The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode #93.2: Pragmatism

General Introduction
– Where’s Grubbs?
– A programming note
– Listener feedback

C.S. Peirce
– What do our sentences mean?
– Synthesizing physical phenomena
– Peirce as Father of Analytic Philosophy
– The scientific method
– Meaninglessness and falsity
– His many systems

William James
– What makes philosophy “true”?
– Ethical and aesthetic enjoyment
– Beginning with experiments
– What made Peirce so angry?
– A method, not a system
– Do James’s ideas have consequences?

Pragmatism and Capitalism
– The “cash value” of beliefs
– Nathan’s great difficulty with pragmatism
– For the sake of what?
– Is there a content to “living well”?
– Is anyone not a pragmatist?

John Dewey
– Does he deserve his reputation?
– School as laboratory for town
– The radical Deweyites
– Learning the contours of social life
– Vs. cultural literacy
– A Platonist pragmatist

Stanley Fish
– And the neo-pragmatists
– Post-Vietnam America
– You can’t say just anything about a text
– Objectivity and solidarity
– Why neo-pragmatism is not relativism
– Do paleo-pragmatists exist?

Pragmatism and Politics
– Is politics a game of pragmatism?
– The content of politics
– Vocabularies and audiences
– Is Barack Obama a pragmatist?
– The Republican counter-strategy

The Hotel Hallway
– A method, not a metaphysics
– What would a pragmatic Christianity look like?
– Dogma and content
– Can you measure doctrine by its fruits?
– Moralistic therapeutic deism
– A neo-pragmatist Christianity

5 thoughts on “The Christian Humanist Podcast, Episode #93.2: Pragmatism

  1. Thanks. I have to admit I’ve not a lot of time for pragmatism, but the podcast was interesting – as ever.
    I would defend William James’s _The Varieties of Religious Experience_, however.  It is some years since i read it, and having given my copy away I can’t even skim it, but my recollection is not so much that James was recommending religious practice on the basis of what “made one a better person” – what, I think, the presenter said – but undertaking an investigation of religious phenomena (and specifically experiences) from the point of view of the (then new) science of psychology.  James’s Gifford Lectures, were, it seems to me, (primarily at least) given from a “psychological” not a “pragmatic” viewpoint.
    After all, James even mentions a man whose experience “converted” him to being a miser.  That experience didn’t make him a better person (at least not by any traditional view of such matters) but it was, of course, interesting to James. Why do people have these overwhelming experiences that can make them “flip over” from one point of view to another? Specially, James seems to be interested in what we would now refer to altered states of consciousness.  Such possible experiences seem to be, though perhaps not common, characteristic of “modern” man (homo sapiens) and coeval with him – _vide_ the interesting connections between these states and the cave art:
    http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Cave-Consciousness-Origins-Art/dp/0500284652
    It seems to me that questions around these experiences are still worthwhile to ask.  If we’re to look at “religious” phenomena from a “scientific” perspective, then I guess we could go to sociology and consider the *social* side of religion – as Durkheim tried to do.  (Interesting, for example, that Durkheim found suicide more common in certain areas of Europe with particular sorts of religious community.)  But when all’s said and done there’s also the personal and experiential content that James was interested in.
    I think that what James concluded is that, generally speaking, there is no way to speak on the significance of any particular experience anyone has.  I can’t say, “Well, that’s just illusion,” of anyone else’s experience that I didn’t have.  Likewise, someone else’s interpretation of his own experience can never be intellectually “coercive” for me.  Maybe there’s a point of intersection with his “pragmatism” here – a desire not to be conclusive or “coercive” in any way.  I think James was pleased to take that view.  Nevertheless, I think he is right and that’s how the matter stands.  I think people who wish to say _a priori_ that *all* such experiences are illusion might not like the conclusion. The rest of us might suspect he’s not so far from the truth.  Theory produces no indisputable answer. Judgments are unavoidable here.

    1. Hrothgar I’ve not looked at _Varieties_ for close to fifteen years, so I grant that your memory is likely to be a better reading than mine would produce.  If I remember our conversation on James in the podcast, I tried to limit my remarks to _Pragmatism_, which I reread in preparation for the episode.
      Thanks for listening and commenting!

      1. ngilmour @MichialFarmer Thanks, guys.  I guess that text was a minor part of the broadcast. But insofar as I remember it (and am able to judge) it’s a remarkable work. I have a recollection of a contemporary philosopher and someone one might not expect (possibly Isaiah Berlin) being asked for the top half-dozen books of the 20th century and as well as the obvious – Ulysses, The Wasteland, Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations, and so on – The Varieties of Religious Experience was in there.
        Whatever James’s faults might have been it’s kind of sad that the centenary of his death seemed to have gone almost unnoticed – even in the U.S.
        The BBC did this:
        http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00s9ftw
        And that specifically addresses The Varieties of Religious Experience. What, if anything much, happened in the U.S. in 2010 I don’t know.  IIRC, the academics talking at the BBC there liked James’s openness, and there’s something of a suggestion that Anglo-American thinking has followed Russell rather than James but was that clearly the best route?

  2. Thanks for the episode gentlemen. I am woefully uneducated in philosophy, and especially pragmatism, so this was very helpful.
    One connection I couldn’t help making was between this philosophy and Finney-esque revivalism. Now, I know that is wildly anachronistic, but I was reading about Finney’s “New measures” recently, and it seems to me that he and his ilk are in some way a religious precursor to philosophical pragmatism, or a religious counterpart, and this form of Christian evangelism is at least as to blame for pragmatic moves in Christian theology as the pragmatism of James, et al.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *