Classics and the Western Canon discussion

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James, Var Religious Experience > James, Background and General Discussion

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message 1: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Let's move the discussion of the background and general information about James and this work from the Planning folder to this folder. No spoilers about the content of the work, please, but background information on James and lectures is fine. Somebody asked about a comparison of James and Freud, and if anybody wants to comment on that without getting into Varieties specifically, that would be fine. Also, James was known as an advocate of pragmatism, which in general terms might be worth outlining.


message 2: by Rex (new)

Rex Bradshaw | 199 comments I saw this article yesterday which mentions James: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marjori...

I haven't listened to this, but it may be helpful: http://www.philosophytalk.org/shows/a...


message 3: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Rex wrote: "I saw this article yesterday which mentions James: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marjori...."

Thought-provoking. It would explain some of the findings of experienced meditators.


message 4: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 42 comments James vs. Freud, I would think they may have some general parallels regarding general questions of existence but seem to differ widely on humanity's primary motivations and religion itself. What was the source of James' ideas, so novel at the time? It seems to me the religious aspect in James' writings is really more intellectual and cultural and not really about any particular religion at all, and for James it seemed one of many drivers of human behavior. Freud, on the other hand, seemed to believe human sexuality was the core explanation for human behavior.


message 5: by Lily (last edited May 15, 2016 07:09PM) (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 4493 comments Dianne wrote: "...What was the source of James' ideas, so novel at the time?..."

Were they? So far, many have felt very much late nineteenth century to me, but not sure I have good points of judgment.


message 6: by Dianne (last edited May 16, 2016 07:37AM) (new)

Dianne | 42 comments Lily wrote: "Dianne wrote: "...What was the source of James' ideas, so novel at the time?..."

Were they? So far, many have felt very much late nineteenth century to me, but not sure I have good points of judgm..."


Lily, good point. I think James shared some ideas of his contemporaries but others were more novel. It's been so long since I've read any of his work but I seemed to recall that some of his thoughts on habit and functionality, were more his own. I can't recall how that fits in with his lectures on religion though, but I think they had some role. I suspect after reading this it will be tough not to dive into some of the other topic areas that James focused in, as I think religion was just a piece of his overall thought. And of course he always touted himself as the first teacher of psychology, but perhaps that was more publicizing thoughts that were percolating in the main at the time.


message 7: by Wendel (last edited May 16, 2016 11:28AM) (new)

Wendel (Wendelman) | 566 comments Dianne wrote: "... some of his thoughts on habit and functionality, were more his own ..."

I understand that The Principles of Psychology (1890) was his main contribution to the then fledgling discipline of psychology.

The book must be dated now (though I recently saw it recommended in an otherwise devastating criticism of "The Will to Believe"). But it seems not to be discredited, as is most of Freud's work.

Whether The Varieties still has any value for psychology remains to be seen.


message 8: by Lily (last edited May 16, 2016 04:04PM) (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 4493 comments Wendel wrote: "Whether The Varieties still has any value for psychology remains to be seen. ..."

Considering the structure of the lectures, I am beginning to realize how difficult it may well be to comment upon them as one goes. Parts seem almost point and counterpoint.

But I have already ranted (to myself) at least at one point in the unfolding.


message 9: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 2952 comments Well, from "In the Maelstorm," here's what I found regarding James/Freud:

"Where Freud insisted on the importance of the unconscious, James, who knew Freud's work before he met him, insists on the importance of consciousness, which he understood as a stream, a process" (xiv).

James "was a major force in developing the modern concept of consciousness, at the same time that Freud was developing the modern concept of the unconscious" (5).

James had taught abnormal psychology for four years, 1893-1897. "For Freud, the subconscious was a pathological formation, a repressed or otherwise distorted realm made up of decayed or dislodged and distorted bits of our normal consciousness.....
increasingly, James tended to look on the subconscious as something not pathological but normal, though different from our daylight consciousness" (348).




I liked this: 1895, James giving a talk at Harvard ("Is Life Worth Living?):

"...the new interest in abnormal psychology--- in Janet, Breuer, and Freud---and the revelation of the hidden self [fed] into James's religious search.

James writes: "The deepest thing in our nature is this Binnenleben [hidden life, hidden self]...this dumb region of the heart in which we dwell alone with our willingnesses and our unwillingnesses, our faiths and fears. As through the cracks and crannies of caverns those waters exude from the earth's bosom which then form the fountain-heads of springs, so in these crepuscular depths of personality the sources of all our outer deeds and decisions take their rise" (356).


1909, "James went to Worcester 'in order to see what Freud was like,' but the one he hit it off with --- up to a point -- was Jung." (514).


message 10: by Adelle (new)

Adelle | 2952 comments Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89). Poems. 1918.

