Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, November 22, 2017



The best thing about saying thank goodness in place of thank God is that there really are lots of ways of repaying your debt to goodness—by setting out to create more of it, for the benefit of those to come. Goodness comes in many forms, not just medicine and science. Thank goodness for the music of, say, Randy Newman, which could not exist without all those wonderful pianos and recording studios, to say nothing of the musical contributions of every great composer from Bach through Wagner to Scott Joplin and the Beatles. Thank goodness for fresh drinking water in the tap, and food on our table. Thank goodness for fair elections and truthful journalism. If you want to express your gratitude to goodness, you can plant a tree, feed an orphan, buy books for schoolgirls in the Islamic world, or contribute in thousands of other ways to the manifest improvement of life on this planet now and in the near future.
There are no atheists in foxholes, according to an old but dubious saying, and there is at least a little anecdotal evidence in favor of it in the notorious cases of famous atheists who have emerged from near-death experiences to announce to the world that they have changed their minds. The British philosopher Sir A. J. Ayer, who died in 1989, is a fairly recent example. Here is another anecdote to ponder.

Two weeks ago, I was rushed by ambulance to a hospital where it was determined by c-t scan that I had a "dissection of the aorta"—the lining of the main output vessel carrying blood from my heart had been torn up, creating a two—channel pipe where there should only be one. Fortunately for me, the fact that I'd had a coronary artery bypass graft seven years ago probably saved my life, since the tangle of scar tissue that had grown like ivy around my heart in the intervening years reinforced the aorta, preventing catastrophic leakage from the tear in the aorta itself. After a nine-hour surgery, in which my heart was stopped entirely and my body and brain were chilled down to about 45 degrees to prevent brain damage from lack of oxygen until they could get the heart-lung machine pumping, I am now the proud possessor of a new aorta and aortic arch, made of strong Dacron fabric tubing sewn into shape on the spot by the surgeon, attached to my heart by a carbon-fiber valve that makes a reassuring little click every time my heart beats.

As I now enter a gentle period of recuperation, I have much to reflect on, about the harrowing experience itself and even more about the flood of supporting messages I've received since word got out about my latest adventure. Friends were anxious to learn if I had had a near-death experience, and if so, what effect it had had on my longstanding public atheism. Had I had an epiphany? Was I going to follow in the footsteps of Ayer (who recovered his aplomb and insisted a few days later "what I should have said is that my experiences have weakened, not my belief that there is no life after death, but my inflexible attitude towards that belief"), or was my atheism still intact and unchanged?

Yes, I did have an epiphany. I saw with greater clarity than ever before in my life that when I say "Thank goodness!" this is not merely a euphemism for "Thank God!" (We atheists don't believe that there is any God to thank.) I really do mean thank goodness! There is a lot of goodness in this world, and more goodness every day, and this fantastic human-made fabric of excellence is genuinely responsible for the fact that I am alive today. It is a worthy recipient of the gratitude I feel today, and I want to celebrate that fact here and now.

To whom, then, do I owe a debt of gratitude? To the cardiologist who has kept me alive and ticking for years, and who swiftly and confidently rejected the original diagnosis of nothing worse than pneumonia. To the surgeons, neurologists, anesthesiologists, and the perfusionist, who kept my systems going for many hours under daunting circumstances. To the dozen or so physician assistants, and to nurses and physical therapists and x-ray technicians and a small army of phlebotomists so deft that you hardly know they are drawing your blood, and the people who brought the meals, kept my room clean, did the mountains of laundry generated by such a messy case, wheel-chaired me to x-ray, and so forth. These people came from Uganda, Kenya, Liberia, Haiti, the Philippines, Croatia, Russia, China, Korea, India—and the United States, of course—and I have never seen more impressive mutual respect, as they helped each other out and checked each other's work. But for all their teamwork, this local gang could not have done their jobs without the huge background of contributions from others. I remember with gratitude my late friend and Tufts colleague, physicist Allan Cormack, who shared the Nobel Prize for his invention of the c-t scanner. Allan—you have posthumously saved yet another life, but who's counting? The world is better for the work you did. Thank goodness. Then there is the whole system of medicine, both the science and the technology, without which the best-intentioned efforts of individuals would be roughly useless. So I am grateful to the editorial boards and referees, past and present, ofScience, Nature, Journal of the American Medical Association, Lancet, and all the other institutions of science and medicine that keep churning out improvements, detecting and correcting flaws.

Do I worship modern medicine? Is science my religion? Not at all; there is no aspect of modern medicine or science that I would exempt from the most rigorous scrutiny, and I can readily identify a host of serious problems that still need to be fixed. That's easy to do, of course, because the worlds of medicine and science are already engaged in the most obsessive, intensive, and humble self-assessments yet known to human institutions, and they regularly make public the results of their self-examinations. Moreover, this open-ended rational criticism, imperfect as it is, is the secret of the astounding success of these human enterprises. There are measurable improvements every day. Had I had my blasted aorta a decade ago, there would have been no prayer of saving me. It's hardly routine today, but the odds of my survival were actually not so bad (these days, roughly 33 percent of aortic dissection patients die in the first twenty-four hours after onset without treatment, and the odds get worse by the hour thereafter).

One thing in particular struck me when I compared the medical world on which my life now depended with the religious institutions I have been studying so intensively in recent years. One of the gentler, more supportive themes to be found in every religion (so far as I know) is the idea that what really matters is what is in your heart: if you have good intentions, and are trying to do what (God says) is right, that is all anyone can ask. Not so in medicine! If you are wrong—especially if you should have known better—your good intentions count for almost nothing. And whereas taking a leap of faith and acting without further scrutiny of one's options is often celebrated by religions, it is considered a grave sin in medicine. A doctor whose devout faith in his personal revelations about how to treat aortic aneurysm led him to engage in untested trials with human patients would be severely reprimanded if not driven out of medicine altogether. There are exceptions, of course. A few swashbuckling, risk-taking pioneers are tolerated and (if they prove to be right) eventually honored, but they can exist only as rare exceptions to the ideal of the methodical investigator who scrupulously rules out alternative theories before putting his own into practice. Good intentions and inspiration are simply not enough.

