William James: an ethics of thought?

Stengers, Isabelle and Goffey, Andrew (2009) William James: an ethics of thought? Radical Philosophy (157) . ISSN 0300-211X [Article]


William James’s pragmatism, and in particular the thesis according to which the sole truth of ideas is the difference that they make, and therefore also the interest that they create, has often been felt to be an offence by those who consider themselves to be engaged ‘for’ thought. Shouldn’t ideas be disinterested, supremely indifferent to the interest that they create? I will try to show here that – at once both thematically, that is to say in a declared manner, and practically, that is to say immanently – there is an ethics of thought at work in James’s œuvre. This ethics is pragmatic, certainly, because the question is posed at the level of effects, not at the level of what authorizes. But it will be a matter here, we will see, of a pragmatic constraint, a constraint which confers on the refusal of certain effects, accepted as perfectly legitimate by many ‘ethical’ philosophers, the power to put thinking to the test, to oblige it to expose itself to the violence of the world. If my attempt succeeds, it should lead to wonder about the tranquil and consensual judgement like this one: ‘history is lit by the deeds of men and women for whom ideas were things other than instruments of adjustment. Pragmatism explains everything about ideas except why a person would be willing to die for one’.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: Translation by Andrew Goffey of an article by Isabelle Stengers.
Research Areas: A. > School of Media and Performing Arts
ISI Impact: 0
Item ID: 5531
Useful Links:
Depositing User: Dr Andrew Goffey
Date Deposited: 19 Apr 2011 14:33
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2016 14:19
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/5531

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