In two previous posts, I have hinted at the thesis of this section, here and here. One reason initially to unite process-language and offer some rudimentary thoughts about truth is that the same tension in James’s inarticulate answer to what verification processes are in Pragmatism is everywhere in his Meaning of Truth as it is in Perry’s assembled Essays in Radical Empiricism. In this section, I will attempt to map out that relation.
Initially, someone may historically object to reading the doctrine of radical empiricism back into Pragmatism to arrive at a clearer conception of what James meant by truth. Within Pragmatism, James had urged his readers to separate out radical empiricism from his pragmatism. Let’s call this the disconnect thesis.
To avoid one misunderstanding at least, let me say that there is no logical connection between pragmatism, as I understand it, and a doctrine which I have recently set forth as ‘radical empiricism.’ The latter stands on its own feet. One may entirely reject it and still be a pragmatist.
Two years later in 1909, James inextricably links pragmatism to radical empiricism. In The Meaning of Truth, radical empiricism is first a postulate, a statement of fact, and a generalized conclusion. Let me reproduce this lengthy passage below. It is the most important passage to delineate what James had in mind in the final view of his metaphysics:
The postulate is that the only things that shall be debatable among philosophers shall be things definable in terms draw from experience.
The statement of fact is that the relations between things, conjunctive, as well as disjunctive, are just as much matters of direct particular experience, neither more so nor less than the things themselves.
The generalized conclusion is that therefore the parts of experience hold together from next to next by relations that are themselves parts of experience. The directly apprehended universe needs, in short, no extraneous transempirical connective support, but possesses in itso won right a concatenated or continuous structure.
Why the tension in James? Why did James temporarily abandon teasing out his views when talking about pragmatism to this particular audience and then embrace once again what he what he suspended in Pragmatism? Assembled by Ralph Barton Perry, James’s Essays in Radical Empiricism come from works written between 1904-1906 while simultaneously working out and eventually publishing his Pragmatism in 1907. Seemingly, James intended that radical empiricism be connected to his pragmatism in the final view. By the time we get to the publication of The Meaning of Truth (1909) and A Pluralistic Universe (1909), James develops his metaphysics of experience at the very tail end of his life after thinking through radical empiricist theme even well before Pragmatism in the mid-1890s when he mentions radical empiricism in the Introduction of Will to Believe and Other Popular Essays in Philosophy (1897).
Second, the historical literature does not extricate pragmatism from James’s radical empiricism. In the original Longman and Green version of Essays in Radical Empiricism, Ralph Barton Perry noted that the statement of radical empiricism as a postulate indicates that pragmatism and radical empiricism “come to the same thing” and are closely allied. John McDermott states in the Introduction to Essays in Radical Empiricism in the Harvard edition, “I would submit my own opinion that acceptance of a radically empirical doctrine of relations is necessary if the pragmatic method is to prevail.” David Lamberth states the pragmatic principle “fits hand in glove with the view advanced in in his radical empiricism.” Charlene Haddock Seigfried agrees and readily applies James’s “pragmatic method as an aspect of his radical empiricism” since “radical empiricism includes both the pragmatic method and the principle of pure experience.” All in all, radical empiricism is the glue that held together, even when James presented his own doctrine of pragmatism. The best inference is that he never abandons radical empiricism, but rather wanted to try and defend pragmatism on its own grounds in Pragmatism without reference to it. In doing so, Pragmatism breaks down, often employing metaphors of process and experience that he never abandons in radical empiricism and ultimately remain unclear when Pragmatism concerns truth. This is why James, I feel, rearticulates the language of radical empiricism back into The Meaning of Truth which he admits is the natural sequel Pragmatism.
