1. How did Mill disagree with Bentham about pleasure?
3. What's the benefit to society of open discussion, according to Mill, and what's wrong with being dogmatic?
4. Who did Bishop Wilberforce debate at Oxford in 1860?
5. The single best idea anyone ever had was what, according to whom?
6. What scientific developments since Darwin's time establish evolution by natural selection as more than just a theory or hypothesis?
7. Who was the Danish Socrates, and what was most of his writing about?
8. Why is faith irrational, according to Nigel Warburton?
9. What is "the subjective point of view"?
10. Why was Karl Marx angry? How did he think the whole of human history could be explained?
11. What was Marx's "vision"?
12. What did Marx call religion?
- Name two or three of your favorite pleasures. Are any of them higher or better than the others? In what way? Are any of yours higher or better than those of a friend whose list includes none of yours? Why or why not?
- Is state paternalism ever warranted?
- Why don't we ever talk about state maternalism?
- What are the appropriate legal limits on speech and expression in a free society, if any?
- How would you reply to Wilberforce's debate question?
- What do you think was the best idea ever?
- Do you want a map of your own genome? Why or why not?
- Do you agree with Darwin that the subject of God is "too profound for human intellect"? Does it mean we should all be agnostic?
- What would you have done, in Abraham's position? Would you have doubted the "message" or challenged the messenger?
- Does it damage the parent-child relationship if Mom or Dad make it clear to the child that they'll always defer to the perceived instructions of a "heavenly father," even including murderous instructions? Does anything "trump the duty to be a good [parent]"?
- Would you ever do something you considered morally wrong, in the name of faith?
- Does taking a "leap of faith" make you irrational?
- How do you balance your subjective point of view with objectivity, and with the subjectivity of others? What role should inter-subjectivity play, in forming that balance?
- If you ever own a business will you pay your workers as little as possible and extract as much "surplus value" from them as you can?
- Is anything in history "inevitable"?
- Does religion make people more reconciled to oppression and exploitation, and less likely to revolt?
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?
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.
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:
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 Peirce, James, 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:
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.