In other words, whereas religions may serve a benign purpose by letting many people feel comfortable with the level of morality they themselves can attain, no religion holds its members to the high standards of moral responsibility that the secular world of science and medicine does! And I'm not just talking about the standards 'at the top'—among the surgeons and doctors who make life or death decisions every day. I'm talking about the standards of conscientiousness endorsed by the lab technicians and meal preparers, too. This tradition puts its faith in the unlimited application of reason and empirical inquiry, checking and re-checking, and getting in the habit of asking "What if I'm wrong?" Appeals to faith or membership are never tolerated. Imagine the reception a scientist would get if he tried to suggest that others couldn't replicate his results because they just didn't share the faith of the people in his lab! And, to return to my main point, it is the goodness of this tradition of reason and open inquiry that I thank for my being alive today.

What, though, do I say to those of my religious friends (and yes, I have quite a few religious friends) who have had the courage and honesty to tell me that they have been praying for me? I have gladly forgiven them, for there are few circumstances more frustrating than not being able to help a loved one in any more direct way. I confess to regretting that I could not pray (sincerely) for my friends and family in time of need, so I appreciate the urge, however clearly I recognize its futility. I translate my religious friends' remarks readily enough into one version or another of what my fellow brights have been telling me: "I've been thinking about you, and wishing with all my heart [another ineffective but irresistible self-indulgence] that you come through this OK." The fact that these dear friends have been thinking of me in this way, and have taken an effort to let me know, is in itself, without any need for a supernatural supplement, a wonderful tonic. These messages from my family and from friends around the world have been literally heart-warming in my case, and I am grateful for the boost in morale (to truly manic heights, I fear!) that it has produced in me. But I am not joking when I say that I have had to forgive my friends who said that they were praying for me. I have resisted the temptation to respond "Thanks, I appreciate it, but did you also sacrifice a goat?" I feel about this the same way I would feel if one of them said "I just paid a voodoo doctor to cast a spell for your health." What a gullible waste of money that could have been spent on more important projects! Don't expect me to be grateful, or even indifferent. I do appreciate the affection and generosity of spirit that motivated you, but wish you had found a more reasonable way of expressing it.

But isn't this awfully harsh? Surely it does the world no harm if those who can honestly do so pray for me! No, I'm not at all sure about that. For one thing, if they really wanted to do something useful, they could devote their prayer time and energy to some pressing project that they can do something about. For another, we now have quite solid grounds (e.g., the recently released Benson study at Harvard) for believing that intercessory prayer simply doesn't work. Anybody whose practice shrugs off that research is subtly undermining respect for the very goodness I am thanking. If you insist on keeping the myth of the effectiveness of prayer alive, you owe the rest of us a justification in the face of the evidence. Pending such a justification, I will excuse you for indulging in your tradition; I know how comforting tradition can be. But I want you to recognize that what you are doing is morally problematic at best. If you would even consider filing a malpractice suit against a doctor who made a mistake in treating you, or suing a pharmaceutical company that didn't conduct all the proper control tests before selling you a drug that harmed you, you must acknowledge your tacit appreciation of the high standards of rational inquiry to which the medical world holds itself, and yet you continue to indulge in a practice for which there is no known rational justification at all, and take yourself to be actually making a contribution. (Try to imagine your outrage if a pharmaceutical company responded to your suit by blithely replying "But we prayed good and hard for the success of the drug! What more do you want?")

The best thing about saying thank goodness in place of thank God is that there really are lots of ways of repaying your debt to goodness—by setting out to create more of it, for the benefit of those to come. Goodness comes in many forms, not just medicine and science. Thank goodness for the music of, say, Randy Newman, which could not exist without all those wonderful pianos and recording studios, to say nothing of the musical contributions of every great composer from Bach through Wagner to Scott Joplin and the Beatles. Thank goodness for fresh drinking water in the tap, and food on our table. Thank goodness for fair elections and truthful journalism. If you want to express your gratitude to goodness, you can plant a tree, feed an orphan, buy books for schoolgirls in the Islamic world, or contribute in thousands of other ways to the manifest improvement of life on this planet now and in the near future.

Or you can thank God—but the very idea of repaying God is ludicrous. What could an omniscient, omnipotent Being (the Man Who has Everything?) do with any paltry repayments from you? (And besides, according to the Christian tradition God has already redeemed the debt for all time, by sacrificing his own son. Try to repay that loan!) Yes, I know, those themes are not to be understood literally; they are symbolic. I grant it, but then the idea that by thanking God you are actually doing some good has got to be understood to be just symbolic, too. I prefer real good to symbolic good.

Still, I excuse those who pray for me. I see them as like tenacious scientists who resist the evidence for theories they don't like long after a graceful concession would have been the appropriate response. I applaud you for your loyalty to your own position—but remember: loyalty to tradition is not enough. You've got to keep asking yourself: What if I'm wrong? In the long run, I think religious people can be asked to live up to the same moral standards as secular people in science and medicine.

Daniel Dennett
Edge.org, 11.2.06

Monday, November 20, 2017

"This Thanksgiving, Try StoryCorps' Oral History Project"

With enough divisive topics to go around the Thanksgiving table this year, dinner debates can easily steal our attention away from loved ones. StoryCorps suggests using its app to have a meaningful, one-on-one conversation, as part of its Great Thanksgiving Listen project, where kids interview their elders about their lives. But anyone with a smartphone can participate.

"The microphone can give you the license to ask questions that you might otherwise shy away from asking," StoryCorps founder Dave Isay recently told NPR's Scott Simon. "People are learning about their family's personal stories and also helping to capture and share the wisdom of humanity."

