludes us Empiricism , pp.

In the eighth lecture of Pragmatism , James sees monism as tending to a passive sort of quietism rather than to a vital life of active effort. By contrast, pluralistic pragmatism emphasizes the possibilities that may be if we work to realize them. Monism determines the future optimistically as working out for the best, whatever we do, or pessimistically as working out for the worst, whatever we do.

By contrast, pluralistic meliorism holds that it can get better if we freely try to make it so. Whether we embrace the option of freedom and moral responsibility or not is ultimately a matter of personal faith rather than one of objective logic or scientific evidence Pragmatism , pp. Like God and human immortality, the possibility of which James defends without firmly committing himself to believing in it Immortality , pp.

Indeterminism, the belief in freedom, holds that there is some degree of possibility that is not necessitated by the rest of reality, while determinism must deny all such possibilities. These beliefs constitute exhaustive and mutually exclusive alternatives, so that if we reject either, we logically should accept the other.

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Let us consider a commonplace example such as walking home from campus. Before the fact neither the determinist nor the indeterminist can infallibly predict which path will be taken, but after the fact the determinist can irrefutably claim that the path taken was necessary, while the indeterminist can irrefutably claim that it was freely chosen. Thus far, there is no advantage on either side. But now consider the example of a man gruesomely murdering his loving wife.

We hear the awful details recounted and naturally regret what the wicked man did to her. Now, what are we to make of that regret from the perspective of determinism? What sense can it make to regret what had to occur? From that perspective, we logically must embrace pessimism all of reality is determined to be bad or optimism everything is destined to work out for the best or subjectivism good and evil are merely subjective interpretations we artificially cast on things.

All of these can be logically coherent positions, but each of them minimizes the evil we experience in the world and trivializes our natural reaction of regret as pointless. From a practical as opposed to a logical point of view, can we live with that? James deliberately puts the point quite personally.

Though thoughtful and reflective pessimists, optimists, and subjectivists can live with it, he would not, because its pragmatic implications would render life not worth living. In that sense, determinism, though logically tenable, is pragmatically unacceptable, and James commits to indeterminism Will , pp. In addition to God, immortality, and freedom, moral duty is a fourth postulate of rationality. First, our human nature comprises a capacity for an intuitive moral sense, but this must be developed in a context of values that socially evolve.

Second, our basic moral concepts of good and bad, right and wrong, and so forth, are all person-relative, grounded in the claims people make on their environment. Third, when values conflict, those which would seem to satisfy as many personal demands as possible, while frustrating the fewest, should have priority regardless of the nature of those demands. This represents a pragmatic form of moral relativism, in which no action can be absolutely good or evil in all conceivable circumstances. In answering the question of what is the primary objective of human life, James maintains that a natural answer is happiness.

It is this, which motivates us to act and endure. Evolution is often seen as a progressive advance towards happiness Varieties , pp. The person who seems incapable of achieving it may well wonder whether life is worth living; suicide deciding that it is not. For James there is no absolute answer, and it is relative to the life being lived. A human life involves an ongoing series of possibilities. Life can become worth living if we believe that it is and act on that belief, our commitment giving it meaning Will , pp.

Our happiness seems to require that we have ideals, that we strive to achieve them, and that we think we are making some progress towards doing so Talks , pp. Still, he offers us some interesting insights and one great paper. In turn, that social environment is affected by them. Whether or not an individual will be able to have an impact is, to some extent, determined by society. Thus socially significant individuals and their communities have a dynamic, correlative relationship.

In the last decade of his life, following the Spanish-American War, in which Theodore Roosevelt, his former student, was the hero, James gave a talk at the banquet of the Universal Peace Congress. Regarding human nature as essentially antagonistic, he warns against our permanent tendencies to mass violence and the romantic idealization of war. We have to forever be on our guard to resist those dangerous, destructive tendencies; however, he doubts that humanity will ever be able to achieve universal disarmament and peace.

What we can and should do is work to minimize conflicts and to resolve them non-violently. Warfare has become so costly, in terms of treasure and carnage, thanks to modern technology, that we need to find some way of rechanneling the primitive tendencies inherited from our ancestors. How can we create an atmosphere in which peace is the norm rather than that interim period between wars? Since wars are the results of human choices rather than fatalistically determined, he anticipates a time when they will be formally outlawed among civilized societies.

But then how can these martial virtues still be nurtured? His answer is that we should draft young adults into national service, as opposed to military service, fighting against adverse natural conditions rather than against fellow human beings, working for a time in coal mines, on constructing roads, and so forth. Thus they could cultivate those desirable qualities by serving society in a way that would yield good consequences rather than more suffering Studies , pp.