Finally, let me reproduce the central passage that ultimately connects truth to which has motivated the thesis regarding this paper:
…let the word ‘truth’ represent a property of the idea, cease to make it something mysteriously connected with the object known, and the path opens far and wide, as I believe, to the discussion of radical empiricism on its merits. The truth of an idea will then mean only its workings, or that in its which by ordinary psychological laws set up those workings; it will mean neither the ideas objects, nor anything salutatory inside the idea, that terms drawn from experience cannot describe.
In the above passage, truth is property of an idea in that property is not understood here as in the age-old way that properties are understood as predicates describing some state of affairs that fix upon some state of affairs independently of both context and the direct experience of the phenomenon in question. Instead, the truth is found in a relation, and only a relation of a particular fact of experience will suffice. More than that, the relation explains how it is that the idea is interpretable and true. The truth does not come from the intelligibility supplied by the idea itself as one might claim under the general heading of rationalism or some type of idealism. In his A Pluralistic Universe, James’s delimits reality to where truth can occur. On this James wrote, “reality [is] where things happen, all temporal reality without exception.” He continues, “I myself find no good warrant for even suspecting the existence of any reality of higher denomination than that distributed and strung-along and flowing sort of reality which we finite beings swim in.” Instead, an idea is synonymous with belief. Beliefs occur only in the relational processes that James attempted to describe in his Pragmatism in the boundaries of the conceivable effect of experience itself. These processes are bound by all versions in which radical empiricism is introduced in James’s writings. The real question that faces us is thus: What are experience and felt relations which radical empiricism consists?
In his “Does Consciousness Exist,” James italicizes his definition of experience. Experience “is a member of diverse processes that can be followed away from it along entirely different lines.” The heart of his conception is a functionally neutral conception. James will deny there is anything like a pure consciousness posited by Kant, but instead insist that consciousness is only functional. Consciousness is thought and content in function only. First, one could follow it to the thought-object, the idea one finds in the examples of rationality in such thinkers as Descartes or the Absolute spirit of Hegel, or one could see not just the thought content, but the actual sensory object in the world that may have given rise to the idea also. For this reason we can say that in the Essays in Radical Empiricism James is wedging his radical empiricism as a philosophy between two extremes. On the one hand, there is the rationalism, and on the other hand, there is the British empiricism that posits a full discontinuity of radically separate and atomic sensations. He introduces his most fully fleshed out conception in “A World of Pure Experience,”
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. For such a philosophy, the relations that connect experiences must themselves be experienced relations, and any kind of relation experienced must be accounted as “real” as anything in the system.
Radical empiricism is, therefore, introduced as a way to critique our access to a constantly changing reality that we experience through our experiential capacities but also at the same time we do not have access to a static reality as the rationalists have posited since Plato. Instead, we experience relations. This cuts all the way down for James. The diverse processes of experience become “a process in time, whereby innumerable particulars lapse and are superseded by others that follow upon them in transitions, which whether disjunctive or conjunctive in content.”
We can denounce any metaphysical fiction like the transcendental apperception of Kant. “That entity is fictitious, while thoughts in the concrete are fully real. But thoughts in the concrete are made of the same stuff as things are.” Overcoming the difference between thought and thing is a crucial point of attempting to forge ahead with a functional and neutral conception of experience—very similar to the neutrality claims offered by Husserl in describing the intentional relation as the goal of phenomenological analyses and what Whitehead resisted in what he called the “bifurcation of nature.” There is no gap between thought and thing if we are neutral monists about the primal stuff of thought and thing.
To say that experience consists of relations in time, however, invites what most people find skeptical about James’s theory of truth. Doesn’t the fact that we experience only relations bring too much of the “trail of the human serpent” into the beliefs we construct? Not necessarily. Given that all we can know is what is directly experienced and that these experiences contain the basic units of felt relations indicates that the human experience is one of coordination and action, even with the most universal or abstract ideas. They are cut out of the streaming flow of experience. The beliefs we form are “most true which most successfully dip back into the finite stream of feeling and grow most easily confluent…they lead us, successfully or unsuccessfully, back into sensible experience again.” In this way, beliefs are tested as true and false from which they came and return within the limits of experience itself. James is always returning to sensible experience as the termini of meaning, but he is also never leaving the field of immediate flux.
