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Augustine’s Cup: Boundary Conditions and Relocating Science in a Post-postmodern World
Unformatted Document Text:  James’s pragmatism is rather more generous-spirited, and it is that spirit (sometimes expressed more in intellectual practice than in explicit philosophic formulation) that I believe deserves renewed focus. “The Varieties of Religious Experience” is paradigmatic James. It is a careful, comparative study of religious experience in general and mystic experience in particular. It is inductive in its close examination of the phenomena under study, striving for if not always achieving objectivity. Yet it offers its full regard to the subject of inquiry, religious and mystic experience, in many respects the obverse of the inductive and the empirical. Inductive study and reductionist analysis is used to shed light on the religious experience, not to deny its meaning and validity. Conversely, the ability of religious thinking and experience to meet human needs, and broaden the range of human experience, in ways unavailable to the empirical scientist, is fully acknowledged. Perhaps no phrase captures the essence of his thinking so well as his dictum that theories should, “become instruments, not answers to enigmas.”. 23 James, like other pragmatists, focused on utility as the criterion for the value of an idea or system of thought. Utility could be practical, as in scientific prediction, aesthetic, or moral. Agreement on the truth value of a deductive statement is not often found if not enforced by threat of excommunication. Agreement on the desirability or the empirical verifiability of an outcome of a metaphysical belief should be easier to achieve. Of course, empirical verifiability using accepted scientific methodologies lends itself most easily to consensus. Moral or aesthetic desirability is a more difficult problem, and certainly much more difficult as a basis for consensus now in a world community than it was in turn-of-the-century America. Nonetheless, the method still has merit. Some of the more absurd excesses of radical relativism—Lyotard’s argument that Holocaust deniers’ arguments cannot be ruled out any more than any other unverifiable statement, including the existence of the Holocaust—make

Authors: Slater, Michael.
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James’s pragmatism is rather more generous-spirited, and it is that spirit (sometimes
expressed more in intellectual practice than in explicit philosophic formulation) that I believe
deserves renewed focus. “The Varieties of Religious Experience” is paradigmatic James. It
is a careful, comparative study of religious experience in general and mystic experience in
particular. It is inductive in its close examination of the phenomena under study, striving for
if not always achieving objectivity. Yet it offers its full regard to the subject of inquiry,
religious and mystic experience, in many respects the obverse of the inductive and the
empirical. Inductive study and reductionist analysis is used to shed light on the religious
experience, not to deny its meaning and validity. Conversely, the ability of religious thinking
and experience to meet human needs, and broaden the range of human experience, in ways
unavailable to the empirical scientist, is fully acknowledged.
Perhaps no phrase captures the essence of his thinking so well as his dictum that
theories should, “become instruments, not answers to enigmas.”.
23
James, like other
pragmatists, focused on utility as the criterion for the value of an idea or system of thought.
Utility could be practical, as in scientific prediction, aesthetic, or moral. Agreement on the
truth value of a deductive statement is not often found if not enforced by threat of
excommunication. Agreement on the desirability or the empirical verifiability of an outcome
of a metaphysical belief should be easier to achieve. Of course, empirical verifiability using
accepted scientific methodologies lends itself most easily to consensus. Moral or aesthetic
desirability is a more difficult problem, and certainly much more difficult as a basis for
consensus now in a world community than it was in turn-of-the-century America.
Nonetheless, the method still has merit. Some of the more absurd excesses of radical
relativism—Lyotard’s argument that Holocaust deniers’ arguments cannot be ruled out any
more than any other unverifiable statement, including the existence of the Holocaust—make


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