H. Social Epistemology, Pragmatism & Virtue Theory > "Human Blindness" Symposium Papers available, W. James Society

Abstracts below are for paper APA Symposium papers on "Human Blindness" for those with access to the W. James Society Vol. 3, No. 1:

1. "Human Blindness" (2007 Presidential Address), by John Lachs

2. 'Blindness, Vision and the Good Life for All: Comment on John Lachs' "Human Blindness"', by David E. Leary

3. 'The 'Riven' Self as remedy to "a Certain Blindness"', by Frederick J. Ruf

David Leary gives a clear introduction to these important papers.

"John Lachs' Presidential Address on "Human Blindness" takes its topic from one of the "Talks to Students on Life's Ideals" that William James delivered in various forms between 1892 and 1898. James subsequently converted this talk into an essay, "On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings," which he published along with other addenda to his Talks to Teachers on Psychology in 1899.2 This particular essay was, he said, one of his favorite publications:

'much more than the mere piece of sentimentalism which it may seem to some readers. It connects itself with a definite view of the world and of our moral relations to the same. . . .I mean the pluralistic or individualistic philosophy. . . .The practical consequence of such a philosophy is the well-known democratic respect for the sacredness of individuality,' (James)

which was, he said, "the perception on which my whole individualistic philosophy is based" (Talks, 5 & 244). James expressed the views articulated in this essay in various places, both before and after 1899, but this particular exposition held a central place in his heart."

ABSTRACTS. 1. "Human Blindness" by John Lachs

Abstract: Starting from William James's classic essay, I distinguish ten different sorts of human blindness. I ask which, if any, of these can be eradicated, and conclude that it is neither desirable nor possible to make more than gradual improvements in our moral vision.

[Addnote: Lachs in his paper distinguishes "ten different sorts of blindness, undifferentiated by James, all of which, however, are hinted at in his essay. Some of the blindnesses are connected with each other in a variety of ways, others remain essentially independent. They are different from each other because their objects, causes, organs, processes or remedies differ. But they tend to travel in company so that, for instance, the person who is blind to immediacies is likely also to be nescient of how others see the world. Similarly, persons who take no delight in our simpler functions probably also fail to lead an intense sensory life."

So, Lachs asks, "Should we be distressed at seeing so much blindness built into the human frame? If blindnesses are deficits of a cognitive, valuational or emotive sort, it would presumably be much better to be without them. James certainly conceives his essay as a call to action: he laments our inattentions and implies, even though he does not state, that we must overcome them and try to see the neglected riches of life. Surprisingly, perhaps, he says nothing about blindness to ourselves in the form of self-deception and the sort of subconscious impulses Freud worked so hard to bring to the light of day, but he clearly considers unseeing a severe human failing. He may not go so far as his colleague, Royce, and say that the willful narrowing of attention is the very definition of sin, but he is convinced that we would be better off if we lived in total conscious possession of our world or at least significantly expanded the range of our sympathies." But in his paper he argues that "Unfortunately, however, every benefit has a seamy underside. If we saw the world as forever new, we could not develop work-reducing and life-saving habits. If we were party to everyone's grief, we would be tortured and immobilized by the horror. If we attended to the immediacies of life without reference to instrumentalities, we would lose all practical sense and find ourselves gaping at the world. And if we gloried in our simpler functions, we would have little use for the sophisticated activities unique to humans and productive of satisfactions unavailable otherwise. 20
So we should take thought before we recommend the elimination of blindness or, for that matter, any other general measure as a solution to the problems humans face. Opening our eyes a little here and there, selectively resisting sightlessness in certain contexts, can help us move in the right direction, bringing us closer to loved ones or to the vivacity of the real. We should work vigorously to make ourselves more perceptive in our intellectual life and more generous in our responses. But we must not forget our finitude and we must try to remember that much as blindness is, in the abstract, a lamentable condition, in concrete life it protects us from being overwhelmed by reality".]

2. "Blindness, Vision, and the Good Life For All," by David E. Leary

Abstract: In response to John Lachs' December 2007 Presidential Address to the William James Society, this article elaborates upon James's concern about vision, identifies some of the roots of his interest in the inner experiences of others, expresses appreciation for the positive contributions of the address, questions a few of its assertions, relates its approach to that of others, and notes the continuing relevance of James's call for clearer and more appreciative insight into the inner lives and aspirations of others. In all, it attempts to underscore the timely nature of Lachs' address, which serves as a useful reminder of the importance of each and every individual and of the close connection between the quality of life for one and all.

3. "The 'Riven' Self as remedy to 'a Certain Blindness'", by Frederick J. Ruf

Abstract: In "A Certain Blindness in Human Beings" William James observes that humans are blind to what is strange, most especially to strangers. He both forbids a quick judgment of strange lives and urges "tolerance, respect," and "indulgence." And yet James does more. By modeling a strange self, himself, through the style of his essay, he displays a self that has the capacity "to be grasped" by the strangeness of others. Similarly, of four novels that were written in the wake of 9/11, by Richard Ford, Ian McEwan, Philip Roth, and Don DeLillo, only that by DeLillo is responsive to the event, and he does so by means of the Jamesian remedy: stylistically embodying the "riven self."
November 11, 2008 | Registered CommenterGuy Axtell