In this field of immediate flux, we encounter particular thats and whats. We do not deduce or apprehend entire abstracta. Instead, all beliefs and ideas come because they arise out of the need within human life in the field of our attention. When it looks as if the concepts point to some immutable and permanent aspect of reality, the concepts are at this point a reification, a distortion. In A Pluralistic Universe, James says far from “being interpreters of reality concepts negate the inwardness of reality altogether.” What happens is that the concepts make it look as if no relation is experienced, and the first-person perspective is all but lost when conceptual reification occurs. Out of these relations, there are only two varieties. “Far back as we go, the flux, both as a whole and in its parts is that of things conjunct [conjunctive relations] and separated [disjunctive relations].” The most specific place James describes conjunctive relations is in his “A World of Pure Experience.”
Conjunctive relations are the manner in which we can add to the quality of our own experience. In listing the types, James seems to think there are gradations of intimacy that make up what conjunctive relations can be. The possible types of conjunctive relations are listed in the most external and lacking intimacy to the most intimate. These species of possible conjunctive relations might fall under the head: self-to-object relations. First, we can be with another. This is the most basic and external relation possible. Second, we can experience time-intervals and simultaneity. Third, James lists space-adjacency. Then, there are relations of activity; these seem to involve tying terms of relation to change, tendency, resistance, and causal order more generally. These are the external elements of experiencing our own cognition in relation to objects in time. The final relations are experienced terms in relation to states of mind. These self-to-self relations consist of “systems of memories, purposes, strivings, fulfillments or disappointments” and “they suffuse each other’s being.” Let me repeat them into the list below for greater clarity. Each of the following relations may express a truthful relation.
Self-to-object relations (1-4)
(1) Relations of withness entailing all external relations
(2) Relations of simultaneity and time-intervals
(3) Relations of spatiality
(4) Relations of activity: change, tendency, resistance, and causation
(5) Self-to-self Relations: all modes of conscious acts including memories, purposes, strivings, fulfillments, disappointments. All of these may co-penetrate with each other.
Disjunctive relations seem to consist of that which breaks up the conjunctive relationship in the previous list. When I turn my attention from one object to another. That is, when I am paying attention to my experience of say a painting, and you turn me away to ask where in Chicago we may be eating. You turn my attention to another field of concern. As James put it, “Taken as it does appear, our universe is to a large extent chaotic. No one single type of connection runs through all the experiences that compose it.” Paintings and concerns about where we will be eating are finite strands of connection. The moments that break up the unity of our field of attention are as equally respected as the episodic character of unities of connections. Some parts of the cosmos hang together while others parts remain separate and have no overall relation.
Moreover, the particular that and whats acquire significance in my field of attention—what James will eventually call percepts. They stand out against a background that my field of attention selects as interesting. “Each partial process, to him who lives through it, defines itself by its origin and goal.” When we notice a percept, when something catches our eye, and when we experience the activity of meaning-making “in this actual world of ours, as it is given, a part of that activity comes with a definite direction; it comes with a desire and a sense of goal.” There’s no real story about why we find some aspects of the immediate flux more significant than other aspects that grip my attention apart from the customs and habits that may underlie my community. Instead, James offers us only that it is phenomenologically given with such a background relief of felt relations. We can speculate that there can be more pragmatic benefit that some aspects enter my selective interest and the more advantageous to future action, the more common these habits will be (such as the belief in a type of logic or mathematics).
