Pragmatic Morality: Living life in the Breach
1. "Moral experience" as one of the irreducible components
of lived experience
- world forces us to make judgements about good and evil, responsibility
and forgiveness, beauty and ugliness, virtue and vice, just as much as it
forces us to have a philosophy
- These are real—as real as anything
2. Rejection of determinism and the pessimism it engenders
- Determinism: everything is already fixed by its previous causes. The future
will simply unfold the way it will based on what causes exist now.
- This denies the principle of radical empiricism: The past
does not entirely
- The universal is open and pluralistic, vulnerable, liable to be injured
by certain of its parts if they act wrongly.
- Therefore, the world is not necessarily good—it holds the possibility
of good. There is no guarantee of good, just its possibility.
optimism is the optimism that believes that everything will work out,
that good is guaranteed (ultimately) in the universe.
- James calls his
view "meliorism"—we can make things better, and we should try.
3. Components of the moral life
- We live in a Pluralistic universe: it is open, dynamic, resisting
some "final" analysis and ultimate formulations. None of our explanations
of it are complete.
- James' view is not subjectivism: we don't make our values up. We just
don't see the whole. My values can be good, and so can yours. Because
both only tell part of the story (which is all each of us can tell!)
- A morally perfect life is not possible.
- Terror: moral commitment is an inevitable part of life, but it is
only partial. My moral commitments are only as good as that of others.
- "False" remedy of philosophers: try to define the "summum
bonum." This assumes we can know the whole--at least according
- Pragmatic remedy : the "strenuous mood." The strenuous
mood is the constant confrontation of the question of how we ought to
- The Strenuous Mood
- It involves keeping the stream of moral experience open and treating
others with respect
- It is sensitive to human moral predicament—that we cannot "know"
the full truth about morality.
- It is a return to life/engaged with the world (pragmatic)
- It is a life of sweat and effort, a life of heroic struggle
- It involves risk and uncertainty—because there is no moral certitude
- It is "Meliorist"—views the world as changeable by human
action and possibly changeable for
There is no moral fate laid out in
advance, either moral doom (pessimism) or moral salvation (naïve optimism).
- It places responsibility for moral condition of the world on each of us
Why be meliorists?
- meiorism isn't the "true" theory—there is no true theory
to ethics; cannot
be adopted on intellectual grounds—appropriate passions need stimulation
- must be adopted "pragmatically"—it opens us up to action
- a commitment—a heroic commitment. To life and to ourselves
- Requires "faith," = courage in practial affairs.