James and Dewey on three aspects of relativism

This first chapter locates crucial elements of James's notion of truth within James's 'The Will to Believe." James recognizes evidential criteria in the formation of belief, in contrast to a common claim that for him beliefs are generated in an evidential vacuum. Jamess view of evidence in "The Will to Believe" also stands as a pragmatic reappraisal of traditional epistemology, and such criteria are individualistic. But his treatment should not be taken as subjectivist, in the sense that personal whim or desire always override evidential criteria in the formation of belief. Rather, James's view allows him to avoid both subjectivism and traditional evidentialism. The second chapter suggests that "The Will to Believe" also contains a notion of pluralism, which is intimately related to radical empiricism. James develops two levels of pluralism, individualistic and social. Whereas the first chapter concerns inquiry on an individual level, the second locates the individual within society. James's position on pluralism is also discussed briefly in relation to contemporary ethical theory. Perhaps James's most important notion is that of an "intellectual republic." Such a republic would emerge from a productive mediation between the two levels of pluralism outlined in the essay. In closing, it is suggested that the relationship between James and Josiah Royce illustrates James's ideal of such mediation. The third chapter develops notions of social inquiry hinted at by James within the more radically social philosophy of John Dewey. Following a brief discussion of Platonic assumptions regnant in contemporary discussions, Dewey's views are offered as an alternative to some unpalatable consequences of Platonism. A brief discussion of Dewey's metaphysics and epistemology follows; Dewey manages to avoid both Platonism and relativism, while maintaining the stable and precarious elements traditionally associated with either approach. In conclusion, it is suggested that Dewey's use of the stable and precarious constitute a basis for his notion of criticism, where inquiry is viewed not as a bid for ultimate clarity, but rather as a pattern of interrelationships between elements imbedded within context. Since escape from context is impossible, clarity is also contextual
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