(continues here)

#10 First Installment Hobbes and Theology

Hobbes and Theology


            God is often lauded by the pious as the zenith of all existences within the universe. Thomas Hobbes, the man said to be the father of political philosophy, made numerous enemies within academia and the church during his career. Theologians locked horns with Hobbes regularly because he claimed that their knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ was far more than should be possible for any mortal. I find this interesting since many Christians of the modern era also affirm that their own savior is limitless in his potential and power but bicker among themselves as to what extent that power exists. Hobbes would more than likely say that this is a faulty method of thinking about God, as mere mortals can’t know everything about a deity so the infighting about God and his attributes does make a degree of sense.

            The concept of a central entity holding all power for the masses to submit to was an integral facette of Hobbes philosophy. Despite the fact that many theologians and scholars abhorred Hobbes as a nonbeliever, he was indeed a follower of the divine. Hobbes did not, however, adhere to the mainstream belief that the soul would be judged upon the body’s end. Hobbes maintained the view Mortalism, wherein which a person expired, along with the body and soul after which the afterlife would only begin once the body was resurrected upon the day of judgement. Christians often say that the day of resurrection, the day of the messiah’s return is immanent, and that the flesh is dead to the desires of the spirit. Why then did so many of Hobbes contemporaries reject him as a heretic?


            Theologians may disagree among themselves about the attributes God possesses, but the central premise conforms to a standard which is all powerful. Any narrative that may contradict or even redefine God was unacceptable in Hobbes era. In truth Hobbes was no atheist, he simply chose a different lens to view God, and the transfer of souls to the afterlife. Many Christians believe that the transference of souls from life to afterlife is not applicable to other living organisms. This is strange given that humans are mammals just as say pigs or cows, yet humans are endowed with souls yet animals lack them. This presupposition of where souls ought to be was one of Hobbes main gripes against theologians, since claiming to know God’s true intent is ridiculous given the biblical premise that his methods are unknown to humans.

                Hobbes’ message is that of humbleness. He acknowledged the authority of a deity, but believed it was not the place of his subjects to try and discern the Lord’s characteristics. Hobbes thought that power not harnessed in the hands of a singularity would ultimately cause the downfall of humanity. Not unlike many Christians before and after him, Hobbes lived his life and patiently waited for the second coming, but was shunned for his alternative interpretations. Hobbes life was that of a misunderstood thinker who was ostracized simply for thinking differently. It is my fervent hope that we look to Hobbes’ life and show the same humility as he once did.  
For insight into the motivation for the topic discussed:



Sunday, November 19, 2017

Feminist Philosophy pt1

Lauren DeGori (10)
Philosophy 1030
Final Installment 1
Feminist Philosophy

            As early as the 18th-century, women have been on the rise to get out of their strict gender roles. “Republican Motherhood” was a term used for women who were trying to get an education and become something more than just a house wife before, during and especially after the Revolution. Women wanted to become more apart of civilization, they were tired of being pushed aside and being told they are to do nothing but raise children and feed others. The strict gender roles of the time are uncanny to use now, as men and women who have seen the rise of women over time.
            Let us think about some female philosophers themselves. Betty Friedan, born in 1921 and died in 2006, was a Women’s Right Activist who wrote the book “Feminine Mystique.” However, before the publication of her book, she was the definition of the traditional gender role for women. She did not want to live in the word where the gender roles would remain the same for the rest of her life time. Her publication of the book in 1963 was mind blowing to the world around her. It really made American’s think about women’s “responsibilities” in the society before them, how women were no longer trying to get an upper education, how women were getting married in their later teens or early twenties, and having children at ages where they wouldn’t be able to take care of the child. This work showed that women, too, are allowed to develop their own full identities, that working in a kitchen and raising children around them does not allow them to find themselves and pursue this self-fulfillment aspect of life. Gloria Steinem, was born in 1934 and is still a feminist advocate today in our society. Her feminist roots started long before she was born with her grandmother being a president of a local Women’s Suffrage Association. Steinem started her own National Women’s Political Caucus with Betty Friedan and others, after her book was released and that was became widespread before they knew it. She also was a part of magazines that dealt with feminist perspective. She is still extremely active in society with multiple new associations like “Voters for Choice” and “Women Against Pornography.” But with her latest publication her memoir “My Life on the Road” in 2015. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013 and is looked as a modern feminist icon.

            Moving onward to other Feminist Movements, from the past and to the present. The Reed v. Reed case of 1971 was about a recently divorced couple who lost their son to suicide. Their son did not have a will and they were fighting for his land. This case went to the Supreme Court after Mr. Reed was given the land because “males must be preferred to females,” by Idaho state law. The result of this case was that giving the land to Mr. Reed over Ms. Reed strictly due to his sex was discrimination and a violation of the 14th amendment. At the time, the 14th Amendment was the amendment defines a United States citizen and that protects “certain” rights of the people. Although this isn’t necessarily a movement, it is a huge step in feminism. This was recognizing that discrimination is a violation of our rights as people. Even after this case, it still took the Equal Rights Amendment over a century to realize that the 14th amendment protected women. We cannot continue to take centuries to change laws or be unsure of laws to protect our people. If we fast forward to modern women’s rights, in 2012, there was a widespread campaign called “Free the Nipple.” This isn’t just a feminist movement, it is also a gender equality movement. Women’s bodies are always seen to be inappropriate or are in need of censorship in any environment. God forbid a woman wears a bra and underwear on her balcony, everyone stares with glare and parents shield the eyes of their children, but a man can wear shorts and no shirt, and they are perceived as “sexy” and “godly.” This movement was not a way for women to be showing their bodies to the public. This movement was not for women to “flaunt” themselves to everyone and their mothers. Ultimately, it was a way to push back, to show society and those who are yet to come that women’s bodies are not shameful. Women’s bodies are not to be tucked away because of societal norms. Women come as they are and they should not have to hide or shield themselves because of the world around them.
Betty Friedan 
Gloria Steinem
In my next post, I will elaborate more on Feminist Icons that have truly changed the way of women's rights and involvement in society over time. 

