Repressing Novelty?: William James and the Reasoning of Scriptural Reasoning

Jacob Goodson,
College of William and Mary


A recent issue of Modern Theology devotes several essays to the role of Charles Peirce’s pragmatism in the biblical hermeneutics of Jewish philosophic theologian Peter Ochs. One of the essays in the issue is by David Lamberth, a William James scholar and philosopher of religion. Lamberth offers several criticisms of Ochs’s book on Peirce, and in the present essay I respond to two of them: (1) Lamberth’s accusation that Ochs’s “return to Scripture” is foundationalist, and (2) Lamberth’s argument that Ochs’s hermeneutic reading of Peirce represses novelty. I address the first criticism by examining Ochs’s explicit non-foundationalism in his pragmatist logic of Scripture, and I tackle the second criticism by reading Ochs through William James’s understanding of novelty in his development of what “reasoning” is and how it works. I argue that James provides a way to think about the “reasoning” of Ochs’s scriptural reasoning project as well as a way to understand the possibility of novelty within that reasoning. I conclude by suggesting that Lamberth over-states his case against reading the pragmatists hermeneutically, and I show where James himself recommends applying his work to questions in hermeneutics in general and biblical hermeneutics in particular.

Experimentalism and Hermeneutics

In a recent issue of Modern Theology , David Lamberth assesses the work of Peter Ochs through an evaluation of Ochs’s book entitled Peirce, Pragmatism and the Logic of Scripture . [1] Lamberth has written mostly on William James, and his engagement with Ochs’s work on Peirce seems to assume some kind of basic agreement between his own interpretation of James and Peirce’s work itself. When he criticizes Ochs’s interpretation of Peirce, for example, he does so by suggesting that Ochs offers mis-readings of Peirce rather than entertaining possible differences between James and Peirce. Lamberth argues that Ochs’s reading of Peirce subtly shifts Peirce’s pragmatism from an emphasis on experimentalism and experience to a focus on language and interpretation. Lamberth recognizes that it is not language in general that captures Ochs’s focus; rather, it is scriptural language in particular. This criticism leads Lamberth to argue that because Ochs emphasizes scriptural language, he represses “novelty” and the possibility of “novelty.”

Coincidentally, in his fine book on James, Lamberth gives the exact same criticism of Richard Rorty’s reading of William James, arguing “Rorty has James rejecting…any sort of phenomenalism, instead taking the linguistic turn.” [2] Like he does in his criticism of Ochs’s reading of Peirce, he even connects Rorty’s turn toward language in his reading of James to repressing novelty.

Rorty correctly reads James’s commitment to a shared world, and rightly sees him denying subjectivism in favor of what we might call “intersubjectivism” with respect to knowledge about and the truth. Rorty goes one step further, however, and reads James as understanding that shared world as exclusively constituted through language, thereby denying what James saw as his own epistemological realism, not to mention his commitment to…the novelty produced through the radical plurality of concrete pure experience. [3]

When taken with this passage on Rorty, it will become apparent in the next section that Lamberth connects hermeneutics and interpretation with the linguistic turn. [4] He suggests that an emphasis on Scripture in Ochs’s reading of Peirce is connected with the turn toward language in philosophy in general. Therefore, Lamberth’s problem is not Scripture per se but hermeneutics and interpretation – which he takes to be connected with, perhaps a result of, what we now call the linguistic turn. [5]

However, Lamberth seems to have misread Ochs on this point. When Ochs refers to Peirce’s philosophy as “a hermeneutical science ,” he usually means the following:

Peirce is, perhaps uniquely, both “experimentalist” and “reflexive philosopher” or “logician.” …[T]his logic will entail some reflection on actual practices of scientific behavior. Logic may play a normative role, but it is not foundational: it is an interpretive science, or…a hermeneutical science . …In Peirce’s terms, a hermeneutical science is a semiotic activity that displays the immediate interpretants of certain symbols; Peirce’s semiotics provides a…precise and thus…helpful vocabulary for this science…. [6]

According to Ochs, logic functions in Peirce as “a hermeneutical science .” This science involves the activity of showing “the immediate interpretants of certain symbols.” In short: Peirce’s logic = semiotics; semiotics = “a hermeneutical science .”

