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Class Notes 4/5

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Notes House of Wits 4/5/10
Professor Jefferson, Day II

Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark: A brief for close reading

James [empiricist psychologist and philosopher] mis[?] “reads” Peirce [Logician and “scholastic realist”]
Sequence of texts [reculer pour mieux sauter= back up in order to gather haunches so as to leap more effectively forward]:

I.      Peirce “Fixation of Belief” [1877] only p. 4-8
Doubt-belief theory of inquiry: 3-4,
4 methods of “fixing belief”: “method of tenacity” 4-5, 7-8.
“Method of authority”: 5,7
“A priori method” : 5-6, 7
“method of science [Peirce as “scholastic realist”]: 6-7, 8

“How to Make our Ideas Clear” [1878]
His main points, 3-5. Peirce on Realism and the method of science: 9.

II.     James, “Philosophical Conceptions…”[1989]: 348 “sensations”- pragmatism “expressed more broadly” [349- implications?]
God talk [with apologies to the devout]: 350-354; back to [what he considers] the basics: 360-362

What Pragmatism Means [1907]
376-377: famous squirrel example
377-378: recycled from “Philosophical Conceptions…”
379-380: characterizations of pragmatism, departs from Peirce in authoring a pragmatic “theory of truth”
381-383-384: non Peircian notes
385: pragmatism characters

NOTA BENA (note well) James; saving [but oft ignored] qualifications [387, 389]
His definition of truth [388]
James self-discloses [389-390]

Paul Jefferson:
Reconciling religious beliefs with modern science (which increasingly became a model of trustworthy knowledge and acquired increasing cultural authority) is difficult because every aspect of late 19th century-WWII represented this country’s modernist coming of age (which includes the growing assumption that social policy/politics should be grounded on science and solid foundations for beliefs)

If you seek to approach James without attending to what the man thought/pragmatism, you’re dealing with Hamlet without the prince of Denmark… you can’t do it. You’ve got to be bored with it, but you’ve got to do it.

Texts are an essential foundation for understanding pragmatism and the ways in which James  (a pragmatist) agrees with Peirce and differs from him on the other hand.

The Beauty of Intellectual History: I came of age studying pragmatists, wrote PhD thesis on pragmatists, learned how to think by going to the school of the Pragmatists… Holmes Jr, Dewey, the richness of the members, the range of events coming across, gave an incredibly condensed lesson on human nature. Pragmatism is making itself known in every intellectual discipline of modern life. Another route on how to think about thinking has been through studying the history, sociology, and philosophy of the natural sciences.

Let’s go back to an absolutely fundamental text that James himself doesn’t give enough attention to. James quite properly cites the beginning of pragmatism as Peirce’s How to Make Our Ideas Clear, but let’s return to Fixation of Belief: insight into the syntax of great thinkers, how their minds are structured, but more, understanding that these thinkers yield ideas about thinking that are more than contingent and time-bound, that give us insight into the nature and syntax of the people we are studying as well as ourselves. This is often the case with the oft-overlooked Fixation of Belief.
What he outlines (post-Darwinian), is the famous doubt-belief theory of inquiry. Darwin brought humans within the horizon of evolutionary science, and all the things that classical philosophers thought made us unique (human capacity for thought/language/ etc) and Darwin brought human beings back into the horizon of understanding the natural/social/human world. That perspective enabled the pragmatists to understand capacity for thought/language/recollection/inquiry/research and see this as an emergent evolutionary phenomenon: thinking is essential and required for productively making sense of/thriving in our environment.

Fixation of Belief: pages 4-8 are grist for our mill.
What does Peirce say about the relationship of doubt and belief and how that figures in the necessity, the painful necessity we feel as human beings at some times, to think. Don’t tell me it’s comfortable, because real thinking (not call and response thinking) is uncomfortable. It’s supposed to be. What sort of things, in your own language, do you find Peirce to be saying in this essay that enlighten or surprise you?

Kylee: interested in how doubt is depicted as the vehicle to get to truth, doubt as a purgatory thing as the necessary pain to get to truth

Paul: Doubt is intellectual/emotional/spiritual purgatory. Doubt leads us to find some sort of truth.

Kylee: doubt causes/encourages us to get rid of itself

Paul:…to do whatever it takes to come once again into that glorious state of settled belief. There are idiots abroad in the land, ladies and gentlemen, but unless we are operating in bad faith (inadvertent or deliberate) we want to not only believe, but want our beliefs to be true. Uppercutting of human agency and responsibility, when you talk agency you’re talking belief.
…Jobs of students are to clear out space to make own points, and human beings make sense of things, and you can’t make sense unless you rehearse and build and speak. You’ve got to fight me off.

…Peirce identifies four methods of fixing belief… what are they? What characterizes each of them.

Isabelle: I have two…

Paul: each person is restricted to one. Identify it and then gloss it.

Isabelle: the method of tenacity, uses example of the ostrich with its head in the sand. If the ostrich is sure there is no danger, why should he raise his head and look. Going through life avoiding anything to change opinions.

