Archive for April, 2010

weak tea

April 30, 2010

I want to follow up on the Tea Party discussion. But first, something really important:

I spent part of “Dead Day” (post-classes, pre-exams)– the part right before Younger Daughter’s softball game– biking the magnificent Bicentennial Trail, a converted rail bed alongside the Cumberland River in Cheatham County. Faced down a snake on a bridge, too. Perfect day, 76 degrees, lightly breezy, so superior to anything squalidly political. And then there was the chocolate malt at Stratton’s in Ashland CIty! (“Best ’50s diner anywhere,” well worth a drive… and it only took me half the time of my regular school commute to get there.)  The days are Gods.

But about that tea…

Jill Lepore asks, in the current New Yorker, “Who owns the American Revolution?”

Not the Tea Party, whatever exactly that is. Mr. Jefferson was contemptuous of all parties, and was no friend of prideful ignorance. He’d be appalled that small-spirited bigots now invoke him and his  peers as “Originalists,” as if they alone in all history were entitled to pronounce on the world their posterity should inhabit. Don’t forget: they had some really awful original ideas, too. Remember slavery?

Originalism [is] the idea that the original meaning of the framers is knowable and fixed and the final word.

Originalism in the courts is certainly a matter for debate. Jurisprudence stands on precedent, on the stability of the laws. But originalism has long since reached beyond the courts. Set loose in the culture, it looks like history but it’s not. It is to history what astrology is to astronomy, what alchemy is to chemistry, what creationism is to evolution. The history that Tea Partiers want to go back to is as much a fiction as the Lost Cause of the Confederacy…

Today’s reactionary history of early America, reductive, unitary, and, finally, dangerously anti-pluralist, ignores slavery and compresses a quarter century of political contest into “the founding,” as if the ideas contained in Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” severing the bonds of empire, were no different from those in the Constitution, establishing a strong central government. “Who’s your favorite Founder?” Beck asked Palin in January. “Um, you know, well,” she said. “All of them.”

Read more:

Tom Tomorrow “can’t make this stuff up”…

still reporting

April 29, 2010

More reports: Araz on Seinfeld (“Look to the cookie!”), David on Harry Potter and the mirror of desire, Cameron with an unexpected comparison of vigilante justice and divine intervention, Monchel on subliminal messages (in advertizing, hip-hop, and (!) Disney), Grant on hallucinogens (& Albert Hofmann), and Allen on Thomas Jefferson.

All were interesting, Allen’s was outstanding. The discussion of the Jefferson Bible in particular was instructive. Snip-snip, the gratuitous supernatural  is excised and the philosophical Jesus is restored. Almost like magic.

We needed more time, though, to consider Jefferson’s alleged affinity for the Tea Party phenomenon. Of course he’d have supported their right to express themselves, though not the threats, innuendo, and racist invective some have hurled in the name of “freedom.”

And as Allen pointed out, universal education and toleration were core themes for Mr. J. I haven’t detected much sympathy for either among the more vocal Tea Partiers.

And, as for the ever-vexing question of what to say about Jefferson the slave-holder: he was a man of his time and place, as are we all. He was also deeply troubled by the institution, and frightened by the prospect of the union’s dissolution over the issue.

He was a mortal, flawed and imperfect as we all are. He earned his Memorial but not our unwavering, unquestioning deference in all matters of  “founders’ intent.” Unquestioning anything, I hope we all begin to see, is not a good thing.

last day

April 28, 2010

The last day of class, at last. But, already?! We were just getting started.

Monday’s final report presentations were good, but Bushra’s stood out because she brought chocolate (to symbolize and help us all visualize the possibility of world peace, and to disarm her professor’s critical defenses). I agree with her point about “meaning” being made rather than (or as well as?) simply found.

But I can’t agree that philosophy generates only questions, not answers. I find that it generates plenty of answers. THE answer, no. That would be too easy, and would probably make philosophy irrelevant. Fortunately it’s not.

But I know what she meant. So did Bertie Russell.*

So what’s my parting word, as we all prepare for final exams?

First, from Uncle Einstein:  “The important thing is to never stop questioning.”

*And from Prof. Russell:

The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life imprisoned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminishing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dogmatism of those who have never travelled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect…

Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our conception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.

