The Way We Argue Now: A Study in the Cultures of Theory

By Amanda Anderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Pragmatism and Character

The history of philosophy is to a great extent that of a certain clash of human
temperaments. Undignified as such a treatment may seem to some of my col-
leagues, I shall have to take account of this clash and explain a good many of
the divergencies of philosophers by it. Of whatever temperament a profes-
sional philosopher is, he tries when philosophizing to sink the fact of his tem-
perament. Temperament is no conventionally recognized reason, so he urges
impersonal reasons only for his conclusions. Yet his temperament really gives
him a stronger bias than any of his more strictly objective premises. It loads
the evidence for him one way or the other, making for a more sentimental or a
more hard-hearted view of the universe, just as this fact or that principle
would. He trusts his temperament. Wanting a universe that suits it, he believes
in any representation of the universe that does suit it. He feels men of opposite
temper to be out of key with the world's character, and in his heart considers
them incompetent and “not in it,” in the philosophic business, even tho they
may far excel him in dialectical ability.1

This statement is drawn from the introductory remarks of the first of William James's eight lectures on pragmatism, delivered in 1906 at the Lowell Institute in Boston. James organizes his ensuing accounts of the two traditionally dominant modes of philosophy, rationalism and empiricism, by means of a fundamental division between what he describes as the tough-minded and the tender-minded. The alternative way of thinking that he advocates combines elements of both, and in so doing acquires a characterological distinctness of its own. Indeed, through an effortless metalepsis, pragmatism as a mode of thought not only remains inseparable from its temperamental influences, but becomes a full-fledged personality, a feminized mediator and reconciler who “'unstiffens' our theories” (43). James in fact brings his heroine to life through near-literary description: “She has in fact no prejudices whatever, no obstructive dogmas, no rigid canons of what shall count as proof. She is completely genial. She will entertain any hypothesis, she will consider any evidence.” His second lecture ends with the following evocative address: “You see already how demo-

1 William James, Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking, in Prag-
matism and The Meaning of Truth (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1975),
11. Subsequent page number references will be cited parenthetically in the text.

-115-

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