I’ve always meant to read more William James or, failing more by James, more about James (“Do not read history. Read biography for it is life without theory.” Disraeli). Early on, I read his Varieties of Religious Experience with intense enjoyment. I was struck by James’ intellectual honesty, and I realized that, no matter how much I differ from someone, I can learn something from him if he’s forthright.
For years, I’ve wanted to read Pragmatism because I believe it might be the foremost work of American philosophy, setting forth the pragmatic school of thought that started with J.S. Mill and extended through (that stain) John Dewey, but with due respect for the role religion and philosophy play in a truly pragmatic approach to life (philosophy, properly pursued, is the most practical thing because it teaches the art of living).
Pragmatism starts off with a quote from Chesterton’s Heretics (which James calls an “admirable collection of essays”). That’s on page one, then page two sets forth this great observation:
There is, it must be confessed, a curious fascination in hearing deep things talked about, even though neither we nor the disputants understand them. We get the problematic thrill, we feel the presence of the vastness. . . Philosophy’s results concern us all most vitally, and philosophy’s queerest arguments tickle agreeably our sense of subtlety and ingenuity.
I call it a “great observation” because, though it’s obvious, most people don’t recognize it until a great thinker like James points it out.
I have, however, noticed a tendency in men (especially men in their forties) to dismiss “deep things,” almost as though the existence of something beyond their immediate understanding offends them. I believe it’s bravado that pretends mastery (“I’m the man!” “No one *!&%s with me!”) when mastery is the last thing any of us has.
Anyway, expect future quotes from Pragmatism, but I have to read it first.Bookmark it: del.icio.us | Reddit | Slashdot | Digg | Facebook | Technorati | Google | StumbleUpon | Window Live | Tailrank | Furl | Netscape | Yahoo | BlinkList