Ochs’s analysis of Peirce’s hermeneutics comes into play in his reading of Peirce’s essay entitled “What Pragmatism Is.” Ochs points out that Peirce’s essay begins with Peirce talking about “who he is” and identifies himself “with a certain type of person, defining that type through its typical actions, and then examining the logical tendencies displayed in those actions.” [7] Peirce says that he is an “experimentalist,” which involves being shaped by life in the laboratory and, because of such a formation, being blind “to any metaphysically unexperienced ‘physical reality’ beyond the experimental result.” [8] According to Ochs, Peirce’s move here shows that he “is, perhaps uniquely, both ‘experimentalist’ and ‘reflexive philosopher’ or ‘logician’.” [9] Peirce’s formation in the laboratory carries over to his “hermeneutics.” He, therefore, has “a hermeneutical science ” because it is a “hermeneutics” grounded in the notions of both experimentalism and logic.

It is scriptural or textual because of the emphasis on the limits of knowing a metaphysical reality “beyond the experimental result.” For Ochs, this conviction formed in the laboratory carries over to a conviction about how texts work . It is not that Peirce denies such a metaphysical reality; it is that Peirce is “blind” to it. Likewise with reading texts: in reading texts, it is not that a careful reader necessarily denies a metaphysical reality outside of the text; it is, rather, that a careful (scientific) reader remains “blind” to it because it is out of the purview of that reader. It remains out of the purview of that reader because it is outside of the experiment and logic of reading.

Hence Ochs’s hermeneutics is not at the expense of Peirce’s emphasis on experimentalism (as Lamberth asserts), but rather works as both an enhancement to and outpouring of such an emphasis.

Repressing Novelty

Within his assessment of Ochs, Lamberth’s first mention of “novelty” is found in the following passage:

One might reasonably be concerned…that the process of “reading” Peirce via Ochs’ scriptural analogy overemphasizes the linguistic elements…. This emphasis comes, I should note, at the expense of Peirce’s – and, I might add, other classical pragmatists’ [like James’s] – own insistence on concreteness, that which is delivered by the perceptual, and, crucially, by novelty. [10]

As I said earlier, this criticism is couched in Lamberth’s concern that Ochs’s reading of Peirce is too concerned with language in general and scriptural logic in particular and not with experimentalism and experience. Lamberth here goes so far as to say that Ochs’s “emphasis comes…at the expense of Peirce’s…own insistence on concreteness.”

But what is concreteness for Lamberth? From this passage, all that we know is that it is “delivered by the perceptual” as well as “by novelty,” which tells us that the conditions for concreteness are perceptions (of the world?) and the occurrence of novelty. Where there is perceived newness, there is concreteness.

On the next page of his article, Lamberth elaborates his criticism of Ochs:

A key Peircean and pragmatic theme that appears very little in Ochs’ book…is novelty. Novelty is crucial to Peirce’s general evolutionary theory of reality. While philosophical problems derived from theory in part occasion our need to repair and revise our conceptions, it is often novelty itself, or better, novelties in the plural, that occasion doubt and lead to enquiry, rather than simply problems attendant upon our habits of thought in reference to other thoughts…. Novelty is captured under certain…application[s] of vagueness in Peirce and in Ochs’ retelling. And there is place for novelty elsewhere in Peirce, particularly via his categorical scheme of firstness, secondness, and thirdness. But it strikes me that the scriptural paradigm that makes Ochs’ book so interesting may also have repressed Peirce’s understanding of novelty. And this might generate real problems for the idea that a strategy of scriptural reading, following Peirce’s own approaches, can resolve the modern problematic. The point is not to reassert some form of foundationalism, much less intuitionism. Rather, it is to question whether the fact of our being in a fundamentally evolving system, which Peirce’s is, is sufficiently foregrounded in Ochs’ account. The omission of the concrete instantiation of this evolution, which I am referencing via attention to novelty, becomes even more acute when conjoined with Ochs’ desire to be radically pluralistic. [11]

Lamberth seems to have a two-part understanding of “novelty” within pragmatism. While novelty brings about concreteness, it also stimulates “doubt.” This is not necessarily a problem, but it does beg for more clarification on Lamberth’s part: does novelty within pragmatism bring about both concreteness and doubt?

While Lamberth does not answer this question in his response to Ochs, he does provide a development of James’s understanding of novelty in his book on James. There he says,

The question of novelty for James boils down to the issue of whether the “real” world – the world actually experienced – is reducible in detail to the conceptual world, where the latter is understood along the lines of the “block universe” that various rationalisms claim to predict or construct. Novelty in this sense really indicates the fact that some experiences have determinate, concrete contents more detailed or explicit than that which can be expected or predicted – a particular experience may be sweet or sour (literally or figuratively), or it may be more violent or peaceful, in addition to or in spite of our (rational) expectations. [12]

This passage helps us understand Lamberth’s two-part understanding of “novelty.” I think it will prove helpful to first understand Lamberth’s passing critique of “various rationalisms.” For James, the problem with rationalism (or “Intellectualism,” as he calls it in The Principles of Psychology ) is not that it offers a theory of unity in the world. The problem, rather, is that the unity is already determined beforehand – that is, it is a necessary part of rationalists’ constructed theories. For James, unity comes as a result of what he calls “the reality of relations.” [13] It is a posteriori and is a product of the relation between knower and known, subject and object. We might say that unity is always “in the making.”

