Thoughts from William James "Pragmatism."

William James in an attempt to summarize the impact of pragmatism on various intellectual and practical disputes compares it to the Protestant Reformation.  Recall that James sees pragmatism as harmonizing the intense debate between empirical, positivistic, scientific approaches and more spiritual approaches to knowledge such as those he discussed in Varieties of Religious Experience (VRE).  So what was the Protestant Reformation anyway?  The Catholic Church held sway and based on its interpretation of the old and new testaments, its interpretation of the teachings of the saints and martyrs, it offered THE authoritative view of the nature of the universe. (One presumes that such certainty has prevailed at many times in history, e.g., primitive tribes had cosmological ideas that the tribe members had to believe, the Egyptians similarly, the Greeks, but they broke out notably in the Classical Period, the Roman's, who may have been among the first pragmatists etc.)  Many different people Galileo to Luther began to suggest that some of the teachings were incorrect, did not square with the facts, did not accord with what was in men's hearts.  The earth was not the center of the universe, the selling of indulgences was wrong. Eventually the reformation and later the Enlightenment, strongly suggested that each man or woman going forward would have to decide for themselves based on their understanding of the facts and their own subjective experience (experience that might involve an encounter with what each perceived to divine, i.e., spiritual experience, see VRE) what was true for them, what was false for them. (Religious geniuses and great scientists would offer differing but equally valuable approximations of the “facts,” the “truth,” the “nature of reality.”)  This “re-formation of knowledge” would strongly suggest that truth was not fixed.  "Truth" in such a system would be constantly changing based on new facts, e.g., the facts of evolution, and new subjective experiences, notably the subjective experiences of religious geniuses.  This would thus not necessarily be a comfortable and settled situation but might involve continued re-examination of beliefs and concepts based on how they worked in the world as each individual experienced the world.  Truth then was a changeable thing, there might not be any real TRUTH in the sense that the authorities meant it.  Truth would be provisional, it would be today's truth and we would all have to face the difficult perspective that today's truth could be quite wrong, it was only our best theory for today.  Further, we might actually influence truth by the way we believed and behaved.  This suggested the novel idea that our own actions might create truth.  We each had that responsibility or that opportunity.
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