"[T]he true is only the expedient in the way of our thinking, just as the right is only the expedient in the way of our thinking."
-- William James
(Featured image sourced from Famous Psychologists)
William James' Biography
William James was an original thinker in and between the disciplines of physiology, psychology and philosophy. His twelve-hundred page masterwork, The Principles of Psychology (1890), is a rich blend of physiology, psychology, philosophy, and personal reflection that has given us such ideas as “the stream of thought” and the baby's impression of the world “as one great blooming, buzzing confusion” (PP 462). It contains seeds of pragmatism and phenomenology, and influenced generations of thinkers in Europe and America, including Edmund Husserl, Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. James studied at Harvard's Lawrence Scientific School and the School of Medicine, but his writings were from the outset as much philosophical as scientific. “Some Remarks on Spencer's Notion of Mind as Correspondence” (1878) and “The Sentiment of Rationality” (1879, 1882) presage his future pragmatism and pluralism, and contain the first statements of his view that philosophical theories are reflections of a philosopher's temperament.
James hints at his religious concerns in his earliest essays and in The Principles, but they become more explicit in The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897), Human Immortality: Two Supposed Objections to the Doctrine (1898), The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) and A Pluralistic Universe (1909). James oscillated between thinking that a “study in human nature” such as Varieties could contribute to a “Science of Religion” and the belief that religious experience involves an altogether supernatural domain, somehow inaccessible to science but accessible to the individual human subject.
James made some of his most important philosophical contributions in the last decade of his life. In a burst of writing in 1904–5 (collected in Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912)) he set out the metaphysical view most commonly known as “neutral monism,” according to which there is one fundamental “stuff” that is neither material nor mental. In “A Pluralistic Universe” he defends the mystical and anti-pragmatic view that concepts distort rather than reveal reality, and in his influential Pragmatism (1907), he presents systematically a set of views about truth, knowledge, reality, religion, and philosophy that permeate his writings from the late 1870s onwards.
(Biography sourced from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
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"Thinking is an experimental dealing with small quantities of energy, just as a general moves miniature figures over a map before setting his troops in action."
-- Sigmund Freud
(Featured image sourced from news.com.au.)
Sigmund Freud's Biography
Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, was a physiologist, medical doctor, psychologist and influential thinker of the early twentieth century. Working initially in close collaboration with Joseph Breuer, Freud elaborated the theory that the mind is a complex energy-system, the structural investigation of which is the proper province of psychology. He articulated and refined the concepts of the unconscious, infantile sexuality and repression, and he proposed a tripartite account of the mind’s structure—all as part of a radically new conceptual and therapeutic frame of reference for the understanding of human psychological development and the treatment of abnormal mental conditions. Notwithstanding the multiple manifestations of psychoanalysis as it exists today, it can in almost all fundamental respects be traced directly back to Freud’s original work.
Freud’s innovative treatment of human actions, dreams, and indeed of cultural artifacts as invariably possessing implicit symbolic significance has proven to be extraordinarily fruitful, and has had massive implications for a wide variety of fields including psychology, anthropology, semiotics, and artistic creativity and appreciation. However, Freud’s most important and frequently re-iterated claim, that with psychoanalysis he had invented a successful science of the mind, remains the subject of much critical debate and controversy.
(Biography sourced from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.)
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On a recent trip to the Hannah Arendt Collection housed in Bard College's Stevenson Library, we came across this copy of Springfellow Barr's The Will of Zeus: A History of Greece from the Origins of the Hellenic Culture to the Death of Alexander:
Hannah Arendt made several annotations to her copy of this book. For example, on pages 154 and 155, she placed vertical lines adjacent to four passages, one of which includes some underlining.
- Among many other things, the Oedipus recalled Solon's commandment, "Know thyself." It suggested strongly that this commandment was hardest to obey for those who wielded power, since power tended to blind.
- It was in the context of Aeschylus's tragic vision of the will of Zeus and the will of other gods fulfilling itself through the free choices of men;....
