such is arguably the case with St. Thomasnor David Hume—but James’s thoughtnwas a very personal affair: it is somethingnlike the sum of all forces at work uponnJames throughout his life—^the burgeoningntechnical revolution, the Victoriannideas of progress and social responsibility,nthe equally Victorian loss (or rejection)nof feith, and the obsession with Artnso characteristic of the fin de siecle. Ifnanyone can weave these separatenthreads together into the fabric of anphilosopher’s mind, it is Jacques Barzun.nBarzun, despite his foreign birth, is ansplendid example of what the Americannliberal temper can accomplish: a literate,nintelligent, and thoroughly decentndefense of all that seems likely to improvenour “American way of life.” In anlong and useful career, he has expoundednwith patience and eloquence thenshortcomings of our intellectual institutions,nthe glories of romantic genius, andnthe implications of the scientific revolutionnwhich continues to haunt ourndreams. In this his most recent book,nBarzun returns to one of the mainnsources of his inspiration, the philosophynof William James. While professingneclecticism, Barzun concedesnJames a special place in his affections.nBarzun explores James the man, hisntimes, and the broad outlines of what cannfeirly be called his system—psychology,nethics, and epistemology.nMost of James’s philosophy is summednup in that deadly word “pragmatism,” anterm he coined in a lecture delivered atnBerkeley in 1898. James’s pragmatism isnnot an isolated fragment of philosophizing.nIt is an integral part—the centerpiece—ofnhis system and the link betweennhis psychology and his ethics. HisnPrinciples of Psychology (1890) remainsnan important work, if only for thendogged persistence with which he distinguishesnbetween mind and brain.nJamesian psychology owes a great dealnto Bishop Berkeley: both men concentratednon what happens in the mind asnthe only given of experience. Thisnattention to mind led James to formulatenhis “stream of consciousness.” Withinnthis stream, nothing can be taken as anfixed rule. Concepts like “white” andn”black” are only (sometimes) helpfulnabstractions. James offers no “realm ofnthe abstract” as a refuge to “persons whonyearn for security and perfection herenbelow.” Given such a psychology, itnbecomes imperative to devise a means ofnverification—some way of making andndetermining true statements.n”ragmatism is James’s solution.nStrictly construed, it is “an attempt tonexplain how the mind ascertains truth.”nIdeas are true “insofar as they help us tonget into satisfactory relation with othernparts of our experience,” that is, if theynlead to productive results. James’s mostnfamous definition—^”truth is what works”n—^is not the ethics of Jay Gould or evennCalvin Coolidge, but a summary of thenprocess of verification. The difficultynwith pragmatism is not that it is a justificationnfor Yankee shrewdness, but that itnjustifies or verifies a material cause onlynby reference to a material event. Antheory about the material universe isntrue, he argues, only if it leads to productivenconsequences in that same universe.nWhat is left out, ex hypothesi, is anynnnattempt to anchor truth in somethingnbeyond nature—what C. S. Lewis calledn”supernature.” In practice, this methodnof verification only removes the problemnof truth from the object to thensubject. If truth is only what works, thennwe are still left with the problem ofndefining “works” in a way that avoidsnabsolute relativism. James’s solution isnreminiscent of Protagoras, who declarednman to be the measure of all things. likenJames, Protagoras was necessarily annagnostic, and also like James, he tooknrefuge in vague aspirations towardndecent behavior and a consensus ofnright-thinking man.nBarzun encourages us not to benalarmed by James’s relativism and urgesnupon us the usual cultural relativismnmade familiar by the disciples of FranznBoas. Since Moslems have four wives andnAfrican chiefs 40, “it seems egotistical tonproclaim any one set of commandmentsnthe sole morality and somewhat fancifulnto speak of ‘indelible moral truths implantednin the human heart.'” This isnworse than poor reasoning: it is poornanthropology. Moral ideals are not annethnographical statement of howpeoplendo behave, but of how they ought tonbehave. It is, after all, more than a littlenAugust 1984n