68. ‘The child is father to the man’


‘THE CHILD is father to the man.’
How can he be? The words are wild.
Suck any sense from that who can:
‘The child is father to the man.’
No; what the poet did write ran, 5
‘The man is father to the child.’
‘The child is father to the man!’
How can he be? The words are wild.


In that case, this is the household in which the child William James grew up:

because I believe that background is important to consider. (I can’t use the James quote from Varieties here as we aren’t to discuss the actual book yet  )

I’m quick browsing through my book on the Jameses. House of Wits. I think it sheds light on William James’s interest in religion. May be relevant to Varieties. Longish, but no spoilers.

(view spoiler)


House of Wits An Intimate Portrait of the James Family by Paul FisherHouse of Wits: An Intimate Portrait of the James Family


message 11: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 399 comments Adelle wrote: "Binnenleben [hidden life, hidden self]"

Is "Binnenleben" a psychological term? I've never heard it until now and I couldn't find a definition.
First I thought it might be a typo to "Innenleben" (=interior life) but since this is a spiritual term with a clear definition, psychology may have avoided it. The word "binnen" means "within", so directly translated we would arrive at "within life". "Within" and "hidden" are not synonymous in either language - hence my question.


message 12: by Adelle (last edited May 16, 2016 07:26PM) (new)

Adelle | 2952 comments You made me curiosity. It apparently isn't a misspelling as James used the word elsewhere, too. ( https://books.google.com/books?id=OpQ... ).

You may be correct in thinking it might be a psychological term. I found this book title from 1894. The Second Life.
http://dev.quabook.com/view?filename=...

The German I learned in high school is mostly forgotten. Das tut mir leid. Ha ha. I'm not even sure I wrote that correctly!


message 13: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 399 comments Adelle wrote: "Das tut mir leid. Ha ha. I'm not even sure I wrote that correctly! "

Perfect! :)

Given the endless proliferation of compound words in German, even a native speaker like myself is constantly confronted with new creations. When you add any sort of "Fachsprache" - language/terminology specific to a discipline, on top of that, things get interesting to say the least!


message 14: by Dianna (new)

Dianna | 393 comments From my limited understanding I would say that James considers the spiritual realm while Freud concentrates on the physical. It is interesting to compare them.


message 15: by Lily (last edited May 17, 2016 10:01AM) (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 4493 comments A word that I encountered yesterday that may show up in this discussion of Varieties:

noumenon

1 Kantianism a : an object that is conceived by reason and consequently thinkable but is not knowable by the senses : thing-in-itself b : an unknowable object (as God or the soul) whose existence is theoretically problematic

2: an object of purely rational apprehension as opposed to an object of perception

Origin of NOUMENON

German, from Greek nooumenon that which is conceived, thought, from neuter of present passive participle of noein to conceive, think, from nous mind

First Known Use: 1796 (sense 1)

Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, s.v. “noumenon,” accessed May 17, 2016, http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com.

Note the late first known use.

Seems to be used in contrast to "phenomenon." (Its M-W dictionary entry is too long and complicated to want to reproduce here.)


message 16: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments By definition, freedom is a noumenon.


message 17: by Lily (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 4493 comments Nemo wrote: "By definition, freedom is a noumenon."

By definition of "freedom" or by definition of "noumenon"?

(I presume "democracy" can be defined in such a way as to be treated as a "phenomenon"?)


message 18: by Nemo (last edited May 17, 2016 10:55AM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments By definition of noumenon, freedom is a noumenon.

Kant went through a lot of trouble to preserve the idea of freedom in the face of the deterministic Newtonian physics, by compartmentalizing the former as "noumenon" and the latter as "phenomenon".


message 19: by Lily (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 4493 comments Nemo wrote: "By definition of noumenon, freedom is a noumenon.

Kant went through a lot of trouble to preserve the idea of freedom in the face of the deterministic Newtonian physics, by compartmentalizing the ..."


Thx, Nemo.

This may be of interest to some here. These are new names to me.

"He is Quentin Meillassoux, the author of After Finitude (Continuum, 2008). The second is almost entirely unknown outside of France. His name is Mehdi Belhaj Kacem but he often goes by his initials, MBK."

http://www.ctheory.net/articles.aspx?...


message 20: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1391 comments So a horse is a phenomenon, but a unicorn is a noumenon.


message 21: by Wendel (last edited May 17, 2016 01:32PM) (new)

Wendel (Wendelman) | 566 comments And freedom just another fantasy (an object that is conceived by reason and consequently thinkable but not knowable by the senses).


message 22: by Patrice (new)

Patrice | 148 comments Roger wrote: "So a horse is a phenomenon, but a unicorn is a noumenon."

