Whole-hearted empiricism

Birthday of Edward Hopper (1882), who said “all I ever wanted to do was to paint sunlight…” (WA)

In these early hours of day, that’s a worthy ambition. I’d do it myself, if I had any aptitude for painting. Words don’t capture the light, but once in a while they reflect it in unexpected ways. So I carry on.

Perseverance, putting down one word and then another and then another, and then circling back with pencil and eraser and delete key – that’s a simple mirror of the steady routine involved in perambulating and in pedaling, one foot in front of the other, legs up and down, wheels round and round. Take breaks and breathers as required but don’t quit. Do it again tomorrow. Keep a’goin.’

William James criticized David Hume for a “half-hearted” empiricism…

(Is this relevant? I never know, unless and until my subconscious informs me later, so I’d better just go ahead and put it down. Words work that way, like tracks or traces in the mist to pick up later. Or not.)

James thought Hume didn’t get at the roots of our experience, didn’t persist to notice the everyday “powers” that produce our confident common-sense expectation of the dawn and all that follows, billiard balls knocking predictably into pockets, people generally behaving with kind sentiment and fellow-feeling, moments transitioning to moments like a flowing stream, particles of experience coalescing into practical knowledge and life wisdom. He noticed these phenomena but did not fully credit their value, and so became a skeptic and not a radical empiricist. He didn’t, James thought, go the distance.

A whole-hearted empiricist is all in, noticing connections others miss (like “and” and “or” and “but” as particles not just of speech but of experienceable reality, said James) and boldly risking error in pursuit of happiness and truth. “Our [intellectual] errors are not such serious things.” The verdict on that isn’t all in. But with a whole heart you persevere.

 Hume’s friend Franklin said our sun is rising, not yet setting. Thoreau said it’s but a morning star. If Hume was too skeptical and old-worldly, maybe the American “radicals” weren’t skeptical enough. But the great thing about sunrise is its implicit promise: if you persevere, light will be cast.

6:45/5:48, 73/87

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