-Bertrand Russell, The Value of Philosophy


April 27, 2010

More final report presentations today. Thursday’s were great: Jeremy’s spiritual journey to atheism, through the marketplace of ideas; Lauren & Nic’s clever, smart brochure (I love that it includes my favorite Dewey quote!) to counter the fear-mongers who will inevitably accost our campus again; and Marie’s review of resources available to the un-closeted campus crusader. (Kidding. Nobody in our class is on a “crusade.” But it’s great to know that the Center for Inquiry now has an outpost here. Anyone have the contact info? They’re holding a big meet-up in June, btw.)

Freedom From Religion FoundationAmerican Humanist AssociationHumanist Society (they do weddings & funerals)… Brights

Looking forward to hearing next from Miso, Miranda & Elizabeth, Kyle & Matt, Dean, Kevin, and (a late addition) Garrett.

Our post-course A&S reading list will only get longer and better. Arriving with yesterday’s mail: The Atheist’s Primer, by Malcolm Murray. His approach is clear and unambivalent, beginning: To the question, “Does God exist?” the resounding answer is “No!”

This  would make a good companion to Rebecca Goldstein’s 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, concerned as it is to look into the face of the best arguments, pro and con.

Murray doesn’t have much use for the idea of atheist spirituality, but that’s because he doesn’t sharply delineate spirituality from religion in rejecting the arbitrarily- and narrowly-theistic implication

that to be a true atheist, one must be indifferent to poetry, to nature, to art, to music, to love, to being awed… Merely because I like poetry, or nature, or painting, or love, or justice, or wisdom, or music, or architecture, hardly justifies metaphysical claims about the divine.

Atheists should reject spiritual “baggage,” but should not travel too light to function and flourish. What does that mean, precisely? Your call. And mine. And hers.

Then, there’s Julian Baggini’s Very Short Introduction to Atheism.You can stick it in purse or pocket and whip it out next time someone tries to hand you a Gideon Bible.

And: 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists, including pieces by A.C. Grayling, Austin Dacey, Taner Edis, Michael Shermer, Dale McGowan, and the irrepressible Ophelia Benson.  Here’s the editor Russell Blackford, with Grayling:


April 26, 2010

We’re up & at ’em again! Thanks to WordPress’s “Happiness Engineer” for resuscitating my Publish button.  Now I can properly mark Up@dawn’s milestone, a year of a.m. posts here as of Saturday.

Before the weekend is lost to memory, I just have to say for the record: Sunday morning’s mild atmosphere was about as good as it gets around here. I dropped Older Daughter off for her date at the Presbyterian Church and proceeded to my own worship service, basking in the warmth of the mid-morning sun: first on the well-placed porch at Panera– best Bear Claw ever– followed by a nostalgic amble through my old Green Hills neighborhood. (Last place I lived as a single person, twenty years ago.) A young woman lounging on her lawn expressed my state of presence precisely when she yelped for joy and exclaimed: “This is the most beautiful day ever!” This is the sort of rational sufficiency James had in mind:

When enjoying plenary freedom either in the way of motion or of thought, we are in a sort of anaesthetic state in which we might say with Walt Whitman, if we cared to say anything about ourselves at such times, “I am sufficient as I am.” This feeling of the sufficiency of the present moment, of its absoluteness,–this absence of all need to explain it, account for it, or justify it,–is what I call the Sentiment of Rationality. As soon, in short, as we are enabled from any cause whatever to think with perfect fluency, the thing we think of seems to us _pro tanto_ rational.

Whatever modes of conceiving the cosmos facilitate this fluency, produce the sentiment of rationality. Conceived in such modes, being vouches for itself and needs no further philosophic formulation.

The universe, the world, and experience suffice.

We’re doing final presentations again today in Intro. Will any be as thoughtful as Rebekah’s Friday report on zombies and philosophy? (Jaron Lanier in You Are Not a Gadget: “zombies can only be detected if they happen to be professional philosophers. A philosopher like Daniel Dennett is obviously a zombie.”)

Rudy also did a nice report on libertarianism. (Come to think of it, zombies would explain a lot about the Tea Party movement.) Matt stirred up a hornet’s nest with his “House” speed-dating clip suggesting that most of us choose our mates (with or without “soul” attached) on the flimsiest and most superficial grounds: classic “ought-is” dilemma.  Thomas did Forrest Gump, “for no particular reason.” Victoria aided my pop cultural education with her distinction between rap and hip-hop– the latter is more likely to reflect real artistry and social conscience.

