Tuesday, 15 November 2016

William James on Monism

I previously wrote:

It seems that Materialism and Idealism are now being described as monisms. So be it, as long as moving the terminological goal posts does not change the nature of the game. The plumping for one causes the other to be resorbed so to speak but not a quite vanished or banished twin. It's a position that always seem to be held 'against' the other one. Advaita is, in my view, a true monism in that there is always only a unity of being. However we do move from the 'natural' dualistic position of self and other towards it even if that 'movement' is purely notional.

Dipping in and out of the Hibbert Lectures of William James, reading them in no particular order, I finally came to the first lecture in which he proposes the characterisation of materialism and idealism as monisms . I still think that one is the dark brother of the other.

James writes of Monism:
For monism the world is no collection, but one great all-inclusive fact outside of which is nothing—nothing is its only alternative. When the monism is idealistic, this all-enveloping fact is represented as an absolute mind that makes the partial facts by thinking them, just as we make objects in a dream by dreaming them, or personages in a story by imagining them. To be, on this scheme, is, on the part of a finite thing, to be an object for the absolute; and on the part of the absolute it is to be the thinker of that assemblage of objects. If we use the word 'content' here, we see that the absolute and the world have an identical content. The absolute is nothing but the knowledge of those objects; the objects are nothing but what the absolute knows. The world and the all-thinker thus compenetrate and soak each other up without residuum. They are but two names for the same identical material, considered now from the subjective, and now from the objective point of view—gedanke and gedachtes, as we would say if we were Germans. We philosophers naturally form part of the material, on the monistic scheme. The absolute makes us by thinking us, and if we ourselves are enlightened enough to be believers in the absolute, one may then say that our philosophizing is one of the ways in which the absolute is conscious of itself. This is the full pantheistic scheme, the identitätsphilosophie, the immanence of God in his creation, a conception sublime from its tremendous unity. And yet that unity is incomplete, as closer examination will show.
The absolute and the world are one fact, I said, when materially considered. Our philosophy, for example, is not numerically distinct from the absolute's own knowledge of itself, not a duplicate and copy of it, it is part of that very knowledge, is numerically identical with as much of it as our thought covers. The absolute just is our philosophy, along with everything else that is known, in an act of knowing which (to use the words of my gifted absolutist colleague Royce) forms in its wholeness one luminously transparent conscious moment.

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