What Pragmatism Means by William James

Monday 28th January 2013

Text chosen by Anne Douglas.

James, W  What Pragmatism Means in On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings  London:Penguin books 2009 (online version available to read here).

This essay is one in a small collection by William James that explores pragmatism as a method of inquiry founded in experience. William James (January 11, 1842 – August 26, 1910) was an American philosopher and psychologist who had trained as a physician. He was the brother of Henry James. He was a friend of John Dewey and also Henri Bergson, drawing on both american and european philosophical traditions.

This essay interested me in particular because James proposes pragmatism not just as a means of experiencing the world as a form of self knowledge, but as a method of shared inquiry founded in experiential modes of knowing. James is interested in contradictions that emerge in different approaches to knowledge. Inquiry for him is meeting contradiction as a form of encounter in which we have to question pre-constructed ways of knowing by looking closely at the world and trusting our experience of it, working with experience to form new insights.  As such I think this essay is an important contribution to our ongoing discussions around the sensory and experiential in art and design research.

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