Can’t wait to see what we’re gonna get today.

last stand

April 23, 2010

Let’s wrap things up for Richardson’s James bio, and for our semester’s required reading list in Intro. (But as I always tell students at semester’s end: don’t stop now. Check out this excellent James site, for starters, and keep on learning. Education only begins in college. don’t let your schooling interfere with it.)

William, like his hero Bergson, was wary of mental snapshots. But the image of him atop a ladder, peering into the English garden adjoining his brother’s home for a peek at G.K. Chesterton, does indeed give off “a sense of everlasting youth.” I want some of that.

Near the end he was reading Plutarch’s Lives, struck by those noble Greeks and Romans so rammed with life. That’s what poor Henry Adams was missing, with his “heat death” pessimism. We’ve already noted William’s response, the charged anticipation of an expiring pulse too happy to continue.

The laws of thermodynamics may not be “wholly irrelevant” but they do fail to find the real hot-spot of human energies. William James’s life and career were always hot on their trail. Richardson is right: his last stand for the spirit of man is indeed another picture worthy to be hung on the wall alongside “Death of Socrates.”

On August 26, 1910 [in Chocorua, N.H.] at two-thirty in the afternoon, with Alice holding his head, William James died. At the end there had been, Alice noted, “no pain and no consciousness.”

But, Mr. Blood, remind us again:

There is no conclusion. What has been concluded, that we might conclude in regard to it? There are no fortunes to be told, and there is no advice to be given. — Farewell!

A century later, William James’s death was not his end. He remains vitally related to the wider life of the ages.

And there will be a party in his honor in Chocorua this August. He– his “wider self”– will be there. His brother was correct: William James “is a possession,” and not a few of us are “still living upon him.”

don’t stop

April 22, 2010

It’s the first school day all semester when I haven’t had a new class reading assignment to discuss in my morning post. We’ve finished all our required texts, now we get on with final report presentations in A&S.

So what I simply want to say this morning to the diligent students and others who’ve stayed the course is: don’t stop. Be a life-long learner, keep on studying atheism and spirituality, and please let me know whenever you come across a book, essay, article, blog post, video, or whatever that advances your understanding. I’m going to offer this course again, eventually. Help me improve it.

We didn’t get around to significant discussion of three titles I still think worthy of your attention, I hope you’ll still get to them on your own and let me know what you think: Robert Wright’s Evolution of God, Rebecca Goldstein’s 36 Arguments for the Existence of God, and Karen Armstrong’s Case for God.

And here are three more suggestions for your post-course consideration: Michel Onfray’s Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against  Christianity, Judaism,  and Islam; Ronald Aronson’s Living Without God: New Directions for Atheists; and Louise Antony’s edited volume Philosophers Without Gods: meditations on Atheism and the secular life. Here’s Antony with hard words for Dawkins, Hitchens, Ruse and to a lesser extent Harris. But I for one am, as Ron Aronson would say, grateful for the Horsemen; nor would I  concede that atheists are any more “hopeless” than believers. Not really.

NOTE TO STUDENTS RE: SPG ’11: Looks like it’ll be Environmental Ethics, with a twist of Native Wisdom (but also a cavil about expanding the tribe, or the circle of empathy: we’re one tribe, one species, one Earth (Happy Earth Day, btw). But if anyone is up for a self-directed independent readings course on any of the other candidate topics, let me know. I’ll work with you on it.

WJ 13.1

April 21, 2010

James loved the Parthenon, aesthetically, architecturally, symbolically. Me too.  It’s one of the great monuments to wisdom,and gilded Athena is cool… WJ 13

But let’s talk now about his response to great San Francisco earthquake of 1906. [USGS] He was there, or close enough in Palo Alto, during a visit to Stanford. His vivid description of the April 18 disaster (as detailed in the preceding link) reveals a predominant attitude of excitement, exuberance, even boyish delight in the unexpected demonstration of nature’s awesome but usually-restrained energies.

Most of Stanford lay in ruins. James went into San Francisco and saw the “whole population in the streets”… his first, instinctual response was to greet the earthquake with a wild Olympian joy…. in his heart of hearts he embraced and welcomed chaos, cataclysm, change, Zerrissenheit (brokenness), impulse, and chance.