WE Can!


#6 sources on Aristotle report



http://www.iep.utm.edu/aristotl/  (this site was very interesting)

Adler, Mortimer J. Aristotle for everybody. Macmillan Publishers, 1978.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Descartes- Chapters 2,3

       Chapters 2 and 3 of Descartes: A Very Short Introduction are extremely short. I’d like to focus on a quote from chapter 3 in this discussion:

“it would be unreasonable for an individual… to plan to reform the body of the sciences of the established order of teaching them in the schools.” “On the other hand, it could well make sense for an individual to raze and rebuild his own particular house, and, by the same token, there might be something to be said for reforming ones’s own learning- rejecting everything doubtful in ones’s acquired beliefs- while leaving the body of the sciences and the established order of teaching them intact.” 

Descartes is justifying why it is ok to think for yourself and discover on your own. Question the norm, do not just blindly follow the herd. By asking your own questions and seeking your own knowledge, you are simply rebuilding your own reality, not trying to change everyone else’s. But understand, being told what you know does not make it a truth. Truths must be infallibly provable. Mathematics therefore becomes the only true, provable property to confirm knowledge. This is at least my understanding. Thoughts?

Descartes- Chapter 1

Descartes: A Very Short Introduction by Tom Sorell

       Rene Descartes is most commonly known for his, “I think therefore I am” statement or “Cogito, ergo sum.” His entire theology is built upon this lone idea, that the only thing he can know for sure is that he exists, thus becoming the first principle in his metaphysics or first philosophy. With grounding his metaphysics to God as the primary cause of nature, he advocates for a geometrical physics where only properties such as length, depth and breadth were essential to matter (p.3). ‘Descartes’s physics was constructed out of mathematical facts about material things, facts about size, shape, composition, and speed that could be grasped by a mind with sense-experience different from ours, or by a mind with no sense-experience at all. Other sorts of facts about physical objects, such as their having colour and smell- facts that were relative to the sensory powers of human beings- were dealt with differently.’ (p.3). By posing this explanation to his physics, Descartes manages to cast doubt onto what we think we know. We can no longer call a rose red because our senses are notorious for deceiving us. So, by placing all sensory experiences aside and using only what is mathematically provable, we can finally begin to build a solid foundation of basic human knowledge, properties and/or principles we can prove to be true.

I found it interesting that, although Descartes was Catholic with deep ties to the church, his theory is the first of its kind by suggesting in an underlying tone that there may not be a God, or the idea of being agnostic. It is my understanding, take sensory out of your properties for determining what is real or what you know. Only consider the properties that can be proven mathematically. Can God be proven mathematically? If so, what does that look like? If not, is that proof enough that God does not exist?

"Their Pledges Die. So Should Fraternities"

Following a night of heavy drinking at a fraternity at Texas State University, a 20-year-old was found dead. Another 20-year-old died at Florida State University in nearly identical circumstances.

At Penn State University, the victim was 19. Security cameras and text messages documented the fumbling attempts by fraternity members to revive him and then to cover up the link between his unconscious condition and the 18 or so drinks that they forced on him in a roughly 90-minute span. As he moaned and thrashed and blood from a lacerated spleen filled his abdomen, they waited about 12 hours to summon medical help, by which point it was too late.

At Louisiana State University, the victim was 18, with a blood alcohol content of .496 percent. That’s more than six times the legal limit for driving and about two and a half times the amount of alcohol that can cause someone to black out.

All of these incidents occurred this year — the Texas and Florida ones in the last two weeks — and yet 2017 isn’t some nadir. At least six young men died in connection with fraternity hazing rituals in 2014, according to Hank Nuwer’s Hazing Clearinghouse, a website with a ghastly, heartbreaking tally. Two years before that, seven died.

Across decades, the toll of deaths related to fraternity revelry and recklessness is surely in the hundreds. And while physical stress plays a role in some fatalities, most reflect the kind of extreme drinking that’s in the DNA of so-called Greek life... (Frank Bruni, continues)

Quiz Nov 20/21

Peirce & James, Nietzsche, Freud LH 28-30

1. What's the point of James's squirrel story?

2. Who said truth is what we would end up with if we could run all the experiments and investigations we'd like to? (And what's a word his name rhymes with?)

3. What did Bertrand Russell say about James's theory of truth?

4. What 20th century philosopher carried on the pragmatist tradition? What did he say about the way words work?

5. What did Nietzsche mean by "God is dead"? (And what's a word his name rhymes with?)

6. Where did Nietzsche think Christian values come from?

7. What is an Ubermensch, and why does Nigel find it "a bit worrying"?

8. How did Nietzsche differ from Kant but anticipate Freud?

9. What were the three great revolutions in thought, according to Freud?

10. The "talking cure" gave birth to what?

11. Why did Freud think people believe in God?

12. What was Karl Popper's criticism of Freudian psychoanalysis?

  • Have you ever been involved in an interminable debate that finally ended when someone clarified the definitions of the terms involved? Are most philosophical disputes like that?
  • Can something be true, but then later found to be false? Can a statement that was previously false be made true by events? (Consider: if you'd said "Neil Armstrong walked on the moon" in 1968...)
  • Should we distinguish provisional, falsifiable truth from ultimate truth?
  • Does it really "work" to believe in Santa? Didn't you continue to receive presents after you stopped believing? Is believing in Santa analogous to believing in God?
  • Are words tools, or more like pictures?
  • Is it possible that God is dead for some but not others, in some places and times more and in others less?
  • Are compassion and kindness distinctively religious values? Do you know any kind and compassionate atheists? ("Please allow me to introduce myself...")
  • Should we embrace the irrational and emotional aspects of human nature, or try to overcome them?
  • Is the "unconscious" well-supported scientifically? Does it need to be, in order to be useful to people in coming to terms with their own inner lives?
  • Is Freudian dream symbolism (snakes and caves etc.) profound or silly? Could it be both?
  • Have you ever committed an interesting Freudian slip?
  • What do you think of Freud's account of religion?
  • Your DQs
Peirce & James, LISTEN: Robert Talisse on Pragmatism (PB)... Podcast... Also see "On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings" and "Sentiment of Rationality/Dilemma of Determinism"

The essence of belief is the establishment of a habit; and different beliefs are distinguished by the different modes of action to which they give rise.
Charles Sanders Peirce's quote #1 

Image result for william james quotes

1. Will there ever be an end of science, or a complete catalog of truths?

2. Do you agree that a "distinction without a (practical) difference" is irrelevant, and that truth and falsehood are practically the same if you can't specify the difference? 

