Pragmatism and the Dis-integration of a 'Knowledge Society'
The theme of the Third International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities is "The Humanities in a 'Knowledge Society'. At the heart of this theme lies concern with the dis-integration among the various domains of human experience involving, for example, commerce and art, science and aesthetics, economics and linguistics, market exchange and literature, philosophy and religion. Such a disintegration represents a profound loss of the meanings represented, in the past, by terms such as 'techne' and 'ars' — terms which involved a much more integrated understanding of human life. My paper will seek the philosophical roots of this disintegration. Few philosophies are better equipped for this task than the pragmatism of William James. Centered upon the notion of pragma — action — James's account of 'immediate experience,' developed in his still famous Principles of Psychology, and elsewhere, illustrates the unity of many faculties, from the aesthetic to the analytic, in actual, immediate experience. His work also shows clearly, however, a troubling contrast between the unity of such experience, in its actual occurrence, and the much more fragmented view of that experience which emerges from modern reflective analysis. James's work, in this respect, reveals more clearly than many philosophical positions available today, the roots of the disintegrations that are of special concern to this conference. Perhaps his work on immediate experience can also, therefore, contribute to rebuilding, both inside and outside of the Academy, a more integrated understanding of the human being.
Keywords: Philosophy, William James, Religion, Pragmatism
Dr. Hunter Brown
Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, King's University College at the University of Western Ontario