Derek Sivers
Delphi Complete Works of William James - by William James

Delphi Complete Works of William James - by William James

ISBN: 185733874X
Date read: 2023-01-21
How strongly I recommend it: 6/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Huge book compiling all of his writing and speaking, so I didn’t read everything but just the parts I needed for my own research on pluralism and pragmatism. And for that, it was worth it for his insights.

my notes

Individuality outruns all classification, yet we insist on classifying every one we meet under some general head.
Philosophy largely consists of resentments at the classing, and complaints of being misunderstood.

Empiricism means the habit of explaining wholes by parts.
Rationalism means the habit of explaining parts by wholes.
Rationalism thus preserves affinities with monism, since wholeness goes with union.
Empiricism inclines to pluralistic views.

There is no really inherent order, but it is we who project order into the world by selecting objects and tracing relations so as to gratify our intellectual interests.

Was reason given to men to enable them to find reasons for what they want to think and do?

Knowledge is to divest the objective world of its strangeness, and to make us more at home in it.

One may like a universe that lends itself to lofty and exalted characterization.
To another this may seem sentimental or rhetorical.

One may be true without being a philosopher, true by guesswork or by revelation.
But a philosopher’s truth is reasoned by argument, not supposition.

What interests the philosopher is the particular premises on which the free-will he believes in is established, the sense in which it is taken, the objections it eludes, the difficulties it takes account of.

Nothing is more noxious than to tie your opinion to Aristotle’s or Spinoza’s.
Thus does all spontaneity of thought, all freshness of conception, get destroyed.
Everything you touch is shopworn.

For monism the world is no collection, but one great all-inclusive fact outside of which is nothing - nothing is its only alternative.
Contrast the monistic and pluralistic forms in question as the ‘all-form’ and the ‘each-form’.
Think of the universe as existing solely in the each-form, and you will have on the whole a more reasonable and satisfactory idea of it than if you insist on the all-form being necessary.

Absolutists lay most stress on the absolute’s ‘timeless’ character.
‘I yielded myself to the perfect whole,’ writes Emerson.
Inspiring. Mind-dilating.
The great claim of the philosophy of the absolute is that the absolute is no hypothesis, but a presupposition implicated in all thinking, and needing only a little effort of analysis to be seen as a logical necessity.
If weight of authority were all, the truth of absolutism would be thus decided.

Reductio ad absurdum framed somewhat as follows:
Absolutists say to pluralists: You contend that things, though in some respects connected, are in other respects independent, so that they are not members of one all-inclusive individual fact. Well, your position is absurd on either point. For admit in fact the slightest modicum of independence, and you find (if you will only think accurately) that you have to admit more and more of it, until at last nothing but an absolute chaos, or the proved impossibility of any connexion whatever between the parts of the universe, remains upon your hands. Admit, on the other hand, the most incipient minimum of relation between any two things, and again you can’t stop until you see that the absolute unity of all things is implied.

Neither abstract oneness nor abstract independence exists. Only concrete real things exist.

The primal whole which is the absolutists’ vision must be there not only as a fact but as a logical necessity.
It must be the minimum that can exist - either that absolute whole is there, or there is absolutely nothing.
You can deny the whole only in words that implicitly assert it.
If you say ‘parts’, of what are they parts? If you call them a ‘many’, that very word unifies them.
If you suppose them unrelated in any particular respect, that ‘respect’ connects them; and so on.
Since this broken state of things is intolerable, the absolute deus ex machina is called on to mend it in his own way, since we cannot mend it in ours.
To be ‘many’ is to be related, the word having no meaning unless the units are somehow taken together, and it is impossible to take them in a sort of unreal void, so they must belong to a larger reality, and so carry the essence of the units beyond their proper selves, into a whole which possesses unity and is a larger system.

The commonest vice of the human mind is its disposition to see everything as yes or no, as black or white, its incapacity for discrimination of intermediate shades.
Absolutism, on its side, seems to hold that ‘some’ is a category ruinously infected with self-contradictoriness, and that the only categories inwardly consistent and therefore pertinent to reality are ‘all’ and ‘none’.

Any author is easy to follow if you can catch the centre of his vision.

Privacy means ignorance.
Ignorance means inattention.

It is not as if men had first invented letters and made syllables of them, then made words of the syllables and sentences of the words. They actually followed the reverse order.
No single feather without a whole bird, neck and crop, beak and tail, coming into being simultaneously.
So we unhesitatingly lay down the law that no part of anything can be except so far as the whole also is.
We think of ourselves as being only a few of the feathers, so to speak, which help to constitute that absolute bird.
The bird-metaphor is physical, but we see on reflection that in the physical world there is no real compounding.
‘Wholes’ are not realities there, parts only are realities.

In the physical world taken by itself there is thus no ‘all’. There are only the ‘eaches’.
In the mental world, on the contrary, wholes do in point of fact realize themselves per se.
The meaning of the whole sentence is just as much a real experience as the feeling of each word is.
The absolute’s experience is for itself, as much as yours is for yourself or mine for myself.

The monists themselves writhe like worms on the hook to escape pluralistic or at least dualistic language, but they cannot escape it.
They speak of the eternal and the temporal ‘points of view’; of the universe in its infinite ‘aspect’ or in its finite ‘capacity’.
They say that ‘quâ absolute’ it is one thing, ‘quâ relative’ another.
They contrast its ‘truth’ with its appearances.
They distinguish the total from the partial way of ‘taking’ it, etc.
But they forget that, on idealistic principles, to make such distinctions is tantamount to making different beings, or at any rate that varying points of view, aspects, appearances, ways of taking,

The only thing that ever drives human beings insane is logic.
Logic being the lesser thing, the static incomplete abstraction, must succumb to reality, not reality to logic.