3. When James said truth is what works, did he mean what works for me, now? Or for us, on the whole and in the long run? Does this matter, practically? Does it bear on Bertrand Russell's criticism?

4. Do you think of words as tools for expressing your ideas and feelings, communicating with yourself and others, and generally "coping"... or as mental photographs that copy the world? Could they be both? What would it be like to have no words? (Could you even think about that, or about anything?) Do words ever get in the way of thought, or distort it?

5. What makes an idea valuable to you?

6. What's the difference between a fiction and a lie? Can fiction convey truth?
William James would agree:

Marco Rubio said in last night's (11.10/15) GOP debate: "Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers." William James would disagree. We need more philosophical welders, business-people, people generally... so we need more philosophers.

An old post-
April 21, 2015
It's Peirce and James (and Vandy's Robert Talisse on the pragmatists and truth)...

Through the years I've written repeatedly and delightedly on PeirceJames, and Nietzsche@dawn, especially WJ.

I’m not especially pleased with Nigel Warburton’s take on James, true enough to the letter but not at all to the spirit of his pragmatic conception of truth. More on that later. At least he gets thesquirrel right.

Here's what James actually said, about the squirrel and about pragmatism's conception of truth:
...Mindful of the scholastic adage that whenever you meet a contradiction you must make a distinction, I immediately sought and found one, as follows: "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 conceive the verb 'to go round' in one practical fashion or the other."
Altho one or two of the hotter disputants called my speech a shuffling evasion, saying they wanted no quibbling or scholastic hair-splitting, but meant just plain honest English 'round,' the majority seemed to think that the distinction had assuaged the dispute.

I tell this trivial anecdote because it is a peculiarly simple example of what I wish now to speak of as THE PRAGMATIC METHOD. The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable. Is the world one or many?—fated or free?—material or spiritual?—here are notions either of which may or may not hold good of the world; and disputes over such notions are unending. The pragmatic method in such cases is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences. What difference would it practically make to anyone if this notion rather than that notion were true? If no practical difference whatever can be traced, then the alternatives mean practically the same thing, and all dispute is idle. Whenever a dispute is serious, we ought to be able to show some practical difference that must follow from one side or the other's being right... Pragmatism, Lecture II
Truth, as any dictionary will tell you, is a property of certain of our ideas. It means their 'agreement,' as falsity means their disagreement, with 'reality.' Pragmatists and intellectualists both accept this definition as a matter of course. They begin to quarrel only after the question is raised as to what may precisely be meant by the term 'agreement,' and what by the term 'reality,' when reality is taken as something for our ideas to agree with...
Pragmatism asks its usual question. "Grant an idea or belief to be true," it says, "what concrete difference will its being true make in anyone's actual life? How will the truth be realized? What experiences will be different from those which would obtain if the belief were false? What, in short, is the truth's cash-value in experiential terms?"
The moment pragmatism asks this question, it sees the answer: TRUE IDEAS ARE THOSE THAT WE CAN ASSIMILATE, VALIDATE, CORROBORATE AND VERIFY. FALSE IDEAS ARE THOSE THAT WE CANNOT. That is the practical difference it makes to us to have true ideas; that, therefore, is the meaning of truth, for it is all that truth is known-as...
...truth is ONE SPECIES OF GOOD, and not, as is usually supposed, a category distinct from good, and co-ordinate with it. THE TRUE IS THE NAME OF WHATEVER PROVES ITSELF TO BE GOOD IN THE WAY OF BELIEF, AND GOOD, TOO, FOR DEFINITE, ASSIGNABLE REASONS... 
Certain ideas are not only agreeable to think about, or agreeable as supporting other ideas that we are fond of, but they are also helpful in life's practical struggles. If there be any life that it is really better we should lead, and if there be any idea which, if believed in, would help us to lead that life, then it would be really BETTER FOR US to believe in that idea, UNLESS, INDEED, BELIEF IN IT INCIDENTALLY CLASHED WITH OTHER GREATER VITAL BENEFITS.
'What would be better for us to believe'! This sounds very like a definition of truth. It comes very near to saying 'what we OUGHT to believe': and in THAT definition none of you would find any oddity. Ought we ever not to believe what it is BETTER FOR US to believe? And can we then keep the notion of what is better for us, and what is true for us, permanently apart?
Pragmatism says no... Pragmatism, Lec. VI

This is a contentious and contestable view, admittedly, but it is not the caricatured reduction to whatever is "expedient" in a situation James's critics (like Bertrand Russell) made it out to be. It's more like Richard Rorty's invitation to an open and ongoing conversation between all comers with something to contribute. It is decidedly not a "Santa Claus" philosophy of truth.

James may have been wrong about truth, but (to paraphrase A.C. Grayling's comment on Descartes) if he was, he was interestingly, constructively, engagingly, entertainingly, provocatively wrong.

Besides, he's the best writer in the James family (sorry, Henry) and possibly the best writer in the entire stable of American philosophers. I call him my favorite because he's the one I'd most like to invite to the Boulevard for a beer. Unfortunately he didn't drink. (Too bad they don't serve nitrous oxide.) Also, unfortunately, he died in 1910. Read his letters and correspondence, they humanize his philosophy and place his "radical" views in the context of their genesis: the context of experience, and of life.

