Consider John Patrick Higgin’s wonderfully exhaustive The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority,
We are now in a position to sum up the many difficulties in Dewey’s philosophy as they bear upon the problems of authority and modernism. Inasmuch as pragmatism aims at meeting human needs, it seems fair to ask what precisely pragmatism offers us. It does not give us objects of knowledge of truth, since truth has no antecedent existence but instead comes into being in the process of becoming known—and can in fact be transformed by that process. It does not give us accuracy of representation, modes of knowledge capable of grasping an independently reality against which we can check our thought, since knowledge of reality cannot be brought to bear upon the very operation of our own thoughts. It does not, even though it may claim to do so, give us a means of recognizing imperative moral obligations, since value judgments are arrived at only after we experience the good. It does not give us authoritative principles that can regulate human affairs, since human existence is characterized by the inexorable contingencies of experience. It does not give us truths that can compel the mind, since the mind itself is incapable of apprehending truths disclosed to the mind. It does not give us the basis of making present decisions, since all verifiable propositions can only refer to the future. It does not, in short, give us a criterion of judgment, since there is no authority to render it. Ultimately what pragmatism offers us, as Santayana noted, is benign message that it is better to pursue truth than to possess it, and to better regard as knowledge only those ideas that enable us to change things according to our desires, rather than to regard knowledge as a criterion of judgment that stands over and against our drives and desires (248).
In the passage above, the attack on pragmatism claims that there is no epistemic authority that transcends experience. When we claim there is no authority, we inherit two problems, which is essentially one problem of evaluation that occurs at two levels of experience: the individual and society. The first is what some might call the problem of subjectivism, which means privileging one’s desires in experience, and the second is what some might call the problem of relativism, which means privileging a group’s collective experience. I, however, will call this problem, the problem of evaluation. You’ll notice in the passage the species of the problem of evaluation: A) the first concerns our inability to know truth independently of a claim’s becoming-known, B) the second concerns our inability to know reality independently of how we experience it, and C) the third concerns our inability to make moral judgments, especially about presently exigent matters. All in all, the problem of evaluation is about our inability to form judgments about truth, reality, and morality.
First, let’s take note of a very pertinent passage from Essays in Radical Empiricism,
To be radical, an empiricism must neither admit into its constructions any element that is not directly experienced, nor exclude from them any element that is directly experienced…the relations that connect experiences must themselves be experienced relations, and any kind of relation experienced must be accounted as “real” as anything else in the system. Elements may indeed be redistributed, the original placing of things getting corrected, but a real place must be found for every kind of thing experienced, whether term or relation, in the final philosophic arrangement (22-23, Dover Edition of the Longman Green version).
In other words, like Dewey, to say that experience is always relational is to claim that judgments are made within the boundaries of experience. What Higgins fails to mention, and what a Deweyan will undboutedly respond to the same criticism (as I’ve seen this move made time and time again in private conversation) is the meta-reasons behind why a pragmatist holds to the experience-constraint of any judgment. We do so not out of any malice to thwart the objective narratives of other philosophers, but quite simply because that’s all that may be known. Beliefs, propositions, call them what you will, serve to help us experience the world. They cannot be known any other way.
While true, I do not think the previous claim helps very much, yet I do have a response I’d like to share here. In my reading, the Jamesian language of “terms, relations, and elements” is the general language of phenomenological givenness that occurs in the immediacy of what is “directly experienced.” I open up “elements” to the intuitive contents of Scheler’s remarks about phenomenology in the Formalism in Ethics that concern the flashes of insight that occur immediately and without mediation. In so doing, our inability to know, for instance, moral obligations and make value judgments are instances of a mischaracterization about pragmatism (more James than Dewey) since Scheler’s contribution to this problem explains how values manifest in experience as already ordered. In other words, it’s the content of that “flashing forth” of those intuitions that answers the problem of evaluation directly. Let me explain.
Scheler argues that values are intuited in experience with respect to each other. The immediate recognition of how these orderings underlie the comparison of value-rankings is called the “order of preferencing.” I think the German here (Vorziehen) might be confusing to a larger analytic audience that might regard the language of preferences as either desire-satisfaction conceptions of the good in consequentialism or a claim about Neo-Humean accounts of practical rationality. Moreover, preferences are not about choices or willing, but rather both choices and willing are types of intentional acts that presuppose the ordering preferencing acts as the phenomenological precondition for choosing and willing in the first place (One could easiliy recall the discussion of quasi-transcendental features of experience I alluded to a few weeks ago that might underlie James here, and maybe also is friendly to Sami Pihlström call for a Jamesian-Kantian synthesis in his efforts at reading James). Hence, choices and willing concern goods, not values since one must already “feel/know” what is valuable. Goods are those things that which appear and are felt-as-valuable, but are not identical to what values are. Here, preferring is a species of intentional acts in which the relative weight of values are given with respect to each other, and we can see this in our experience of what is valuable. In any situation, persons are faced with more than just what ought to be, but also the values of less than the optimal what ought to be, and all the way down to what ought not to be.