Not to be picky but I believe a skeleton of a unicorn has been discovered.


message 23: by Lily (new)

Lily (Joy1) | 4493 comments Kenneth wrote: "Noumenon, in other words, are spiritual realities...."

Well, I may perhaps agree that spiritual realities are noumena by the time we get done with James, but for the moment I'm going to leave open the possibility that some spiritual realities may be phenomena. As I understand the word, however, noumenon has broader applicability than being necessarily a spiritual reality.


message 24: by Nemo (last edited May 17, 2016 09:11PM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments According to Kant, the noumenal cannot be known. If that is true, James' study of religious experiences would be limited to the phenomena only. He can observe how religious people talk, act, pray or meditate --or one can do brain scan nowadays, but none of these would give any knowledge of the "thing-in-itself".


message 25: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1391 comments So a unicorn would be a phenomenon if it existed, but it doesn't.

Is there anything that doesn't exist, but would be a noumenon if it did?


message 26: by Patrice (last edited May 18, 2016 06:17AM) (new)

Patrice | 148 comments A unicorn skeleton has been discovered recently. My point is that just because there is no sensory evidence now, doesn't mean something never existed. Haven't there been many scientific theories that originated in the imagination but later proof confirmed? Atomic theory was around for thousands of years before there was evidence that it was true. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.


message 27: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 399 comments Patrice wrote: "A unicorn skeleton has been discovered recently. My point is that just because there is no sensory evidence now, doesn't mean something never existed. Haven't there been many scientific theories th..."

Here we get into what is knowable and where our limitations lay. Rationally, we know there must be something before the Big Bang. Being part of this universe, we'll never penetrate this reality. Same thing goes for the time horizon. The universe keeps expanding, but what is beyond the edge of the universe we'll never know.


message 28: by Patrice (new)

Patrice | 148 comments Is it possible to prove that something does not and has never existed?


message 29: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 399 comments Kenneth wrote: "Though I would question your statement that "spiritual realities may be phenomena." Perhaps you can clarify what you mean. To me, the phrase "spiritual reality" implies that it is something outside the realm of the physical. You may have SIGNS of the spiritual reality, but it is not the spiritual reality itself. In the Catholic faith, we call those signs "Sacraments." Also, the body would be a sign of the spiritual reality of the soul. Perhaps in a broader sense, the whole material reality would be a sign of the existence, truth, goodness, and beauty of God."

Very well put!


message 30: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1391 comments Patrice wrote: "Is it possible to prove that something does not and has never existed?"

The largest prime number does not exist and never has. The proof is in Euclid.


message 31: by Patrice (new)

Patrice | 148 comments You've got me there!


message 32: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 399 comments Roger wrote: "Patrice wrote: "Is it possible to prove that something does not and has never existed?"

The largest prime number does not exist and never has. The proof is in Euclid."


Now you piqued my interest! Why is that? Is it because once you get into really high numbers they all can be divided by more than 1?


message 33: by Roger (new)

Roger Burk | 1391 comments Kerstin wrote: "Roger wrote: "Patrice wrote: "Is it possible to prove that something does not and has never existed?"

The largest prime number does not exist and never has. The proof is in Euclid."

Now you pique..."


Here's the proof: Suppose there is a largest prime. Therefore there is a finite number of primes. Multiply all the primes together and add one to the result. That new number has a remainder (of 1) when divided by any of the primes smaller than itself. Therefore it is also prime, and larger than the supposed largest. This is a contradiction. So our initial supposition (that there is a largest prime) must be wrong.


message 34: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 399 comments Roger wrote: "Kerstin wrote: "Roger wrote: "Patrice wrote: "Is it possible to prove that something does not and has never existed?"

The largest prime number does not exist and never has. The proof is in Euclid...."


Thanks!

In my morning fog I assumed there was a largest prime number, exactly what you said was not possible! I blame it on lack of coffee :)

Mathematic thinking is a world on its own! Usually I do get it once I get my brain in gear, but I've always been really slow. What is amazing to me is that there are people who can think in these higher abstract terms and get it right.


message 35: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Kenneth wrote: "... You may have SIGNS of the spiritual reality, but it is not the spiritual reality itself. In the Catholic faith, we call those signs "Sacraments." Also, the body would be a sign of the spiritual reality of the soul"

I thought Catholics believe the Eucharist is spiritual reality, not just a sign of it. I'm not familiar with Catholicism at all, pardon my ignorance.


message 36: by Nemo (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Roger wrote: "Is there anything that doesn't exist, but would be a noumenon if it did?"