They also counter my friend Talisse's hasty semi-assent to Nigel's outrageous misreading of the pragmatists as missing "a sense of awe and wonder." James had it in spades, and so did Dewey and Peirce in their own ways. Likewise Rorty, who did not like being called a "relativist" and who would not agree that "Nazism and western liberal democracy are the same." Not at all.

But, I do think Talisse does a good job of summarizing James's rejection of "truth-as-correspondence" as an unhelpful formula, once you move past trivial matters like catching the bus. He's also correct in pointing out James's interest in religion as rooted in the lives and experience of individuals, not particularly in God, heaven, the afterlife and so on. He psychologizes and naturalizes religion. It's mostly about life on earth, for Jamesians, not (again) about Santa.

(Ph'y of Happiness)
The Dilemma of Determinism, The Sentiment of Rationality

1. By what "marks" does James propose to recognize rationality?

2. What is James's definition of rationality?

3. Under what conditions does James endorse the "subjective method" of believing what you desire to believe?

4. Does James intend to prove the reality of free will?

5. What are the two poles of the "dilemma of determinism"?

6. Free will is compatible with divine providence, provided the universe include what?

1. Do you like James's criteria and definition of rationality? Or do you prefer a narrower, more objective, or more intellectual definition? What role should emotions play in establishing our conception of what it is rational to believe and to do?

2. If all philosophers accepted James's account of rationality, would they approach their vocation or their lives differently?

3. Neil deGrasse Tyson likes to say that the great thing about science is, it's true whether you believe it or not. Can you think of examples in which the facts depend on what we believe about them?

4. Is there something odd or inimical about attempts to coerce others into accepting the truth of an argument for or against free will?

5. Are there good things about determinism, making it not a dilemma but an opportunity for happiness? (Think about Spinoza, for example.)

6. Do you find the idea of a god of indeterminate possibilities appealing, disappointing, disillusioning, personally motivating, or what?

Dawn post: HT live an experiment... Podcast: Leaping the abyss

These early essays convey two of the themes most central to William James's notion of happiness: enthusiastic acceptance of one's own and others' personal or subjective individuality; and a sense of one's own free agency as pragmatically vindicated by those who act on it ("my first act of free will shall be to believe in free will")... Note the latest "Stone" essay, "How to Live a Lie," implying that James was a "free will fictionalist" who willfully accepted propositions that defy rational belief. Do we all do that, when we assert religious or ethical propositions? Is it okay? jpo


What is the task which philosophers set themselves to perform; andwhy do they philosophize at all? Almost every one will immediately reply: They desire to attain a conception of the frame of things which shall on the whole be more rational than that somewhat chaotic view which every one by nature carries about with him under his hat. But suppose this rational conception attained, how is the philosopher to recognize it for what it is, and not let it slip through ignorance? The only answer can be that he will recognize its rationality as he recognizes everything else, by certain subjective marks with which it affects him. When he gets the marks, he may know that he has got the rationality.

What, then, are the marks? A strong feeling of ease, peace, rest, is one of them. The transition from a state of puzzle and perplexity to rational comprehension is full of lively relief and pleasure.

But this relief seems to be a negative rather than a positive character. Shall we then say that the feeling of rationality is constituted merely by the absence of any feeling of irrationality? I think there are very good grounds for upholding such a view. All feeling whatever, in the light of certain recent psychological speculations, seems to depend for its physical condition not on simple discharge of nerve-currents, but on their discharge under arrest, impediment, or resistance. Just as we feel no particular pleasure when we breathe freely, but a very intense feeling of distress when the respiratory motions are prevented,--so any unobstructed tendency to action discharges itself without the production of much cogitative accompaniment, and any perfectly fluent course of thought awakens but little feeling; but when the movement is inhibited, or when the thought meets with difficulties, we experience distress. It is only when the distress is upon us that we can be said to strive, to crave, or to aspire. When enjoying plenary freedom either in the way of motion or of thought, we are in a sort of anaesthetic state in which we might say with Walt Whitman, if we cared to say anything about ourselves at such times, "I am sufficient as I am." This feeling of the sufficiency of the present moment, of its absoluteness,--this absence of all need to explain it, account for it, or justify it,--is what I call the Sentiment of Rationality. As soon, in short, as we are enabled from any cause whatever to think with perfect fluency, the thing we think of seems to us _pro tanto_ rational.

Whatever modes of conceiving the cosmos facilitate this fluency, produce the sentiment of rationality. Conceived in such modes, being vouches for itself and needs no further philosophic formulation. But this fluency may be obtained in various ways; and first I will take up the theoretic way...

Now, there is one particular relation of greater practical importance than all the rest,--I mean the relation of a thing to its future consequences. So long as an object is unusual, our expectations are baffled; they are fully determined as soon as it becomes familiar. I therefore propose this as the first practical requisite which a philosophic conception must satisfy: _It must, in a general way at least, banish uncertainty from the future_. The permanent presence of the sense of futurity in the mind has been strangely ignored by most writers, but the fact is that our consciousness at a given moment is never free from the ingredient of expectancy. Every one knows how when a painful thing has to be undergone in the near future, the vague feeling that it is impending penetrates all our thought with uneasiness and subtly vitiates our mood even when it does not control our attention; it keeps us from being at rest, at home in the given present. The same is true when a great happiness awaits us. But when the future is neutral and perfectly certain, 'we do not mind it,' as we say, but give an undisturbed attention to the actual. Let now this haunting sense of futurity be thrown off its bearings or left without an object, and immediately uneasiness takes possession of the mind. But in every novel or unclassified experience this is just what occurs; we do not know what will come next; and novelty _per se_ becomes a mental irritant, while custom _per se_ is a mental sedative, merely because the one baffles while the other settles our expectations.

