Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Embrace Uncertainty - William James and Me

Rummaging through my desk at home on Labor Day I found the summer issue of the Wilson Quarterly. Not sure when it arrived, it must have been several weeks at least. It is the case that the last half of each issue's ~120 pages is devoted to short essays and reviews of interesting periodicals and books. As always, I read this entire section first and then worked backwards to the larger full length articles in front of the magazine. After reading for awhile and as dusk dimmed the light coming through my window, I almost tossed the magazine, thinking I'd given it its due. Then I came upon an article on William James.

The title was One Hundred Years of Pragmatism and it was by a doctoral candidate from Yale, Theo Anderson. Having recently read a bio of James as evident from recent posts, Anderson's summary provided me with added perspective on this man's meaningful life. At this juncture in time when America was becoming industrialized, bureacratized, and modernized, James was a forerunner of that post modern humility that notes our human limitations is grasping reality. Anderson gives a quote without specific attribution:

Objective evidence and certitude are doubtless very fine ideals to play with but where on this moonlit and dream visited planet are they found?

It seems that for most of my life I've been pulled in two opposing directions: the orthodox vs the modern Enlightenment. James, who retired 100 years ago this year, found an alternative path that resembles the postmodern. He affirms that life is worth living. His life was a testimony that truth is not a fixed, immutable, and certain thing. It is time dependent. It is a verb. It is a "provisional, evolving relationship between ideas and consequences..." "Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events."

1 comment:

Meg said...

I found this article fascinating as well, particularly where Anderson noted quoted John Dewey, "It is both astonishing and depressing that so much of the energy of mankind has gone into fighting for ... the truth of creeds, religious, moral and political, as distinct from what has gone into effort to try creeds by putting them to the test of acting upon them" (top of page 29). I found this quite relevant for our country today.

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