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Notes Towards Day 17: Interior Octopus

Anne Dalke's picture


I. coursekeeping
notetaking by kkazan

photos of our field trip!

cf. also exsoloadsolem's photo-essay on what he felt to be James's "surprisingly moving" and "very tangible image of axe marks ('blazes') left on trees in a forest as a metaphor for intellect's mark on the unnavigable forest of human experience..."

cf, too, jrlewis's images of a larger cemetery;
consider cemetery-visiting as an image for reading,
"talking with dead friends," a form of time -traveling ...?

For Wed, expand your repertoire of dead friends (?)
by reading two essays published in Popular Science Monthly in 1877-78 by Charles Saunders Peirce, "The Fixation of Belief" and "How to Make Our Ideas Clear."

ome to class ready to talk about what they have taught you
about philosophy, the "genealogy of thinking itself,
as an emergent capacity," and how they differ from
(and prepare for) "The Will to Believe."

If you have time, look also @ excerpts from Menand's group biography,
The Metaphysical Club, available @

For the next two classes,
we'll be joined by Paul Jefferson, emeritus professor of (American intellectual) history @ Haverford, who wrote his dissertation on the metaphysical club, and for the past several years has taught a course on "The Metaphysical Club: American Pragmatism in Theory and Practice" (James, Peirce, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., John Dewey, Richard Rorty, etc....). Professor Jefferson hopes we will eschew "dysfunctional gentility" for some lively sessions of  "dialectical roughhousing."

The class after: a visit from Bharath Vallabha, a new member of the Bryn Mawr Philosophy Department specializing in "philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, and philosophy of religion."

II. Today: "Conclusions" and Postscript,"
The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902)
and "The Ph.D. Octopus" (The Harvard Monthly, 1903).

Let's start w/ the latter, since it has a local connection:
the "sister-institution of learning" that revoked the
appointment of the brilliant Harvard Philosophy student was Bryn Mawr.

How does James characterize the College?

What's his complaint? And advice?

Your PhD Octopus reeks of political correctness! How could you be so shortsighted? ...the very definition of higher learning must be that there is a standard, and if you do not meet the standard you not receive the award! .... Standards are not a suppression of individuality or creativity, but a necessary measurement of skill level.

"to make a gap in the galaxy, and admit a common fox without a tail, would be a degradation impossible to be thought of...."

"it is no wonder if smaller institutions, unable to attract professors already eminent ... should hope to compensate for the obscurity of the names of their officers of instruction by the abundance of decorative titles ..."

"Human nature is once for all so childish that every reality becomes a sham somewhere ..."

"It seems to me high time to rouse ourselves to consciousness, and to cast a critical eye upon this decidedly grotesque tendency .... a tyrannical Machine with unforeseen powers of exclusion and corruption."

"... the Doctor-Monopoly in teaching ... is due to childish motives exclusively. In reality it is but a sham, a bauble, a dodge, whereby to decorate the catalogues of schools and colleges."

"We of the university faculties are responsible for deliberately creating this new class of American social failures .... the standard, and not the candidate, commands our fidelity."

"... our universities at least should never cease to regard themselves as the jealous custodians of personal and spiritual spontaneity .... They ought to guard against contributing to the increase of officialism and snobbery and insincerity as against a pestilence; they ought ... make it plain that what they live for is to help men's souls, and not to decorate their persons with diplomas."

"And is individuality with us also going to count for nothing unless stamped and licensed and authenticated by some title-giving machine?"

What relations do you see between this essay
and The Varieties of Religious Experience?

What's the argument of the latter?
What did you learn from it?
Which of your beliefs did it challenge?
What challenges back do you want to make?

fabelhaft: William James's desire to individualize religion is extremely interesting. It helps me reconcile my desire to have some faith with my apprehension of organized religion. James expresses the idea that our individuality is the key to faith. We are not alike, so why should our faiths be exactly the same?

1. That the visible world is part of a more spiritual universe from which it draws its chief significance;

2. that union ... with that higher universe is our true end;

3. That prayer ... is a process wherein work is really done ... spiritual energy ... produces effects, psychological or material, within the phenomenal world.

[Religion includes...]

4.  a new zest ...

5. An assurance of safety ... a temper of peace, and ... a preponderance of loving affections.

[The twice-born look down on upon the rectilinear consciousness of life of  the once-born as being "mere morality" .... the outlook upon life of the twice-born -- holding as it does more of the element of evil in its solution -- is the wider and completer.]

Knowledge about a thing is not the thing itself .... breadth of knowledge may make one only a dilettante in possibilities, and blunt the acuteness of one's living faith.