Every reader must feel the truth of this. What is meant by coming 'to feel at home' in a new place, or with new people? It is simply that, at first, when we take up our quarters in a new room, we do not know what draughts may blow in upon our back, what doors may open, what forms may enter, what interesting objects may be found in cupboards and corners. When after a few days we have learned the range of all these possibilities, the feeling of strangeness disappears. And so it does with people, when we have got past the point of expecting any essentially new manifestations from their character.

The utility of this emotional effect of expectation is perfectly obvious; 'natural selection,' in fact, was bound to bring it about sooner or later. It is of the utmost practical importance to an animal that he should have prevision of the qualities of the objects that surround him, and especially that he should not come to rest in presence of circumstances that might be fraught either with peril or advantage,--go to sleep, for example, on the brink of precipices, in the dens of enemies, or view with indifference some new-appearing object that might, if chased, prove an important addition to the larder. Novelty _ought_ to irritate him. All curiosity has thus a practical genesis. We need only look at the physiognomy of a dog or a horse when a new object comes into his view, his mingled fascination and fear, to see that the element of conscious insecurity or perplexed expectation lies at the root of his emotion. A dog's curiosity about the movements of his master or a strange object only extends as far as the point of deciding what is going to happen next. That settled, curiosity is quenched. The dog quoted by Darwin, whose behavior in presence of a newspaper moved by the wind seemed to testify to a sense 'of the supernatural,' was merely exhibiting the irritation of an uncertain future. A newspaper which could move spontaneously was in itself so unexpected that the poor brute could not tell what new wonders the next moment might bring forth...

Suppose, for example, that I am climbing in the Alps, and have had the ill-luck to work myself into a position from which the only escape is by a terrible leap. Being without similar experience, I have no evidence of my ability to perform it successfully; but hope and confidence in myself make me sure I shall not miss my aim, and nerve my feet to execute what without those subjective emotions would perhaps have been impossible. But suppose that, on the contrary, the emotions of fear and mistrust preponderate; or suppose that, having just read the Ethics of Belief, I feel it would be sinful to act upon an assumption unverified by previous experience,--why, then I shall hesitate so long that at last, exhausted and trembling, and launching myself in a moment of despair, I miss my foothold and roll into the abyss. In this case (and it is one of an immense class) the part of wisdom clearly is to believe what one desires; for the belief is one of the indispensable preliminary conditions of the realization of its object. _There are then cases where faith creates its own verification_. Believe, and you shall be right, for you shall save yourself; doubt, and you shall again be right, for you shall perish. The only difference is that to believe is greatly to your advantage.

The future movements of the stars or the facts of past history are determined now once for all, whether I like them or not. They are given irrespective of my wishes, and in all that concerns truths like these subjective preference should have no part; it can only obscure the judgment. But in every fact into which there enters an element of personal contribution on my part, as soon as this personal contribution demands a certain degree of subjective energy which, in its turn, calls for a certain amount of faith in the result,--so that, after all, the future fact is conditioned by my present faith in it,--how trebly asinine would it be for me to deny myself the use of the subjective method, the method of belief based on desire!



A common opinion prevails that the juice has ages ago been pressed out of the free-will controversy, and that no new champion can do more than warm up stale arguments which everyone has heard. This is a radical mistake. I know of no subject less worn out, or in which inventive genius has a better chance of breaking open new ground--not, perhaps, of forcing a conclusion or of coercing assent, but of deepening our sense of what the issue between the two parties really is, of what the ideas of fate and of free will imply. At our very side almost, in the past few years, we have seen falling in rapid succession from the press works that present the alternative in entirely novel lights. Not to speak of the English disciples of Hegel, such as Green and Bradley; not to speak of Hinton and Hodgson, nor of Hazard here --we see in the writings of Renouvier, Fouillée, and Delbœuf how completely changed and refreshed is the form of all the old disputes. I cannot pretend to vie in originality with any of the masters I have named, and my ambition limits itself to just one little point. If I can make two of the necessarily implied corollaries of determinism clearer to you than they have been made before, I shall have made it possible for you to decide for or against that doctrine with a better understanding of what you are about. And if you prefer not to decide at all, but to remain doubters, you will at least see more plainly what the subject of your hesitation is. I thus disclaim openly on the threshold all pretension to prove to you that the freedom of the will is true. The most I hope is to induce some of you to follow my own example in assuming it true, and acting as if it were true. If it be true, it seems to me that this is involved in the strict logic of the case. Its truth ought not to be forced willy-nilly down our indifferent throats. It ought to be freely espoused by men who can equally well turn their backs upon it. In other words, our first act of freedom, if we are free, ought in all inward propriety to be to affirm that we are free. This should exclude, it seems to me, from the freewill side of the question all hope of a coercive demonstrations,-- a demonstration which I, for one, am perfectly contented to go without...

What interest, zest, or excitement can there be in achieving the right way, unless we are enabled to feel that the wrong way is also a possible and a natural way,--nay, more, a menacing and an imminent way? And what sense can there be in condemning ourselves for taking the wrong way, unless we need have done nothing of the sort, unless the right way was open to us as well? I cannot understand the willingness to act, no matter how we feel, without the belief that acts are really good and bad. I cannot understand the belief that an act is bad, without regret at its happening. I cannot understand regret without the admission of real, genuine possibilities in the world.Only then is it other than a mockery to feel, after we have failed to do our best, that an irreparable opportunity is gone from the universe, the loss of which it must forever after mourn.

If you insist that this is all superstition, that possibility is in the eye of science and reason impossibility, and that if I act badly 'tis that the universe was foredoomed to suffer this defect, you fall right back into the dilemma, the labyrinth, of pessimism and subjectivism, from out of whose toils we have just found our way.