Paul: The male presence is institutionalized, omnipresent… men are acting in bad faith and testosterone-driven, do not identify yourself as someone to be had. Don’t let your voice raise at the end of sentences, basically.  What about the method of tenacity in your own words? It’s underbred to seek to be smart…

Calamity: when I think about an ostrich putting its head in the ground, it’s not tenacious, it’s in denial… I would call it denying what may actually be happening, which is tenacious… but I don’t know.

Paul: clearly a translation that opens up other ways of looking at tenacity... we are taught not oinly what to believe, but what to want to believe. Our very desires are orchestrated… and if they are orchestrated, then someone can look at you with approval and you can act as through you are operating under free will…  okay, method of tenacity. I didn’t tumble onto what is the most emphatic, useful method of tenacity as denial of what might really be the case, which we DO because we don’t want to think that that might be the case because we would need to reorganize ourselves… Okay. Thumbs down on the method of tenacity. DuBois said of Booker T Washington that “if the gods want to make someone powerful, they make him (or her) narrow” or something to that effect… If you have a single string in your bow and that’s the only string you pluck, you will be known for the sound you make. Re: Obama, you can’t win for losing…

The second method… and I think one can suggest that there is an historical trajectory involved in these four methods of fixing belief… If you look at the history of western civilizations, you can see evidence of these later methods of fixing belief emerging over time. Okay, method of authority…

Jessica: the method of authority is that whatever figures in power direct is the beliefs and trends of society… a person bows down to whomever is in power.

Paul: any sane person or ostrich removing its head from the sand sees the social principle operating differently… fixed belief in society at large. What’s the classic example that Peirce comes up with to demonstrate the method of authority as it’s worked its way on humans over time.

Jessica: slaves in Egypt?

Relle: religion?

Kylee: thought tyranny… ostracization as a result of lack of conformity… most useful and effective institution over time is the church

Paul: yes! The inquisition! The instrument of true belief. Marvelous stuff. I’m going to press this farther: whenever you get more than seven human beings together, and overtime they will constitute a collectivity, and seven is enough to structure themselves heriarchically, and some will be given the power to record and enforce systems of belief within the group. But always certifies, grounds, naturalizes, normalizes their position at the top of those hierarchies.
Okay, the a priori method is bred from the beginning… Marco Polo and others tapping into the “other world”… the a priori method evolves from an anthropological history, where people take for granted what society makes them believe, but some are subversive or travelers acknowledge other thought processes and systems of belief… and then the meta-thought comes up about where born, formation of belief, etc. Anthropological, critical take is that the beliefs should be embraced because they are reasonable, not because a hierarchy says so. If being agreeable to reason is not grounded, you can have different notions of what agreeable to believe means, and then you would have therefore (in philosophy) a method of fixing belief like developing taste (sophisticated but ungrounded)…

Method of science: To say that scientific methods are canonical in our day in age is not to say that everything that passes for scientific methods of knowledge-getting is kosher. Some science can go wrong, people can be positivist, scientistic, reductionist… maybe something is missing in this picture of us in the world.
Peirce pages 6-8, what does he say about the method of science that resonates with you, makes you understand where he comes from and why?

Jessica: quote about thinking page 6… Peirce approves that outside knowledge helps make decisions but isn’t controlled by beliefs or internal biases.

Paul: what can help us see more deeply into this comment?

Calamity: page 7, scientific investigation is the only one with right and wrong ways of doing things…

Paul: this is marvelous. It’s critical to understand… we’re talking good faith and human beings making sense of the world in a way that, if they’re right about it they have an increasing combination of confirmations, and if they are wrong then evidence emerges that falsifies their working hypotheses. You’ve got to be able to be proved wrong. It’s one of my beefs with earlier versions of psychoanalysis… you can’t get out the sacred circle of assumptions about causality… method of science is self-correcting… idea systems, if they’re born out by experiment can be confirmed or falsified, amended or jettisoned. As far as every pragmatist was concerned, there is a close connection between ethics and epistemology (between “should” and theory of knowledge), and in the connection is seen falsification of hypotheses about good faith… you have to expose yourself to the falsification of beliefs you hold dear that might, in fact, prove not to be true.
The interesting thing about evolutionary theorizing across a range of fields is that, from a whole number of quadrants, these multiple perspectives conduce to an emerging general consensus that … evolutionary theorizing gets it right.
Okay, let’s talk about James. Use my attempt to be useful to you guys. Your parents pay a whole lot of money and your professors have an obligation to make that money well spent. Sometimes you do this in a pedagogically useful discussion manner. Other times, your professors lecture and want you to take on faith and authority. In a diluted version, what you can trust is the pages I have on the Goddamn blackboard will bring you to points in James’ text that will show you what you need.

Paul is trying to be polite by apologizing for cursing… it’s also a reflex.

Meditate on James’ spiritual temperature…  this thinking posture is noble, and as modern thinkers we are not blown away by it. It’s hard to translate what was so novel about saying this to you… You guys have a misconceived notion of originality. “knowing that” is one thing when something is said, but being able to discern what needs to be said and saying it is original.
Being openminded, ready to deal with contradictory evidence, by assuming that we think for human purposes, there is always an element of the subjective in our theories. By employing plural points of view...“the human serpent trails over everything.”  There is an irreducible element of subjectivity in our theories, even those that have been tested by time and experiment, but it does not mean that they are untrue.