The scientist ... is ... materialistic ... goes against he notion that religion should be recognized at all ... probably only an anachronism ...

The pivot round which the religious life ... revolves, is the interest of the individual in his private personal destiny. Religion ... is a monumental chapter in the history of human egotism ... Science, on the other hand, has ended by utterly repudiating the personal point of view. She catalogues her elements and records her laws  ... quite careless of their bearing on human anxieties and fates .... The God whom science recognizes must be a God of universal laws exclusively, a God who does a wholesale, not a retail business. He cannot accommodate his processes to the convenience of individuals....

In spite of the appeal which this impersonality of the scientific attitude makes to a certain magnamity of temper, I believe it to be shallow .... so long as we deal with the cosmic ... we deal only with the symbols of reality, but as soon as we deal with private and personal phenomena ... we deal with realities in the completest sense of the term ....

...cosmic objects ... are but ideal pictures of something whose existence we do not inwardly possess but only point at outwardly, while the inner state is our very experience itself ....That unshareable feeling which each one of us has of the pinch of his individual destiny ... is the one thing that fills up the measure of our concrete actuality .... The axis of reality runs solely through the egotistic places ....

Compared with this world of living individualized feelings, the world of generalized objects which the intellect contemplates is without solidity or life ... We get a beautiful picture of an express train supposed to be moving, but where in the picture ... is the energy or the fifty miles an hour?

Tolstoy is absolutely accurate in classing faith among the forces by which men live .... "God is not known, he is not understood; he is used" .... a larger richer, more satisfying life, is ... the end of religion.

...religions all appear to ... consist of two parts: --
1. An uneasiness; and
2. Its solution ....

He becomes conscious that this higher part [of himself] is conterminous and continuous with a MORE of the same quality, which is operative in the universe outside of him, and which he can keep in working touch with, and in a fashion get on board of and save himself when all his lower being has gone to pieces in the wreck.

[In] the subconscious self ... we have exactly the mediating term required .... there is actually and literally more life in our total soul than we are at any time aware of .... "Each of us is in reality an abiding psychical entity far more extensive than he knows .... there is alwasy some part of the Self unmanifested .... the 'more' with which is religious experience we feel ourselves connected is ... the subconscious continuation of our conscious life ....

the conscious person is continuous with a wider self through which saving experiences come .... The further limits of our being plunge ...into an altogether other dimension of existence from the sensible and merely 'understandable' world .... Yet the unseen region ... produces effects in this world ... so I feel as if we had no philosophic excuse for calling the unseen or mystical world unreal .... God is real since he produces real effects....

...where God is, tragedy is only provisional and partial, and shipwreck and dissolution are not the absolutely final things .... Only when ... remote objective consequences are predicted, does religion ... bring a real hypothesis into play .... Religion ... is ... a postulator of new facts ... the world interpreted religiously ... must have ... a natural constitution different ... from that which a materialistic world would have ....

the pragmatic way of taking religion ... makes it claim ... some characteristic realm of fact as its very own .... the world of our present consciousness is only one out of many worlds of consciousness that exist .... and those other worlds must contain experiences which have a meaning for our life also ....

Humbug is humbug ... the total expression of human experience ... invincibly urges me beyond the narrow 'scientific' bounds.  Assuredly, the real world is ... more intricately built than physical science allows .... who knows whether the faithfulness of individuals here below to their own poor over-beliefs may not actually help God in turn to be more effectively faithful to his own greater tasks?

... my belief that in communion with the Ideal new force comes into the world ... subjects me to being classed among the supernaturalists .... I find it hard to believe that principles can exist which make no difference in facts. But all facts are particular facts....

I feel like a man who must set his back against an open door quickly if he does not wish to see it closed and locked.

[In] 'prayerful communion' ...something ideal ... actually exerts an influence .... If, then, there be a wider world of being than that of our every-day consciousness, if in it there be forces whose effects on us are intermittent, if one facilitating condition of the effects be the openness of the 'subliminal' door ... transmundane energies ... produce immediate effects within the natural world ....

...religious experience ...unequivocally testifies to ... union with something larger than ourselves and in that union find our greatest peace .... beyond each man and in a fashion continuous with him there exists a larger power which is friendly to him and to his ideals .... Anything larger will do, if only it be large enough to trust for the next step .... For practical life ... the chance of salvation is enough. No fact in human nature is more characteristic than its willingness to live on a chance. The existence of the chance makes the difference ... between a life of which the keynote is resignation and a life of which the keynote is hope ....

notetaking by kkazan