Welcome, students in MALA 6030.2, "Topics in Culture & Ideas: The Anglo-American Mind" - an independent focused study course beginning today and continuing for the next ten weeks. We're few in number, but we'll make up for that in enthusiasm and intensity! Here are a few bloggish thoughts to get us started, exploring The Wordsworth Connection.
*Final post-1,000+ words on the relevant topic of your choice. My suggestion: select an additional text, possibly one of these or another of your own choosing, and give us a book report/critique. Help build our Anglo-American bibliography (and give yourself a base for every suggestion):
William Howarth, "Reading Thoreau at 200"
John Kaag, American Philosophy: A Love Story [and see Robert Richardson's review in William James Studies, Spring 2017 - reprinted here]
Oliver, William James's "Springs of Delight": The Return to Life (let me know if you'd like to borrow a hard copy)
--------, "In Defense of Thoreau"... "Why Thoreau Matters"
Robert Richardson, William James: in the Maelstrom of American Modernism
------, review of John Kaag's American Philosophy: A Love Story - reprinted here
Carlin Romano, America the Philosophical
Colm Toibin, The Master [a novel account of Henry James]
Emma Townshend, Darwin's Dogs: How Darwin's pets helped form a world-changing theory of evolution
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- Why do you think James dedicated Pragmatism to J.S. Mill?
- James says in the preface that there's "no logical connection" between pragmatism and his radical empiricism. Why not? What makes an empiricist philosophy "radical"?
- In Lecture I James tells his general, non-academic audience and readership that "each and all of you" have a philosophy; but he quickly adds that our most important philosophies are all "dumb..." What's he mean? Do you agree?
- How would you profile your own personal philosophy, in light of James's "tough" and "tender" traits?\
- Why do you think James is so hostile to the philosophy of Leibnitz ("superficiality incarnate... feeble grasp of reality" etc.)?
- James has kind words for Herbert Spencer, because "we feel his heart to be in the right place." But Spencer defended a version of social Darwinism that Darwin himself repudiated as hostile to human progress and social justice. Do you think Spencer's heart was in the right place?
- 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"?
- James says "I just take my moral holidays." Do you? What does that mean?
- COMMENT: "To anyone who has ever looked on the face of a dead child or parent the mere fact that matter COULD have taken for a time that precious form, ought to make matter sacred ever after. It makes no difference what the PRINCIPLE of life may be, material or immaterial, matter at any rate co-operates, lends itself to all life's purposes. That beloved incarnation was among matter's possibilities." (Lec III)
- Interpret and comment on the following, in light of the fact that James defends free will against determinism: "Free-will is thus a general cosmological theory of PROMISE, just like the Absolute, God, Spirit or Design. Taken abstractly, no one of these terms has any inner content, none of them gives us any picture, and no one of them would retain the least pragmatic value in a world whose character was obviously perfect from the start. Elation at mere existence, pure cosmic emotion and delight, would, it seems to me, quench all interest in those speculations, if the world were nothing but a lubberland of happiness already... If the past and present were purely good, who could wish that the future might possibly not resemble them? Who could desire free-will? Who would not say, with Huxley, "let me be wound up every day like a watch, to go right fatally, and I ask no better freedom." 'Freedom' in a world already perfect could only mean freedom to BE WORSE, and who could be so insane as to wish that?"
- Is it good, bad, or a matter of indifference to you whether the world is "one or many"? Comment in light of "the pragmatic question 'What is the oneness known-as? What practical difference will it make?' saves us from all feverish excitement over it as a principle of sublimity and carries us forward into the stream of experience with a cool head. The stream may indeed reveal far more connexion and union than we now suspect, but we are not entitled on pragmatic principles to claim absolute oneness in any respect in advance." (Lec IV)
- [Post and comment on your own and your classmates' discussion questions, and claim a base for each]