Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Way People Think

"Pragmatism is an account of the way people think." Well alright then, I guess I can understand why we are reading this; after all, what's more ordinary than people thinking? Of course, how people think varies from person to person, but studying and discussing those differences may help us to understand how one thing may seem "ordinary" to one person, and uncommon to another person.

One of the quotes that I found the most interesting in this reading came from the introduction, saying, "They confirm what the pragmatist has always claimed, which is that what people believe to be true is just what they think it is good to believe to be true" (pg. xii). This line stuck out to me because, while I hadn't thought about it much before, I think it's correct. A lot of people will believe in something only because they believe that it is good to believe in it, not because they actually think it is true. For instance, peer pressure is often the reason why a person will change their mind about something they had previously believed otherwise, such as whether skipping a class is a good idea or not, or whether you should get eight hours of sleep at night, or only five. While these thoughts may change over time, often times they and other thoughts are molded by those around us, not just ourselves, so what they "think is good to believe" is created from others as well as themselves.


  1. Dear Cassidy,
    You are sitting next to me on the couch, banging a nightstick against the cushion menacingly and polishing your "Special Forces" badge on your uniform. But you are not a police officer! You're not even halfway intimidating! Your nightstick is made out of cheap plastic and your badge has a picture of two stick figures holding hands on it. "What's going on?" the rest of the class may ask upon reading this comment. Well, I'll tell them. Cassidy is in a play.
    I was reading the pragmatism packet while operating the lighting board last night, shining filtered light upon the intimidating Cassidy as she threatened to beat fake prisoners to death, and trying to think of how "Coyote on the Fence" applied to William James. Here is what I came up with: Last night was the dress rehearsal. All of the lighting and costuming was perfectly in place, lines were fervently delivered, and sweat dripped from the brow or Austin Hayes as he shouted Aryan philosophy to a row of cheering, racist inmates. All for what? There was no one in the audience. Austin had no one to spit on in the front row while he recited article 6 of the Aryan Fighting Code. Cassidy had no unsuspecting audience members to glare at, gun in hand. And I sat unmoving in a hot and smelly booth, occasionally pushing a button or turning a page. What wasted passion. For what?
    For opening night! All of it is meaningless and arbitrary without the thought of an audience. One hundred dress rehearsals are the same as zero without the promise of spectators. This is how James sees philosophy. Speculation is aimless when it doesn't consider practical aims.

    I'd like to keep talking about this, but Cassidy and I are being called to places. COME SEE COYOTE, 7:30 Thursday thru Saturday, 2:30 on Sunday!

  2. ""What's going on?" the rest of the class may ask upon reading this comment." Yup. That one is spot on.

    I may have misunderstood the reading, but isn't 'what is best for people to believe' what Pragmatists are searching for? That was how I interpreted "the whole force of a philosophical account of anything, pragmatists insist, lies i nthe advertised consequences of accepting it. When we say "that's the way the world is" to a child., we are not making a neutral report. We are saying that understanding the world in that way will put the child into a better relation with it, will enable him or her to cope with it more satisfactorily."

    On an unrelated note, someone is using the dorm's stuffed animals to act out an anti-homophobic play involving dog tanks and snake guns? I think you should leave. You're not supposed to be in here.

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    2. Pragmatists are less concerned with searching for some end and more concerned with whether their philosophic assumptions have practical value in the world. These assumptions do not always resemble each other-- that's why there isn't really a pragmatic school of thought that one can align with. Pragmatic concern is instead about the nature of the thoughts rather than the thoughts themselves. At least, that is my understanding.

      So, if we imagine rehearsing for a play to be similar to thinking in abstract terms, what matters is not what the play is, but whether that play will ever be performed (or whether those abstract terms have any bearing on practical life). That's what I was half-trying to get at. Know that as I wrote that comment, I realized there were twenty minutes until the house opened and I hadn't gotten into costume yet, so I was feeling a little rushed. Also, more than I was trying to make a point, I was trying to write something that Cassidy would enjoy reading. Apologies.

    3. Cassidy, this is a great post. I want to add, though, that James isn't (in my view, though he is in some people's) a total relativist. That is, he doesn't say that truth is whatever you think is true, but that "ideas (which themselves are but parts of our experience) become true just in so far as they help us to get into satisfactory relation with other parts of our experience." Thinking that it is 7:00 when it is really 9:00 does not make it true, in the pragmatist sense, because all kinds of negative consequences would follow from that mistaken belief. So, the pragmatist doesn't just throw up her hands and say "everything's equally true!", but rather thinks of truth as the name of a relation between people and the world -- a relation that, in James' sense, "works."