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James on Truth and Solidarity: The Epistomology of Diversity and the Politics of Specificity José M. Medina 7. . . . . . Given William James’s thoroughgoing individualism, it may seem peculiar—even implausible—to use his philosophy to bring together the notion of truth and the notion of solidarity. James’s philosophy seems oriented toward the individual and her experiences, but not so much toward interpersonal relations. However, despite his recalcitrant and unqualified individualism, I want to argue that there is a strong social element in James’s philosophy. I see this impetus toward the interpersonal and social in his pluralism and relationalism. James’s radical pluralism is based on a theory of relationality according to which nothing can be understood in and by itself, but rather in relation to other things, in a network of relations. On this relational view, the identity of things is concocted in a network of interdependences; and to have a sense of self is to have a sense of the dependences that compose one’s life, for we can understand the identity of something only by grasping the fabric of relations in which that thing appears. It is essential to distinguish this relationalism from the holism that is often attributed to figures such as Ludwig Wittgenstein, Wilfrid Sellars, Nelson Goodman, and W. V. O. Quine. Whereas the Jamesian relationalism is based on open-ended networks of relations that are typically unfinished and indeterminate , the holism that circulates in contemporary philosophy of language requires finished and complete wholes (whether they are frameworks, webs of beliefs, or language-games). James’s relationalism is beyond the usual dichotomy between atomism and holism and actually undercuts it, for, without assigning priority to the component parts or to the whole, it prioritizes relations and calls attention to their formative and transformative character in shaping the relata. From a relational perspective, to understand the identity of something is to understand how that thing is related to many other things, but also how it can become entangled in many other potential relations. For it is not only the factual relations that are James on Truth and Solidarity • 125 already given that matter, but also those other potential relations that can unfold or be created. The identity of each thing is bound up with diversity, for each thing enters into constitutive relations with many other things and becomes entangled with a wild diversity of entities to which it is related in a network of interdependences. From this point of view, issues of identity have to be understood as issues of diversity : the others are essential to the self, for it is in networks of relations that individuals and groups are formed. Diversity is not a multicultural invention of postcolonial and globalized societies. On this view, diversity is the condition of denizens of this world and, therefore also, the human condition. We are diverse and heterogeneous beings who are shaped and reshaped through diverse and heterogeneous networks of interpersonal relations. James’s conception of the self underscores this deep sense of relationality and involvement with those around us. For James, the self is a bundle of relations: the self is formed in and through the relations in which it becomes involved; we negotiate our identity in these relations . As he puts it: “Every bit of us at every moment is part and parcel of a wider self, it quivers along various radii like the wind-rose on a compass, and the actual in it is continuously one with possibles not yet in our present sight” (APU, 1977). As McDermott has shown, despite James’s unflinching individualism and his explicit rejection of sociality as a constitutive aspect of the self, the Jamesian Promethean self is not a solitary self but a member of a community of experience and interpretation that cannot help but be enmeshed in social networks, for it is a relational unit that shrinks and grows as it relates to others.1 In James’s view truth is a value that regulates our normative engagements with others. Truth is therefore the source of solidarity, for it contributes to the sharing of experience and the coordination of action. When James defines truth as “whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief” (P, 42), he is referring not only to what we believe individually but also to what we believe together. For, as James puts it, “all human thinking gets discursified [ . . . ] by means of social intercourse” (P, 102); and in the “discursification” of our...


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