Thursday 21 March 2013

My innate pragmatism and pluralism twangs-back...


Before I became a Christian I was a philosophical follower of William James (via Robert Pirsig) - thus a pragmatist and pluralist.

When I became a Christian, for whatever reason, I jettisoned this and tried to adopt a Classical Greek approach - first Aristotle/ Aquinas linked with Western Catholicism, then Platonism linked with Eastern Orthodoxy.

The advantage of Platonism, for me here and now, was that the future held the prospect a condition I envisaged as a blissful eternal stasis: as I imaigined it, like an infinitely prolonged moment of aesthetic, loving and philosophical contemplation.

Indeed I regard Platonism as essentially contemplative and other worldly, such that THE problem is finding reasons ever to do anything or to delay death and put-off the euphoria which awaits on the other side.


Yet, after a period of increasing tension my innate disposition has reasserted itself but this time within the Christian world view; and I have thus twanged-back to William James and his pragmatic/ pluralist vision of the nature of life - especially as described by some aspects of Mormon theology.

(The link of philosophy, interest and sympathy between James and Mormonism is seemingly well known and has been documented among LDS intellectuals for more than a century, but I became aware of it only recently.)


Unless one regards philosophy as more fundamental than Christianity - which sounds like an absurd belief for a Christian yet is clearly very common - then there is nothing whatsoever that is paradoxical or self-contradictory about being a pluralist Christian.

(Indeed, a degree of pluralism is, as James, points-out, intrinsic to all monotheisms in dividing creator from created - but of course Trinitarian Christianity takes this further, and some 'catholic' types of Christianity take it far indeed.)

Monism (as found in Classical theism) is not 'more Christian' in essence, nor indeed necessarily in practice than pluralism; even if it has been much commoner among Christian intellectuals.

At any rate, it is an aspect of the Jamesian perspective that more formal systems are driven by inexplicit feelings of one sort or another - which is why philosophy (and theology) has been so often/ most usually a divider rather than a uniter in human affairs.

(Contrary to theory, religion based on philosophy is frequently no more able to attain consensus than is a religion based on revelation or mysticism - since philosophical discourse is driven by prior feelings and convictions, it leads to schism as quickly and reliably as does personal conviction.) 


However, one big disadvantage of the pragmatist pluralist way of understanding Christianity is that the prospect is exhausting compared with that hope for permanent contemplative bliss to which I referred above.

As a naturally tender-minded and asthenic personality prone to acedia, I naturally looked forward to permanent relief from the recurrent business of living - yet to the pragmatist, the afterlife is 'more of the same forever' with respect to effort, striving, learning, and developing and dealing with the triumphs and tragedies of existence...

I can only hope and presume that the resurrection body brings with it much greater dose of health, energy, motivation and resolution than I am used-to here in mortal life!

Then I might be more enthusiastic about the propect of endless delightful (yet also painful) labour, rather than euphoric eternal rest.



dearieme said...

If memory serves, "Twang" was thought by critics to be the worst musical ever mounted on the West End.

George Goerlich said...

This pragmatist approach would mesh well with pre-Christian conceptions of Valhalla (which Christianity came to complete/fulfill?).

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - Perhaps that counts as a kind of synchronicity...

The word always brings to mind a bizarrely lame 'joke' I read scrawled into a library book at school - concerning a teacher nicknamed 'Rubberneck'.

Someone had filled in a specimen copy of a form under the name Rubber 'Twang' Neck, plus some other facetious responses like 'Sex: Never' and so on...

I would never have supposed that I would remember this while forgetting - for example - all of the hundreds of form registration periods except one, and every single homework I did except two.

Sam Charles Norton said...

Can't believe you're also a Pirsig fan...that's a bit uncanny. I haven't found any references to Wittgenstein in your writings (also influenced heavily by James) - any chance of a pointer if you have? You might find this of interest, if you have any residual interest in Pirsig: A quotation to whet your appetite: "As more research has been done directly on the Christian mystical tradition, it has become more and more clear that not only are the Christian mystics themselves not interested in their own 'experiences' (understood as private, ineffable, noetic etc.), but that their precise arguments are to undermine and critique the emphasis upon such exotic experiences, as a snare and spiritual delusion, leading to the vices of self-absorption and Titanism"

Bruce Charlton said...

@SCN - If you search this blog using the box on the upper left side, you can find my earlier postings on Pirsig and Wittgenstein.

The Crow said...

This eternal contemplative bliss you mention is nothing of the sort.
No body, no mind, but no separation from the eternal unfolding of creation: there is no context for anything a physical human might imagine.
Becoming God is the closest description, probably. God has no problem with such a state, and becoming God would necessarily resolve your problem too.
You will not survive. As in your identity. Yet your essence will; indeed it has no choice, given a calm willingness to undergo this metamorphosis.
Contemplation and bliss are for earthly humans. Being creation, itself, there is nothing to contemplate. There is nothing but 'It Is'.

SonofMoses said...

Dear Bruce,
As a longterm observer and student of life, I have come to the conclusion that any position taken in contradistinction to any other position is likely to be partial and therefore should arouse our suspicions. The truth, or at least the practical truth, since the absolute truth could never be stated or thought, would usually lie at some point between or encompassing the two extremes.
Such being the case, to be true to the real situation, one cannot afford to rest in one’s preferred polarity but has to remain open, flexible and vigilant, willing to carefully negotiate an ever-changing reality, and choosing one’s responses from the range of available possibilities, without being tied down to any previously determined allegiance.
Another way of putting this is that there is a measure of truth in every position, and to anchor oneself to any single polarity is to miss out on the truth in all other polarities. We deceive ourselves, anyway, if we think truth can be confined. It is the unencompassable whole beyond all the limited parts.
Taking a fixed position blocks the flow of nature and must inevitably cause problems for one and all.