His openness to experience, even to disastrous experience, is the key to the temperament that was now driving James’s interest in radical empiricism, panpsychism, pluralism, and pragmatism. We may ignore no experience.

Also of note, at this time: the infamous “bitch-goddess” letter to H.G. Wells decrying our squalid national aping after the lowest-common-denominator variety of “success.” (This link includes Alain de Botton’s TED Talk on the subject. Wouldn’t it have been fun to see WJ’s TED Talk? Wonder what he’d have said about James Randi‘s?)

And in the late Fall of ’06 he commences the lectures that are later published as Pragmatism. He begins with the announcement that the history of philosophy records an ongoing “clash of human temperaments,” loosely ranging under the headings of “Tough-Minded” and “Tender-Minded.”  The former tend to favor empiricism, facts, materialism, pessimism, irreligion, fatalism, pluralism, and skepticism. The latter: rationalism, intellectualism, idealism, optimism, religion, free-will, monism, and dogmatism. But most of us are a composite of both types, and pragmatism (which derives directly from Darwin) promises to mediate between them.

This first lecture (“The Present Dilemma in Philosophy“) is also where James goes after Leibniz’s “superficiality incarnate” and the “airy and shallow optimism of current religious philosophy.”

One of Pragmatism‘s more intriguing analogies:

We stand in much the same relation to the whole of the universe as our canine and feline pets do to the whole of human life. They inhabit our drawing-rooms and libraries. They take part  in scenes of whose significance they have no inkling. They are merely tanget to curves of history the beginnings and ends and forms of which pass wholly beyond their ken. So we are tangents to the wider life of things.

Maybe so. (Our cat “Zeus” is trying to use my keyboard as a pillow, even as I type this.) But the smartest “dogs” in our pound seem to exhibit a greater curiosity and potential for mental expansion than I’ve detected in my own charmingly simple walking & blogging companions. I predict we’ll continue to fruitfully explore the wider life, without any serious risk of disenchanting our drawing rooms.

The Energies of Men” is one of James’s enduringly-popular essays from this time. Ideas power the world, he writes. “Ideas set free beliefs, and the beliefs set free our wills. The  result is freedom…”

James gave his last Harvard lecture in January 1907, “dying as a Professor” but continuing to think and lecture elsewhere.  And he continues to discover and celebrate other thinkers, including Gustav Fechner… who inspires James to observe  that “when we die, it’s as if an eye of the world were closed.”

But his eyes are still wide open. There’s  so much to experience, so much to see.


NOTE TO STUDENTS: What courses would you like to see offered by our department next year? Please respond to this survey.

AND: Final report presentations begin today. All hands on deck, please.


April 20, 2010

We finish Andre Comte-Sponville today in A&S, with his big question: Can there be an atheist spirituality?

I’ve been thinking of AC-S as the French John Dewey, but there’s a Jamesian side to him too– though he’s probably not aware of it, as neither Dewey nor James turns up in the bibliography.

Recall James’s claim that even if every religious proposition is absurd, religion (he should probably have said spirituality) remains “our most important function.” AC-S writes:

Not believing in God does not prevent me from having a spirit.

The human spirit is far too important to be left to priests, mullahs or spiritualists. It is our noblest part, our highest function… Renouncing religion by no means implies renouncing spiritual life.

It does not matter whether spirit resides in the brain or in its functional effluvia the mind, or in the personal, intentional activities that signal mind’s presence. It is no substance or entity. Rather, it is a function, a capacity, an act or a disposition to act. Automata, so far at least, are not self-starters. Organic persons embodying spirit are. That marks spirit as natural, and is a big improvement on the old supernatural notion of hovering, homeless disembodied spirits.

James wrote: “The conception of spirit, as we mortals hitherto have framed it, is too gross to cover the exquisite tenuity of nature’s facts.” We ourselves are nature’s most tenuous facts. AC-S:

We are ephemeral beings who open onto eternity… This “openness” is the spirit itself. Metaphysics means thinking about these things; spirituality means experiencing them, exercising them, living them.

For this spiritual “opening,” nature suffices and our own transitory finiteness suffices. I’m reminded of Annie Dillard‘s wonderful statement: “While we breathe, we open time like a path in the grass. We open time as a boat’s stem slits the crest of the present.” It’s the stream we go a-fishin’ in, another great nature-poet said.

