Up@dawn 2.0

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Marx and James, the Future and the Past (H3)

Karl Marx and William James.  One was a German philosopher who spent the end of his life exiled in London, improvised, and uninfluential founder of the Marxist family of ideologies.  William James was an American philosopher who enjoyed a great deal of success and notice in his field during his life time and generated the Radical Empiricism school f thought.  It is interesting that the former should only grow in prominence while the former declined after their deaths.  One of the things that makes these two men stand out the most form each other though is their individual definitions of philosophy.  Karl Marx defines the purpose of philosophy being not to understand the world, but to “alter” it.  William James defined it as a question, which is: “what difference does it make to us if one world formula or another is true?”  In these definition you see two very different men trying to do very different things.  Marx was an idealist.  He saw history like some epic poem running toward its great conclusion at the end of history, the communist state.  A world without want or need or government, a self-regulating society of cooperation and honest work.  James didn’t deal with his story as either an epic poem or an epic mess. He was concerned with how philosophy affected us in the here and now.  With morality and ethics.  He was concerned with, as Aristotle and others have put it, the Good Life.  With what makes a good man and a good life.  I think these were good philosophers to wrap up A History of Western Philosophy with.  Because whatever you think of Marx his philosophy is idealistic, and whatever you think of James, his philosophy reminds us of the importance of the past in its relevance to the future.

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