08 May 2008

William James

Here's a passage I like from one of the better-known of James' essays: The Dilemma of Determinism.

James has at this point established what he means by "indeterminism," in contradiction to both the hard and the soft forms of determinism.

But, he asks, is indeterminism compatible with theism? If we are the creatures of an all-knowing Creator, then the knowledge of that creator of what we will do next Tuesday surely implies that on next Tuesday we will do something now already determined, doesn't it?

James replies:

"Suppose two men before a chessboard, -- the one a novice, the other an expert player of the game. The expert intends to beat. But he cannot foresee exactly what any one move of his adversary may be. He knows, however, all the possible moves of the latter; and he knows in advance how to meet each of them by a move of his own which leads in the direction of victory. And the victory infallibly arrives, after no matter how devious a course, in the one predestined form of check-mate to the novice's king."

Likewise, then, even an infinitely powerful mind could be working through time and despite indeterminist elements in a situation to achieve that Mind's end.

In a footnote, he acknowledges that this (the sort of idea that long after James' death became known as "process theology") may well be considered heterodox.

"This of course leaves the creative mind subject to the law of time. And to any one who insists on the timelessness of that mind I have no reply to make....To say that time is an illusory appearance is only a roundabout manner of saying that there is no real plurality, and that the frame of things is an absolute unit. Admit plurality, and time may be its form."

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.