Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Matter of Truth, the Matter of Matter: Which Matters More? Part VII

On one of the opening pages of WAYS of WORLDMAKING, Nelson Goodman says:

“As intimated by William James’s equivocal title ‘A Pluralistic Universe,’ the issue between monism and pluralism tends to evaporate under analysis. If there is but one world, it embraces a multiplicity of contrasting aspects; if there are many worlds, the collection of them all is one. The one world may be taken as many, or the many worlds taken as one; whether one or many depends on the way of taking.”

Even though these comments are later qualified and elaborated upon much more extensively by Goodman, (in chapter 7 of WoWM), I think they are entirely misleading and represent an almost vicious misreading of the relationship between monism and pluralism in William James.

James presents monism as being in a poisonous, and parasitical, relationship with pluralism. Monism, in James, isn’t neutral to pluralism, and the difference between monism and pluralism doesn’t “evaporate under analysis.”

James makes a very strong association between pluralism and humanism-- and a very strong association between monism and totalitarianism ( in his critique of Hegel’s method, in ‘A Pluralistic Universe,’ though I am stretching things just a bit here because James doesn’t use the word “totalitarianism”…but that’s the concept he’s making a reference to, I believe.)

A pluralistic view, or ‘take’, of reality, is going to be able to find a place for a monistic view, or ‘take’, of reality; it can’t exclude monism without exhibiting internal contradiction.

(Is Nelson Goodman the author of “‘takes’ on reality”, as an expression, as a cliché ? I think he is. If so, then good for him-- good for that man.)

Monism doesn’t return the favor, however. That it doesn’t --this is important.

I think that Nelson Goodman’s reading of William James’s thought ( which I have termed a vicious misreading,) receives textual support from the following comments by James:

(These comments come first, and I must quote them in order for the second comments, which are the important ones, and the ones I wish to call attention to, to make sense:)

1. “What do the terms empiricism and rationalism mean? Reduced to their most pregnant difference, empiricism means the habit of explaining wholes by parts, and rationalism means the habit of explaining parts by wholes. Rationalism thus preserves affinities with monism, since wholeness goes with union, while empiricism inclines to pluralistic views. […] All philosophers, accordingly, have conceived of the whole world after the analogy of some particular feature of it which has particularly captivated their attention. Thus, the theists take their cue from manufacture, the pantheists from growth. For one man, the world is like a thought or a grammatical sentence in which a thought is expressed. For such a philosopher, the whole must logically be prior to the parts; for letters would never have been invented without syllables to spell, or syllables without words to utter.

Another man, struck by the disconnectedness and mutual accidentality of so many of the world’s details, takes the universe as a whole to have been such a disconnectedness originally, and supposes order to have been superinduced upon it in the second instance, possibly by attrition and the gradual wearing away by internal friction of portions that originally interfered.”*

Leading to this, the text which may be what Nelson Goodman was thinking of when he made the first quote, ( caustically and “ruthlessly” criticized by me,) above:

2. “ Let me make a few comments, here, on the curious antipathies which these partialities arouse. They are sovereignly unjust, for all the parties are human beings with the same essential interests, and no one of them is the wholly perverse demon which another often imagines him to be. Both are loyal to the world that bears them; neither wishes to spoil it; neither wishes to regard it as an insane incoherence; both want to keep it as a universe of some kind; and their differences are all secondary to this deep agreement. They may be only propensities to emphasize differently. Or one man may care for finality and security more than the other. Or their tastes in language may be different. One may like a universe that lends itself to lofty and exalted characterization. To another this may seem sentimental or rhetorical. One may wish for the right to use a clerical vocabulary, another a technical or professorial one.”*

As this is becoming long, and is uncharacteristically ( for me) weighted with quotation, I will now truncate, and cut to the chase, ( or the ‘take’):

The crucial concepts of Deleuze and Guattari intervene on the relationship of the monistic to the pluralistic.

* Quotes are from William James, “A Pluralistic Universe.”

6 Comments:

Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

Second or third thing tomorrow, I'm going to go out and buy James' A Pluralistic Universe. This is very interesting!

And notice the curious tension in the title -- whatever there is, is pluralistic (there are many of them? many ways of seeing them? what?) -- but it is also a universe -- a single entity.

I'm inclined to think that Goodman was receptive to this curious tension in James.

6:46 AM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

James succeeds, I think, in thinking of the universe itself as something other than a single entity.

This is part of his remarkable accomplishment...He creates a thought of pluralism which does away, without contradiction, with absolutism, and yet is not thereby a relativism.

I hope you will read the James book... and comment on it. I will look forward to that.

7:22 AM  
Blogger Fido the Yak said...

I think James means by "universe" something like "universe of experience." I notice the tension, but I'm inclined to agree with Yusef that this sense of "universe" is not meant as a single entity.

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Yusef,

Thanks for an inspiring post. And a meaty one. Although James' speculations are certainly fascinating, I suspect Deleuze would consider them expressions of arborescent thinking.

Your central idea,

The crucial concepts of Deleuze and Guattari intervene on the relationship of the monistic to the pluralistic.

- is intriguing and useful for your project of concept-creation. I will be interested in hearing more about your efforts.

In the meantime you are helped along by D&G:

The concept is therefore both absolute and relative: it is relative to its own components, to other concepts, to the plane on which it is defined, and to the problem it is supposed to resolve; but it is absolute through the condensation it carries out, the site it occupies on the plane, and the conditions it assigns to the problem. As whole it is absolute, but insofar as it is fragmentary it is relative.

(What is philosophy?, p. 21)

Orla Schantz

6:12 PM  
Anonymous Yusef said...

Thanks for that quote, Orla.

I don't think Deleuze would have thought of James as arborescent...

Deleuze might have been threatened by James... you know...I don't think Deleuze could have been immune to that feeling...

There's an entire chapter in " A Pluralistic Universe" on a bright new light on the philosophical horizon...

Henri Bergson!

2:33 AM  
Blogger Dr. Spinoza said...

I would guess that Deleuze would feel some affinity and repulsion to James' criticism of "British idealism" (Green, McTaggart, Bradley). James delivered these lectures in Oxford in 1908 and 1909. I find it disappointing that there's no mention in the index of Russell, who by this time was highly critical of idealism. But James did not have a strong bent towards mathematics and logic, and he may not have realized how significant Russell's work was.

I can tell that I'm going to enjoy James over the next few days. It'll be a nice break from my purgatory of grading, to which I must now return.

12:17 PM  

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