Now, we are of course free to fall back, if we please. For my own part, though, whatever difficulties may beset the philosophy of objective right and wrong, and the indeterminism it seems to imply, determinism, with its alternative of pessimism or romanticism, contains difficulties that are greater still. But you will remember that I expressly repudiated a while ago the pretension to offer any arguments which could be coercive in a so-called scientific fashion in this matter. And I consequently find myself, at the end of this long talk, obliged to state my conclusions in an altogether personal way. This personal method of appeal seems to be among the very conditions of the problem; and the most anyone can do is to confess as candidly as he can the grounds for the faith that is in him, and leave his example to work on others as it may.

Let me, then, without circumlocution say just this. The world is enigmatical enough in all conscience, whatever theory we may take up toward it. The indeterminism I defend, the free-will theory of popular sense based on the judgment of regret, represents that world as vulnerable, and liable to be injured by certain of its parts if they act wrong. And it represents their acting wrong as a matter of possibility or accident, neither inevitable nor yet to be infallibly warded off. In all this, it is a theory devoid either of transparency or of stability. It gives us a pluralistic, restless universe, in which no single point of view can ever take in the whole scene; and to a mind possessed of the love of unity at any cost, it will, no doubt, remain forever unacceptable. A friend with such a mind once told me that the thought of my universe made him sick, like the sight of the horrible motion of a mass of maggots in their carrion bed.

But while I freely admit that the pluralism and the restlessness are repugnant and irrational in a certain way, I find that every alternative to them is irrational in a deeper way. The indeterminism with its maggots, if you please to speak so about it, offends only the native absolutism of my intellect,--an absolutism which, after all, perhaps, deserves to be snubbed and kept in check. But the determinism with its necessary carrion, to continue the figure of speech, and with no possible maggots to eat the latter up, violates my sense of moral reality through and through. When, for example, I imagine such carrion as the Brockton murder, I cannot conceive it as an act by which the universe, as a whole, logically and necessarily expresses its nature without shrinking from complicity with such a whole. And I deliberately refuse to keep on terms of loyalty with the universe by saying blankly that the murder, since it does flow from the nature of the whole, is not carrion. There are some instinctive reactions which I, for one, will not tamper with. The only remaining alternative, the attitude of gnostical romanticism, wrenches my personal instincts in quite as violent a way. It falsifies the simple objectivity of their deliverance. It makes the goose flesh the murder excites in me a sufficient reason for the perpetration of the crime. It transforms life from a tragic reality into an insincere melodramatic exhibition, as foul or as tawdry as anyone's diseased curiosity pleases to carry it out. And with its consecration of the roman naturalists state of mind, and its enthronement of the baser crew of Parisian littérateurs among the eternally indispensable organs by which the infinite spirit of things attains to that subjective illumination which is the task of its life, it leaves me in presence of a sort of subjective carrion considerably more noisome than the objective carrion I called it in to take away.

No! better a thousand times, than such systematic corruption of our moral sanity, the plainest pessimism, so that it be straightforward; but better far than that the world of chance. Make as great an uproar about chance as you please, I know that chance means pluralism and nothing more. If some of the members of the pluralism are bad, the philosophy of pluralism, whatever broad views it may deny me, permits me, at least, to turn to the other members with a clean breast of affection and an unsophisticated moral sense. And if I still wish to think of the world as a totality, it lets me feel that a world with a chance in it of being altogether good, even if the chance never come to pass, is better than a world with no such chance at all. That "chance" whose very notion I am exhorted and conjured to banish from my view of the future as the suicide of reason concerning it, that "chance" is--what? Just this,--the chance that in moral respects the future may be other and better than the past has been. This is the only chance we have any motive for supposing to exist. Shame, rather, on its repudiation and its denial! For its presence is the vital air which lets the world live, the salt which keeps it sweet.

And here I might legitimately stop, having expressed all I care to see admitted by others tonight. But I know that if I do stop here, misapprehensions will remain in the minds of some of you, and keep all I have said from having its effect; so I judge it best to add a few more words.

In the first place, in spite of all my explanations, the word "chance" will still be giving trouble. Though you may yourselves be adverse to the deterministic doctrine, you wish a pleasanter word than "chance" to name the opposite doctrine by; and you very likely consider my preference for such a word a perverse sort of a partiality on my part. It certainly is a bad word to make converts with; and you wish I had not thrust it so butt-foremost at you,--you wish to use a milder term. Well, I admit there may be just a dash of perversity in its choice. The spectacle of the mere word-grabbing game played by the soft determinists has perhaps driven me too violently the other way; and, rather than be found wrangling with them for the good words, I am willing to take the first bad one which comes along, provided it be unequivocal. The question is of things, not of eulogistic names for them; and the best word is the one that enables men to know the quickest whether they disagree or not about the things. But the word "chance," with its singular negativity, is just the word for this purpose. Whoever uses it instead of "freedom," squarely and resolutely gives up all pretense to control the things he says are free. For him, he confesses that they are no better than mere chance would be. It is a word of impotence, and is therefore the only sincere word we can use, if, in granting freedom to certain things, we grant it honestly, and really risk the game. "Who chooses me must give and forfeit all he hath." Any other word permits of quibbling, and lets us, after the fashion of the soft determinists, make a pretense of restoring the caged bird to liberty with one hand, while with the other we anxiously tie a string to it leg to make sure it does not get beyond our sight.

But now you will bring up your final doubt. Does not the admission of such an unguaranteed chance or freedom preclude utterly the notion of a Providence governing the world? Does it not leave the fate of the universe at the mercy of the chance-possibilities, and so far insecure? Does it not, in short, deny the craving of our nature for an ultimate peace behind all tempests, for a blue zenith above all clouds?

To this my answer must be very brief. The belief in free will is not in the least incompatible with the belief in Providence, provided you do not restrict the Providence to fulminating nothing but fatal degrees. If you allow him to provide possibilities as well as actualities to the universe, and to carry on his own thinking in those two categories just as we do ours, chances may be there, uncontrolled even by him, and the course of the universe be really ambiguous; and yet the end of all things may be just what he intended it to be from all eternity.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Image result for thanksgiving cartoon new yorker

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