- Like Solon, he [Pericles] was a man of both thought and action, and this at a moment in Athenian history when war and violence more and more threatened the marriage of thought and action.
- He [Pericles] was learned in mathematics and medicine; he speculated in natural philosophy; and he taught the doctrine that neither air, nor fire, nor earth, nor water had originated our universe but that this universe had been made out of such elements by Nous--that is, by mind, intellect.
It should be noted that the underlinings in the fourth passage are Arendt's. Additionally, adjacent to the vertical line she made signifying this passage's importance is placed a question mark.
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“The forceps of our minds are clumsy things and crush the truth a little in the course of taking hold of it.”
— H. G. Wells
(Featured Image Source: WIRED)
H. G. Wells' Biography
H. G. Wells was born in Bromley, Kent, England, on Sept. 21, 1866. His father was a shopkeeper in a small way and a professional cricketer; his mother served from time to time as housekeeper at the nearby estate of Uppark ("Bladesover" in Tono-Bungay). Though Wells attended Morley's School in Bromley, his real education came from omnivorous reading, a habit formed in 1874 while he was laid up for some months with a broken leg. Between 1880 and 1883 he spent most of his time as a draper's apprentice in Windsor and Southsea, a way of life for which he later recorded his profound detestation in Kipps. After a year as a teacher in a private school, he won a scholarship to the Normal School of Science in South Kensington in 1884. There he made a promising start as a student under Thomas Henry Huxley, but his interest faltered in the following year, and he left without a degree in 1887. He then taught in private schools for four years, not taking his B.S. degree until 1890.
The year 1891 saw Wells established in London, teaching in a correspondence college, married to his cousin Isabel, and the author of a remarkable article on "The Rediscovery of the Unique" in the Fortnightly Review. After much writing on educational subjects, he began his sensational literary career with The Time Machine in 1895. Meanwhile, he had given up teaching and had left Isabel for one of his brightest students, Amy Catherine ("Jane") Robbins, whom he married in 1895. There followed a series of scientific romances (most notably The Island of Dr. Moreau, 1896; The Invisible Man, 1897; The War of the Worlds, 1898; The First Men in the Moon, 1901; and The War in the Air, 1908), which form the most familiar part of his work to modern readers. But he grew dissatisfied with the limitations imposed by this kind of writing, and in 1900 he moved into the novel proper with Love and Mr. Lewisham, a story of his student days at South Kensington. On this and particularly on Kipps (1905), Tono-Bungay (1909), and The History of Mr. Polly (1910), his serious literary reputation primarily depends.
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“Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”
— Albert Einstein
(Featured Image: PBS.org)
Albert Einstein's Biography
Born in Ulm, Württemberg, Germany in 1879, Albert Einstein developed the special and general theories of relativity, which among other things introduced "spacetime," or the concept that space and time should be considered together. In 1921, he won the Nobel Prize for physics for his explanation of the photoelectric effect. Einstein is generally considered the most influential physicist of the 20th century. He died on April 18, 1955, in Princeton, New Jersey.
(Sourced from Biography.com)
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“It is well for people who think, to change their minds occasionally in order to keep them clean.”
— Luther Burbank
(Featured Image: Luther Burbank; Source: Britannica)
Luther Burbank's Biography
Luther Burbank, an American botanist, horticulturalist, and pioneer in agricultural science, purchased a 17-acre tract and began a 55-year plant-breeding career that almost immediately saw the development of the Burbank potato. Selling the rights to the potato, he settled in California, where he established a nursery garden, greenhouse and experimental farms that were to become famous throughout the world and developed more than 800 new strains and varieties of plants.
(Sourced from Biography.com)
On a recent trip to the Hannah Arendt Library at Bard College, we came across this book: The Basic Writings of Saint Augustine.