On my reading, AC-S is a global naturalist (holding that everything experienced and experienceable is real, and in precisely that sense is a part of nature). If everything is natural, then so is spirituality… Spirit is part of nature. It’s still an open question: what else is there in nature that has not yet been dreamt by our philosophers? Fortunately we’re well-equipped to chase open questions, if only we will.

AC-S’s discussion of mysticism is a challenge to the conventionally-Positivist imagination, but (like Wittgenstein) James was at home with the “inexpressible” and so should we be. “Open your eyes” (and shut your mouth) is good advice in many more instances than philosophers like to admit.

All our explanations are comprised of words but the real mystery is not in words. Explaining often gets us into trouble. Novelist Richard Ford gets away with saying this, without squandering his credibility and consistency, because he typically allows years to intervene between such fictional statements.

Real mystery—the very reason to read (and certainly write) any book—was to [his teaching colleagues] a thing to dismantle, distill and mine out into rubble they could tyrannize into sorry but more permanent explanations; monuments to themselves, in other words. In my view all teachers should be required to stop teaching at age thirty-two and not allowed to resume until they’re sixty-five, so that they can live their lives, not teach them away—live lives full of ambiguity and transience and regret and wonder, be asked to explain nothing in public until very near the end when they can’t do anything else. Explaining is where we all get into trouble…
He definitely has a point, but at least we’re off the streets. We may not, however, be tapping what James told his Gifford audience at the turn of the last century was the vital spiritual  core of our respective personal energies.
AC-S has a Sagan-esque side too:
The universe is our home; the celestial vault is our horizon; eternity is here and now. This moves me far more than the Bible or the Koran. It astonishes me far more than miracles (if I believed in them). Compared to the universe, walking on water is a cinch!
As Carl Sagan told his Gifford audience in 1985:
And this vast number of worlds, the enormous scale of the universe, has been taken into account, even superficially, in virtually no religion, and especially no Western religions… we have a theology that is Earth-centered and involves a tiny piece of space… the God portrayed is too small.
Why would you need a God? The universe suffices. Why would you need a church? The world suffices. Why would you need faith? Experience suffices.
Words, however, probably do not suffice. We’re going for a feeling here. James called it, paradoxically, the sentiment of rationality. AC-S offers an apt analogy (which will betray the reason for my attraction to his book):
You are taking a walk… You feel great. It started out as an activity for recreation or exercise… and then it gradually turned into something else– a subtler, deeper, nobler pleasure. Something like an adventure, but an interior one. Or like an experience, but a spiritual one. You wish for nothing other than the step you are taking at the very moment you take it, nothing other than the landscape as it is, at this very instant, with a bird emitting its cry, another bird taking wing, the strength you feel in your calves, the lightness in your heart and the peace in your soul… This is plenitude.
And although AC-S and I have already devoted many words to its explication, it is really not something they can corral. We need to stop talking… And I’d have been content for AC-S to do precisely that, at this point in his book. He didn’t. So I’ll let WJ have the last– no, the penultimate– words:

As long as one continues talking, intellectualism remains in undisturbed possession of the field. The return to life can’t come about by talking… I must deafen you to talk, or to the importance of talk. Or I must point, point to the mere that of life, and you by inner sympathy must fill out the what for yourselves… The deeper features of reality are found only in perceptual experience.

What, then, is spirituality? The immodest author of Springs of Delight writes:

Spirituality is the link of continuity between every human breath, every moment, and every epoch. It is what binds the personal, the social, and the philosophical. Life, as James says, is a chain: a flowing stream of succession to which we may contribute, not only through the spires of our genes but more overtly in our voluntary devotions and ideals. The living breath that measures our moments and days also marks the distance between an attentive present, coveted futures, and life’s remote denouement. Respiration, inspiration, and aspiration are entwined aspects of the vision of life as a chain.

WJ 12.1

April 19, 2010

We’re in our final laps now in Intro, with just Richardson’s James bio— usually a Friday affair– to finish.

The triumphant, prestigious, standard-setting Gifford Lectures in Scotland behind him, James is now over 60 and the country is literally on the move. Planes and automobiles are poised to join trains as popular people-movers: a good mirror of James’s insatiable craving for change, the most imperative of human needs. Unlike Henry Adams, James feels at home in the restless age of the “dynamo.” Henri Bergson‘s “creative evolution” and “life force,” and John Dewey‘s experimentalism, are also in step with the times, and with James’s radical empiricism. James pauses in 1903 to gaze back at Emerson, and to warn us all about the ravening tentacles of the “Ph.D. Octopus.”   WJ 12

Also in this installment:

Change is one undeniable paradigm of the age and of James, man and philosopher alike. Chance is another.  He invokes C.S. Peirce’s tychism to make the point that chance gives rise to order and hard-won unity.

