Topics Worth Investigating

  1. Can you identify any differences between James' description of the pragmatic theory of truth as represented in this reading with C. S. Peirce's oft-quoted statement of pragmatism? C. S. Peirce wrote:

    Consider what effects which might conceivably have practical bearings we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.[1]

  2. Discuss whether or not you think James would concur with Friedrich Nietzsche's famous statement on truth:

    Truth is the kind of error without which a certain species of life could not live. The value for life is ultimately decisive.[2]

  3. Compare Emerson's epistemological pragmatism as shown in the following quotation with James' characterization of the "absolutely" true as "that ideal vanishing-point towards which we imagine that all our temporary truths will some day converge":

    We live in a system of approximations. Every end is prospective of some other end, which is also temporary; a round and final success nowhere. We are encamped in nature, not domesticated.[3]

  4. James writes:

    I said just now that what is better for us to believe is true unless the belief incidentally clashes with some other vital benefit. … In other words, the greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths.

    Discuss whether this concession to the coherence theory of truth requires that pragmatism is merely the free play inherent in the practical, circumstantial application of the coherence theory of truth.



Charles Sanders Peirce. "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" in Philosophical Writings of Peirce. Ed. J. Buchler. New York: Dover, 1955.


Friedrich Nietzsche. The Will to Power (1885). Trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale. Ed. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Random House, 1967.


Ralph Waldo Emerson. "Nature" in Essays: Second Series Boston: James Munroe and Co., 1844.