The first set of laws of preferncing concerns values given to the person, and the second level of laws of preferencing concerns the ordering to which occurs when we see how values are given to us in experience in their respective content.
- The existence of a positive value is itself a positive value.
- The non-existence of a positive value is itself a negative value.
- The existence of a negative value is itself a negative value.
- The non-existence of a negative value is itself a positive value.
Then, Scheler describes the second level in terms of how we intuitively feel about the content of one value experienced in relation to another value.
- Good is the value that is attached to the realization of a positive value in the sphere of willing.
- Evil is the value that is attached to the realization of a negative value in the sphere of willing.
- Good is the value that is attached to the realization of a higher (or the highest) value in the sphere of willing.
- Evil is the value that is attached to the realization of a lower (or the lowest) value in the sphere of willing.
By good, Scheler means that we’ll will that which agrees with what we ought to prefer, and this also embodies that good is understood in relative height against that which we should not ought to prefer. The lower value is “placed after” the higher one in that it is subordinated to that which is revealed as being higher.
A higher value is one that is indivisible, whole, and more enduring than values that are less whole, incomplete and less enduring. The pleasure to serve others ought to be felt more than playing video games, and it will always be as such. Scheler means they will always be absolutely given as such in terms of absolute time, not just ordinary time. In this way, the orderings are revealed in the very experience, or put more phenomenologically, persons can feel the truth of these rankings because of how ordering acts function since they are immediately value-perceived as such and only persons as outlined in 5-8 can realize values in the first place. Persons feel values. In other words, there is a phenomenological structure of these intuitions coming-to-be-feltness that acquires an order in the affective intentional structure of experience itself whereas Higgins maintains to the contrary that “to locate values in experience alone is a proposition riddled with difficulties” (246).
Now, let’s return to James. One might worry that I’ve added tiny fragments of intuitionism to James that might make any Jamesian nervous, and that’s the worry I hinted about earlier. The immediate objection is to say that those intuitions are not the same as elements in the passage above. Instead, phenomenological intuitions might be considered what James wrote about rationalism just two paragraphs after the earlier cited passage from the Essays in Radical Empiricism. Rationalists have all exerted effort to introduce “trans-experiential agents of unification, substances, intellectual categories, powers, or Selves…treated as true in a supernal way” (23).
And it’s here that I read Scheler in good company with James. First, Scheler’s affective intentionality is, I think, identical in spirit to James. Both certainly give us an metaphysics of feeling, and I’ve already made this connection in one paper, and I will not repeat it here, but there’s also another fact that I do want to discuss. For James, aspiring to the felt realities of “unseen orders” is our highest calling, and this is identical to Scheler’s placing values of the person in terms of the Holy. James makes this clear in the last section of “The Moral Philosopher and Moral Life” as well as at the end of The Varieties of Religious Experience. We also see in many places this connection between values and religion ignored in James scholarship when it’s clearly evident. For instance, Graham Bird completely ignores the last section of “The Moral Philosopher and Moral Life” in his entry on James’s moral philosophy in The Cambridge Companion to William James even though James makes it explicit that religion is necessary motivator and that the religions of humanity are insufficient to motivate people to reach beyond themselves and Talisse and Aikin all but ignore it in their writings concerning James. In this way, the case can be made that in James’s thought, there is a hierarchy of values ordered in the chaotic flux of experience. The Holy serves to open us up to the dignity of persons while respecting the many configurations these unseen orders might open up for human action. What’s relevant for our purposes here in this brief blog post is James’s attention to feeling’s connection to religious experience as the highest experience we can have, and the commensurability this suggests in James’s thought. If I am right about the importance of Holy feelings and value in James, then there’s an implicit commensurability – even despite his commitment to pluralism – revealed by the same relational intentionality in James’s radical empiricism that is compatible with the Schelerian moves I make in my own account. “Elements” can be the intuitive contents of the same affective intentional structure and we add nothing supernal by looking to rankings intuited in our own emotional acts.
Now the question is: Am I even right to begin with?