requiem for certainty

Archive for the ‘james’ Category

William James’s Ethics of Faith

with 11 comments

William James’s writings on philosophical ethics are a vexed collection.  Though James’s moral contributions are quite wide in their range, there can be little doubt that most of the attention he has received in these respects has been focused on his work on the ethics of belief, including the infamous essay “The Will to Believe”. (A quick and nonscientific survey of The Philosopher’s Index on April 23, 2010 revealed 91 hits for “Will to Believe” versus 6 hits for “Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life”, even though most commentators would regard as James’s most sustained contribution to philosophical ethics.)  For the most part, the interpretations and criticisms commonly put forward concerning the ethics of beliefs has tended to treat these writings in an isolated fashion that fails to make connections to James’s other contributions to philosophical ethics.

The standard treatment is unfortunate because what is needed is exactly what we lose by failing to take James seriously on these matters.  Faith, thought James, is much-needed in our world today.  But it something that many of us, myself included, know precious little about.  The causes of this would be difficult to discern.  But the story would probably have something to do with the late-nineteenth century culture wars between voluntaristic religious outlooks and evidentialist scientific outlooks.  The history of the twentieth century shows that science won that war.  Perhaps this was for the better.  But religion (or at least morality in a capacious sense, such that religion would be one species of the wider genus) provided something that science can never muster of its own accord, namely faith in uncertifiable possibility.  If there is no longer a place for traditional religion in our scientific culture, then it would behoove us to make a place for something else by which we might find our way to faith.  For faith is needful now more than ever, as James himself well understood over one hundred years ago.  We live, now more than ever, in a world of immense fragility, threadbare possibility, and thoroughgoing chance.  Finding oneself at home in such a world would be greatly assisted by founding faith within oneself.  Hence the importance of James’s contributions to ethics for us today. Read the rest of this entry »


Written by Colin Koopman

April 26, 2010 at 4:33 am

Book Cover, New Job, &c.

with 7 comments

It’s been awhile since I’ve updated anything here.  That’s a sign of business not laziness, of course.  (It’s also a function of the increasingly-useful way in which status updates are handled on facebook.)

Two main pieces of news.

First, I am now living up in Eugene, Oregon where I have a one-year appointment as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Oregon.  I am (if it’s not obvious) quite pleased to be up here: great colleagues, great graduate students, great program, and a great place to live.

Hunkering down for a solid year of solid work in Eugene should give me the opportunity to update the blog more often.  So I plan to start on that.

Second, it now appears as if my book Pragmatism as Transition: Historicity and Hope in James, Dewey, and Rorty will be out with Columbia University Press very soon (sometime next month, apparently).  I was quite pleased that Columbia was able to get the rights to an image of the painting that I have long hoped would grace the cover of the book, Ducham’s Nude Descending a Staircase, no.2.  You can read a little more about the book on Columbia UP’s website.

So, more soon I hope.  I’m investing lots of time in lots of projects right now.  Some of them will be bloggable in short order.

Written by Colin Koopman

October 1, 2009 at 11:45 pm

Pragmatism in Obama’s Inaugural

with 3 comments

We saw more pragmatism this week in Obama’s inaugural address (following up on earlier posts).  It was not quite the masterful literary piece that one might have expected given all that we have been hearing about how Obama wishes to position himself as the next Lincoln.  Lincoln was not only a president but also a poet: recall his “mystic chords of memory”.  Obama is not quite a poet, at least not yet.  But then again, I find the comparisons to Lincoln somewhat overstrained.  Obama is a pragmatist.  Lincoln was not (but perhaps the persident could not have been a pragmatist in those tumultuous years.)

In Obama’s inaugural address this Tuesday we heard his pragmatism once again.  It was forceful and proud, yet also humble and friendly.  This is as pragmatism should be: at once confident and inviting.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Colin Koopman

January 24, 2009 at 8:58 pm

New Publication on Pragmatism

leave a comment »

My latest publication is now out.  This paper is a version of the first chapter of my (hopefully) forthcoming book Pragmatism as Transitionalism.  As argued here, the book attempts to deploy themes of historicity and temporality found across the pragmatist tradition in order to, among other things, reconcile the ‘primapragmatism’ of James and Dewey with the ‘neopragmatism’ of Rorty and Brandom.  “Language is a Form of Experience: Reconciling Classical Pragmatism and Neopragmatism” in Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society, v43n4, Fall 2007: 694-727.  You can find it online here (subscription through your library is required):

Written by Colin Koopman

December 23, 2007 at 5:29 pm