Peirce called his doctrine that chance has an objective status in the universe “tychism,” a word taken from the Greek word for “chance” or “luck” or “what the gods choose to lay on one.” Tychism is a fundamental doctrinal part of Peirce’s view, and reference to his tychism provides an added reason for Peirce’s insisting on the irreducible fallibilism of inquiry. For nature is not a static world of unswerving law but rather a dynamic and dicey world of evolved and continually evolving habits that directly exhibit considerable spontaneity.

He wishes his brother the successful novelist would take more chances with his fiction and actually dare to tell a livelier, more spontaneous story not so meandering and parenthetical and “psychological.”

He might have wished Dewey would improve his style too, lacking as he was in “newspaporial virtues” (though I recall John McDermott once saying that Dewey’s prose was to him, as a young New Yorker, as solidly reliable as the good gray Times) but doesn’t press the point with the same fraternal familiarity. He does like Dewey’s emphasis on situations, environments, and reconstruction.

Emerson, he’s reminded while prepping for the Sage’s big centenerary celebration, was also a champion of change:

Life only avails, not the having lived. Power ceases in the instant of repose: it resides in the moment of transition  from a past to a new state, in the shooting of the gulf, in the darting to an aim.

Jonathan Levin smartly discusses this famous passage in Poetics of Transition. What would it mean to “reside” in a such moment, really? We’re all just passing through.

James is still trying to “settle the Universe’s hash” at this time, plotting a book to impress his peers as much as he’s already impressed popular audiences. He’s also self-deprecating about this ambition, knowing it courts hubris and pretense. He thinks much the same of newly-emboldened academic institutional ambitions, agreeing with Emerson’s old critique of schools that churn out “more educated cleverness in the service of popular idols and vulgar ends,”  a “more instructed fool.” He prefers a “truer” tolerance of  exceptionality and eccentricity. What would he say about academia in our time? I’m pretty sure he’d begin with a “Bah!”

He’s beginning to try and construct the world out of pure experiences, but it’s proving an especially slippery concept. Is experience ever “pure,” untouched by human predispositions and conceptual inheritances?

The instant field of the present is always experienced in its ‘pure’ state. Plain unqualified actuality, a simple that, as yet undifferentiated into thing and thought, and only virtually classifiable as objective fact or as some one’s opinion about fact. This is as true when the field is conceptual as when it is perceptual. ‘Memorial Hall’ is ‘there’ in my idea as much as when I stand before it. I proceed to act on its account in either case. Only in the later experience that supersedes the present one is this naïf immediacy retrospectively split into two parts, a ‘consciousness’ and its ‘content,’ and the content corrected or confirmed. While still pure, or present, any experience –mine, for example, of what I write about in these very lines — passes for ‘truth.’ The morrow may reduce it to ‘opinion.’ A World of Pure Experience (1904)

And something much sillier: brother Henry shares his enthusiasm for the “Fletcherizing” craze. We’re still looking for short-cuts to health and happiness, aren’t we? And amusing ourselves with the spectacle of those who’ve chewed too much and now seek absolution through public humiliation. (I can’t look at “Biggest Loser” myself.)

William, in another moment of exasperation with his profession, declares to Sarah Whitman “that the desire to formulate truths is a virulent disease.” Better the life of immediacy, of enjoying life rather than endlessly analyzing it. But then reflection invariably breaks in, and the inveterate desire recurs. But if we’re going to formulate anything, hadn’t it better be truth?

Then his friend Sarah dies, italicizing his own mortality.

Does Consciousness Exist?” wins Bertrand Russell’s favor with its denial that consciousness names an entity rather than a process and function of activity.

And James tries to rein in the youthful exuberance of his young ally Schiller, who embarrasses James with the personal nastiness of his attacks on pragmatism’s “enemies.” James never had enemies, just friendly opponents.

This section ends with the perfect non-ending, a rhetorical query from Mr. Blood that we’ll want to re-invoke again at book’s and course’s end: “What is concluded that we should conclude…?”