Within The Meaning of Truth, we get a better description of the affective intentionality and cognitivism inherent in “The Function of Cognition” James’s account than what we get in the Essays in Radical Empiricism. In that essay, James explains that idea = feeling, and if our beliefs can be used with ideas interchangeably than our first encounter with the world in the act and object felt relationship consists of affectivity more generally. Affectivity enables the precondition for selective interest. For this pre-reflective affectivity, “some feelings are cognitive and some are simple facts having a subjective or…physical existence.” The very meaning and content of feeling is its quality and accordingly the quality we feel is the feeling that concerns our existence. Put more directly, “not only that feeling is cognitive, but that all qualities of feeling so long as there is anything outside of them which they resemble, are feelings of qualities of existence, and perceptions of outward fact.” In this way, James’s affective intentionality resembles Heidegger’s affective attunement (Befindlichkeit) or Scheler’s intentional feeling. The buzzing and booming confusion of our infant minds immediately relates through a feeling that takes its cue and conditions the attentive field to what it regards—later on James will call this our teleological mind. Moreover, James’s term “pure experience” in his Essays in Radical Empiricism is, as he reminds us, “but another name for feeling or sensation,” and from this “immediate flux of life” – or feeling so understood – that “furnishes the material to our late reflection with its conceptual categories.” From the felt relations of our percepts, we develop concepts; it’s never the other way around.
Concepts never come without the affective background from which the existential a priori feeling and interests illuminate in our percepts. What’s more, these are the very mechanisms that illustrate his critique of vicious intellectualism, rationalism, and Hegelian idealistic monisms—these varying philosophical positions all have one thing in common. They substitute a concept for the concrete particular that and whats we relate towards. In substituting a concept, they convince us of speculative coherent systems, leading us away from the concrete world and imagining/positing an access to a rational reality we have no access save the conceivable effects such beliefs generate. One could object that don’t we find triangles and mathematical truths to be an example of the eternal. James answers that these beliefs about triangles and genera are our own choice “to keep them invariant.” We can decree that no other idea we make will have an altering effect. These invariant concepts are our own constructions, produced for the usefulness they lead to. By returning to concrete experience, we know all things by direct acquaintance and then abstract from that flux to form concepts.
We form concepts, in part, because we found out that not only do we experience concrete particulars, but we encounter James’s notion of truth in resistance to idealistic monism of F. H. Bradley in both The Meaning of Truth and the Essays in Radical Empiricism. Since Bradley admits that our intellect is practical, James insists that “immediate experience has to be broken into subjects and qualities, terms and relations to be understood as truth at all.” Truths have to be workable, broken down into manageable chunks. In The Meaning of Truth, truth is seen as a working out our ideas. Given that truth is not a question of accessing the really-real, then, true beliefs are not a matter of copying reality or reaching a point of access we do not possess. Rather, truth is described in exactly the same way that radical empiricism describes conjunctive relations. “Truth we conceive to mean everywhere, not duplication, but addition; not constructing inner copies of already completed realities, but rather the collaborating with realities so as to bring about a clearer result.” In this way, the realities we feel to exist are a matter of adjustment and experiment, and only after going through James’s radical empiricism can we even see that the emphasis of additive reality clearly linking radical empiricism and his notion of truth.
What’s more, this sense of additive reality is everywhere in discussions of truth. For instance, some aspects of reality are generated by the “accumulation of our own intellectual inventions, and the struggle for truth in our progressive dealings with it is always a struggle to work in new nouns and adjectives while altering as little as possible the old.” Notice, James does not think this is exhaustive of all types of knowledge, but in the sense that our subjectivity contributes to the meaning and sense of how we take reality to be and the progressive dealings in the practical aims and habits fostered by truth itself. Truth becomes and is made because of this additive aspect of meaning-making. For this reason, truth is a progressive and additive notion. This is what James Campbell describes as the contributing case of truth.