As one can see from the following images, Arendt spent some time adding marginalia to this particular selection of Augustine's Confessions, Book XI: page 202. At left, we see Arendt react to Chapter 29 with the following comment: "Distinction! because time is distinctive."
Below, we see that Arendt has annotated two passages. The first, marked by a single vertical line and an "X," reads: "'What did God make before He made heaven and earth?' Or, 'How came it into His mind to make anything when He never before made anything?'"
The second section, distinguished by two "X's" and an underline, proceeds as follows: "Let them therefore see that there could be no time without a created being."
Saint Augustine played an important part in Arendt's intellectual development. After all, she spent the greater part of her career writing and re-writing her dissertation on Augustine's conception of love. You can read more about Arendt's dissertation here.
By Johannes Lang
“Whatever the passions and the emotions may be, and whatever their true connection with thought and reason, they certainly are located in the human heart. And not only is the human heart a place of darkness which, with certainty, no human eye can penetrate; the qualities of the heart need darkness and protection against the light of the public to grow and to remain what they are meant to be, innermost motives which are not for public display.”
–Hannah Arendt, On Revolution (1963)
Since September 11, 2001, historians and social scientists have rediscovered the political relevance of emotion. In the current climate of war and terror, public discussion is suffused with references to fear, hatred, and patriotism. But what are the moral and political consequences when such passions enter the public sphere? One of the most famous political thinkers of the twentieth century, Hannah Arendt, worried about the entry of emotion into politics. She scolded the French revolutionaries for having been carried away by their compassion for the poor and praised the American Founding Fathers for their aloof commitment to universal ideals and for their detached attitude to the suffering masses. Emotions may be important as subjective motives for individual action, Arendt granted, but they should neither be aired in public nor be made the basis for collective action. Emotions disfigure politics; political movements should be based on rational argument, not passion. Yet, as Volker Heins has pointed out, there was one thing Arendt feared more than the intrusion of emotions into politics: a politics completely devoid of emotion. The “ice-cold reasoning” and bureaucratic rationality she discerned behind the Holocaust was infinitely more terrifying than any other political pathology known to man. Arendt’s deep ambivalence toward emotions confronts us with a fundamental question: What is the proper place of emotion in politics?
“Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking...."
-- Leo Tolstoy
(Featured Image: Leo Tolstoy; Source: The Huffington Post)
“There are few persons who have not, at some period of their lives, amused themselves in retracing the steps by which particular conclusions of their own minds have been attained. The occupation is often full of interest and he who attempts it for the first time is astonished by the apparently illimitable distance and incoherence between the starting-point and the goal.”
-- Edgar Allan Poe, The Murders in the Rue Morgue
(Featured Image: Edgar Allan Poe; Source: Eccentric Realist)
“The common element connecting art and politics is that they are both phenomena of the public world. What mediates the conflict between the artist and the man of action is the cultura animi, that is, a mind so trained and cultivated that it can be trusted to tend and take care of the world of appearances whose criterion is beauty.”
“The Crisis in Culture,” in Between Past and Future (1993 ) 218-219
The survival of culture is not assured. In her exploration of culture and crisis, Hannah Arendt distinguishes between objects that are produced for use and those that are produced as art in order to endure. Consumptive life is a part of leisure, a “necessity” of life, whereas art, as Arendt often discusses, partakes in the humanistic task of cultivating a world that doesn’t collapse all distinctions – among people, among realms of experiences, among spaces of collective encounter, and among the ways in which we see violence whether in the hands of fellow human beings or state authorities. This note about violence is not a theme in Arendt’s “The Crisis in Culture.” But it very well could be, and as I’ll assert here, it should be. This is part of our “crisis of culture,” after all, a dilemma for which art may offer some chance of cultivating a humanistic sensibility that is much needed in light of persistent violence within liberal democratic republics today.
"Questions show the mind's range, and answers its subtlety."
-- Joseph Joubert, a French essayist and moralist
(Featured Image: Joseph Joubert; Source: Aphorism4All)