Pragmatism is one of the great American contributions to philosophy. William James is its best-known advocate. To understand it, one must distinguish between pragmatism and practicality. It has nothing to do with convenience, and everything to do with, “what difference will it make if such a proposition were followed as true.” It has little to do with content. In James’words, “pragmatism is a method only.” It begins with the assertion that human life has a purpose.
In Stumpf”s words at page 408,
If, for example, there is a dispute over whether God exists, pragmatism has no preconceived creed to offers; but it does ask whether it makes a difference to believe in God’s existence.
In pragmatism, truth is not the status of an idea, but, “truth happens to an idea.” Past ideas are not a measure of truth, but rather, a truth happens to ideas because they are successful in making a difference in life. In that sense, there’s some commonality between him and Whitehead: each relates to possibilities. Therefore, if we ask what difference it makes whether or not God exists, the answer is to be found by examining the qualitative difference in living were such a proposition to be true. In my writing, Cry, “Justice!” previously posted, I asked the same question in the sense that nihilism suggests no purpose in life, whereas, the assumption that God exists assumes possibilities and authentic living. I thought that I had come to that conclusion as influenced by Hans Kung’s, Does God Exist? I did not then realize the debt that I owed to William James in coming to that conclusion.
In my writing, I also ask whether we see ourselves as automatons or as having free will; James refers to “judgment of regret.” As Stumpf writes at page 411of that notion,
But how can one “regret” what could not have been otherwise? The determinist must define the world as a place where what “ought to be” is impossible.
Again, I make the distinction between “ought” and “what is possible?” James simply asks,, “What is possible?” I make a connection between purpose in life and belief in some power that is greater than are we. James makes a connection between belief and action. Rather than belief, I refer to faith; however, I make a distinction between blind faith and faith that is not proven, and yet is not in inconsistent with the known or observed facts. I refer to a a person’s choice to believe or not to believe; James refers to a similar notion as ” the will to believe.” Stumpfs at page 413, represents that choice as follows:
The will to belief, then, is relevant and can operate only when we are confronted with an option that (1) is forced upon us, in that it is impossible not to choose one way or the other, (2) is a living option because both hypotheses make a genuine appeal, and (3) is a momentous option because the opportunity to choose might not present itself again. And, moreover, belief is relevant only, for reason alone cannot settle the matter.
To take my friend, Bill Ericson’s metaphor and perhaps and to twist it to apply to this situation, I apparently have gotten wet, without realizing that I was swimming nor that I was wet. It would not be fair to apply my conclusion to William James, but I certainly believe that with respect to myself, applying process philosophy and process theology notions, I know that whatever I do, whether for good or for bad, will have a future life or influence upon my lif and that about me. I hope to have some positive impact, but is not for me to own or demand credit for it.
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