The largest prime number, since you've shown the proof that it doesn't exist. (However, I don't know whether or not Kant classified numbers as noumenal).


message 37: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 3983 comments The "largest prime number" example sounds like one of Kant's antinomies. Fascinating stuff, by the way. Are you sure you all wouldn't rather read Critique of Pure Reason than James?


message 38: by David (new)

David (Deinonychus) | 291 comments I'm not sure the largest prime number can be said to not exist. Rather there is no number x such that 'x is the largest prime number' is true


message 39: by Nemo (last edited May 18, 2016 10:55AM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments David wrote: "I'm not sure the largest prime number can be said to not exist. Rather there is no number x such that 'x is the largest prime number' is true"

I don't see the difference.

There is no such number = such number does not exist

Edit: The term "the largest number" implies a limit, and the proof against it is basically a proof that there is no limit to what is potentially or actually infinite.


message 40: by Nemo (last edited May 18, 2016 10:18AM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Thomas wrote: "Are you sure you all wouldn't rather read Critique of Pure Reason than James? "

I would vote for the Critique if it is included in the next poll, though I suspect it has a far lesser chance of being selected than Aristotle.


message 41: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 399 comments Nemo wrote: "I thought Catholics believe the Eucharist is spiritual reality, not just a sign of it."

A good word to substitute for 'sign' is 'manifestation'. Both words imply a hidden reality.


message 42: by Nemo (last edited May 18, 2016 10:16AM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Kerstin wrote: "Nemo wrote: "I thought Catholics believe the Eucharist is spiritual reality, not just a sign of it."

A good word to substitute for 'sign' is 'manifestation'. Both words imply a hidden reality."


But if it is manifested, it is no longer hidden. :)


message 43: by Nemo (last edited May 18, 2016 11:29AM) (new)

Nemo (nemoslibrary) | 2456 comments Kenneth wrote: " We only see what appears to be bread and wine. The spiritual reality is there, but all our senses perceive is the physical manifestation of the bread and wine. "

If I understand you correctly, pardon the crude expression, although they look like bread and wine, smell like bread and wine, taste like bread and wine, and I presume are digested like bread and wine, they are not bread and wine in reality?

If that is the case, why do you have to physically partake of it? Is the spiritual reality, though it can't be perceived by our senses, yet confined in time and space, like the physical objects that we do perceive?


message 44: by Kerstin (new)

Kerstin | 399 comments Kenneth wrote: "The spiritual reality is connected to (for lack of a better phrase), but not identical with, the physical manifestation. We see the physical manifestation, but it points to some spiritual reality that cannot be seen in itself."

The finer points of definition :)
You "think" you have it nailed down, and then there is a detail you missed!


message 45: by Patrice (new)

Patrice | 148 comments Roger wrote: "Kerstin wrote: "Roger wrote: "Patrice wrote: "Is it possible to prove that something does not and has never existed?"

The largest prime number does not exist and never has. The proof is in Euclid...."


You've got to be joking!


message 46: by Everyman (new)

Everyman | 7718 comments Patrice wrote: "Is it possible to prove that something does not and has never existed?"

Not an idea, but a physical thing, I think yes. I think it's possible by the laws of physics and biomechanics to prove that no elephant more than 1,000 feet tall but weighing less than 5 pounds and capable of running 100 miles per hour has ever existed.


message 47: by Mike (new)

Mike (mcg1) | 73 comments Hey all, it's been quite a while. I'll be joining in on this one! I've been reading the formative works of pragmatism over the past couple months and Varieties is next on my reading list.


message 48: by Dianne (new)

Dianne | 42 comments Can anyone recommend some good background material before we get started?


message 49: by Janice (JG) (new)

Janice (JG) | 116 comments Dianne wrote: "Can anyone recommend some good background material before we get started?"

Hi, I'm new to this group, and a little intimidated by the discussion so far, but I have been wanting to read some William James, and this looked like an excellent place to start, with some excellent discussion.

As for background material, I noticed in Mike's msg #54 he mentions pragmatism, and that reminded me of the Pulitzer prize winning book The Metaphysical Club, a fascinating history of the gathering of some amazing minds that eventually shaped the American philosophy on religion and education, and also science, in the late 1800s.

William James was one of the members of the club, and there was a very good section devoted to the background of the James family, with speculation about why the brothers took different directions as they did. I've given the book away, and can't remember the details, or I'd give them. I remember the family traveled a great deal, and the boys did not have a very stable childhood, and it had an impact on them.

The author (Louis Menand) also dealt with metaphysics and Transcendentalism of the time, along with the rise of pragmatism. An excellent book, by the way, which reads a little like a mystery as it unfolds through time.


message 50: by Thomas (new)

Thomas | 3983 comments Janice(JG) wrote: "Dianne wrote: "Can anyone recommend some good background material before we get started?"

Hi, I'm new to this group, and a little intimidated by the discussion so far, but I have been wanting to r..."


Welcome to the group, Janice, and don't be intimidated. We only sound crazy sometimes, usually between reads. We shall be returning to earth shortly.


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