By contrast, James also accepts the scientific and objective status of mind-independent facts. While his critics may constantly regard James’s notion of truth as he describes notions of values and faith, James’s notion of truth is not just in terms of his contributive cases. Instead, James also accepts what Campbell describes as recording cases of truth. These are cases where we do accept “that reality is ‘independent’ means there is something in every experience that escapes our arbitrary control. If it be a sensible experience, it coerces our attention; if a sequence, we cannot invert it; if we compare two terms we can come to only one result.” Mt. Everest is only so high, and there are only a few tested paths to the summit. Even if our will is strong, an impending storm may block our ascent. If lava has burnt through the road and cut us off from driving on the road, then we cannot cross its path without putting ourselves in danger. These facts escape our arbitrary control. For this reason, “we submit to them, take account of them, whether we like it or not.” We respond to the reality of the present and these truthful facts constitute not only our responses but how others also regard recording cases and contributing cases. In James’s “Humanism of Truth,” then, truth means “a relation of less fixed parts of experience to other relatively more fixed parts,” and truth as this event means nothing more than “a relation of experience as such to anything beyond itself.” By confusing recording cases for contributing cases, James’s critics fail much like how he himself described his contemporary critics thinking that truth and experience function like a “rudderless raft of our experience” drifting “everywhere and nowhere.”
 James, Pragmatism, 6.
 James, Meaning of Truth,  173. Italics in this citation are mine.
 Ralph Barton Perry, Preface to Essays in Radical Empiricism (New York: Longmans and Green, 1912), vi. Perry also outlines the necessity for following that James’s theory of truth relies upon a theory of relations.
 John McDermott, “Introduction” in The Collected Works of William James: Essays in Radical Empiricism (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1976), xxxvii. McDermott posits the contours of James’s doctrine of felt relations stemming back to James’s 1884 “On Some Omissions of Introspective Psychology” (Mind 9 [January 1886], 1-26). I also identified this by comparing James’s felt relationship of bodily states in the James–Lange hypothesis as a way to reintegrate the lived-body in Scheler’s phenomenology which seemed to all but separate religious feelings of absolute dignity from the lived-body in his value-rankings whereas by contrast in James these felt relations unfold in the ongoing dynamics of experience in my “The Jamesian Appeal of Scheler’s Felt Metaphysics” in Comparative and Continental Philosophy vol. 7 (May 2015): 29-43. For this reason, I have found a common spirit in engaging James with his work. Sadly, I never met him before he died, and now I read phenomenology not as a metaphysics of the subject, but as a way to describe the process of felt relations that has come to characterize a more accurate epistemic and metaphysical picture of the human condition.
 David Lamberth, William James and the Metaphysics of Pure Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 50.
 Charlene Haddock Seigfried, William James’s Radical Reconstruction of Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990), 322.
 Seigfried, William James’s Radical Reconstruction of Philosophy, 318.
 James, The Meaning of Truth,  174.
 William James, A Pluralistic Universe (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1996) 213.
 James, A Pluralistic Universe, 213.
 William James, Essays in Radical Empiricism ed. Ralph Barton Perry (New York: Longman and Green, 1912), 7.
 James, ERE, 2.
 James, ERE, 5.
 James, ERE, 23.
 James, ERE, 22-23.
 James, ERE, 33.
 James, ERE, 20.
 James, ERE, 52.
 James, ERE, 39.
 James, A Pluralistic Universe, 246.
 James, ERE, 49.
 Those Peirce scholars who see more objectivity in truth possible with Pierce’s system of ideas generally ignore the phenomenological presence of the self in all possible relations they would extricate and reify as objective truth.
 James, ERE, 24.
 Given all of these relations, James seems more appropriately a proto-phenomenologist.
 James, ERE, 24.
 James, ERE, 90.
 James, ERE, 85.
 James, The Meaning of Truth,  180.
 James, The Meaning of Truth,  186.
 James, ERE, 49.
 James, The Meaning of Truth,  218.
 James, ERE, 51.
 James, The Meaning of Truth,  207.
 James, The Meaning of Truth,  209.
 James, The Meaning of Truth,  211.
 James, The Meaning of Truth,  212.
 James, The Meaning of Truth,  212.