Up@dawn 2.0

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Week 2 essay

Q: What do you make of the squirrel story at the beginning of Lec II? Does it successfully illustrate for you what James means when he says pragmatism "turns away from abstraction... from verbal solutions... towards concreteness... towards facts, towards action"?



William James presents the squirrel story “because it is a peculiarly simple example of what I wish now to speak of as the pragmatic method.” Just as James settled the squirrel dispute that seemingly had no end and no firm solution, pragmatism provides a method of settling metaphysical disagreements that seemingly have no solution and that continue in endless debate. The examples of metaphysical disputes that have been argued about continually since Socrates, are things such as – “is the world one or many? – fated or free? – material or spiritual?” It accomplishes this by taking each argument to its logical conclusion, or more specifically, as James puts it, “by tracing its respective practical consequences.” In doing so, there may be more than one answer, depending upon the intent of the question and/or meaning of the various components involved. In the case of the squirrel question it was the “practical meaning” of the word, “round.”

In the case of the squirrel, one answer is technically correct and the other is correct in practical terms. Though both are rational, only one is useful in practical terms, thus turning from the abstract to the concrete. In technical terms, if the man circumnavigates the tree, he has, by matter of necessity, also traveled “round” the squirrel. This answer is of no value in practical terms, however. If the intent of the man is to see the squirrel, circumnavigating the tree and, subsequently, encompassing the squirrel without ever seeing it has no value since his intent is never met.

Please notice that James did not “settle the matter,” he only gained a pragmatic consensus and a consensus of any kind, pragmatic or otherwise, is not a true indicator of correctness or of truth. Both the scientific community and the Church of the sixteenth century agreed (they had a consensus) that the Ptolemaic Model of geocentrism was correct and Nicolaus Copernicus’ newfangled heliocentric theory was false. The later, heliocentric, proved to be of great practical value in the years following the Copernicus Revolution.



Q: Does it successfully illustrate for you what James means when he says pragmatism "turns away from abstraction... from verbal solutions... towards concreteness... towards facts, towards action"?
If James meant that pragmatism can provide practical, useful answers to metaphysical questions that seem to have only abstract, verbal solutions, he was successful in convincing me. If that is not what he meant, he did not.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for kicking us off, George. "He who was last shall be first..."

    "If James meant that pragmatism can provide practical, useful answers to metaphysical questions that seem to have only abstract, verbal solutions..." Yes, that's exactly what he meant. I think he'd also say that it is of practical benefit to learn what an antagonist means, to gain clarity in the course of a verbal dispute. In that respect, both parties to the squirrel debate gain light from the pragmatic solution-even if one of them seems more obtuse or irrelevant.

    Pragmatic solutions don't settle things in an ultimate metaphysical sense, but of course that's not their intent. Their intent is to shed needed light so that we understand what's really at issue and at stake when we disagree, and can make informed judgments and choices. Sometimes that's enough to "settle," or at least table, an otherwise-intractable debate.

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    1. That make sense, maybe both parties displaying a disagreement that does not escalate into an argument , but rather gives two sides to the question does shed light on others to join in and say their opinions and get a good conversation with agreements and dis agreements . This might just be the solution.
      Great post guys!
      Joshua.

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