It is in the reality of relations where novelty becomes possible. Novelty is possible when neither the subject nor object over-determine the relationship. James is a realist about objects, and he remains a realist about subjects too. The two cannot be separated, as rationalism argues, but that inseparability is a result of relations and not the premise for relations. [14] While both subjects and objects exist prior to relations, they are not fully real until they encounter one another. It is in this encounter that they not only become fully real but also where novelty happens and remains possible. If unity is always already present – that is, present a priori – as it is for “various rationalisms,” then novelty cannot happen and is not a possibility because the relation is known ahead of time.

He clarifies, more particularly, how it is that novelty brings about both concreteness and doubt. Exactly because we do not know ahead of time what the result of the relations are going to be, novelty indeed can be either “sweet or sour.” Lamberth is right about novelty being the occasion for doubt, at least within pragmatism, because (as Peirce puts it) real doubts arise only from “irritation.” This is why, returning to rationalism, Peirce calls Cartesian doubts “paper doubts”: they are not real doubts because they do not arise from actual problems. Rationalism predetermines too much, and in such constructed predetermination real doubts simply have to be bracketed out. They remain nonsensical.

Lamberth, though, simply has misread Ochs on this point. The “sour” version of novelty, the kind that gives rise to doubt, is both built into and added onto in Ochs’s reading of Peirce. [15] In the essay in Modern Theology that comes before Lamberth’s assessment of Ochs, Nicholas Adams provides such a description of this part of Ochs’s argument:

The classic Peircean pattern begins with irritation. Irritation gives rise to doubt. Doubt motivates thinking. Thinking produces belief, which alleviate[s] the doubt. Belief issues in habit.

…The scheme undergoes a significant modification in Ochs’ work, however. The two terms which change are “irritation” and “thinking.” They become “suffering” and “scriptural interpretation.” The habits in question are specifically historical: they are habits of a religious community. Faced with suffering, the community’s habits of reading scripture are interrupted. The “plain sense” of scripture is no longer satisfying. To address its suffering, the community seeks increasingly more imaginative interpretations of its texts, so as to find in them some wisdom for changing its habits. Such interpretations aimed at healing suffering, are termed by Ochs “pragmatic readings.” The process comes to a temporary close when the community’s habits are sufficiently altered to be able to heal the suffering in question.

…[T]he task of philosophy is to discern the pattern of the logic of repair found in scripture, and to offer as precise a map as possible for that pattern. [16]

Later in his essay, Adams offers an example of how this works:

In the reading of Torah, in textual reasoning, Ochs discerns a pattern in which suffering gives births to [both] doubts and the adequacy of rehearsing the plain sense of scripture; this leads to pragmatic readings in which new interpretations arise , whose purpose is to address the original suffering. [17]

So, yes, newness or novelty as suffering occasions doubt. But, also, one way to resolve that doubt is through novelty : seeking ” more imaginative interpretations .” Ochs, then, at least on Adams’s reading, accounts for Lamberth’s two-part understanding of novelty. While newness is responsible for causing “doubt” by way of “irritation” or “suffering,” it also incites concreteness through “pragmatic readings in which new interpretations arise .” [18]

Novelty can be “sweet,” then, because (for James, Lamberth, and Ochs) it can bring about peace and unity in surprising ways. It opens up new worlds to us by offering what were unknown possibilities. In this essay, then, I develop James’s argument concerning the conditions for the sweetness of novelty. The purpose for this development is to address the question: does Ochs’s scriptural reading of Peirce’s pragmatism actually repress this kind of novelty? Adams, with his apt description of Ochs’s use of the Peircean pattern, answers in the negative.

In what follows, therefore, I further develop Adams’s description of Ochs in conversation with Lamberth’s criticisms of Ochs’s reading of Peirce: first, through attending to Ochs’s non-foundationalism and second, through William James’s work on reasoning. [19]

Foundationalism, Non-Foundationalism, and Scripture

Lamberth’s accusation that Ochs has a kind of foundationalism reads:

the scriptural paradigm that makes Ochs’ book so interesting may also have repressed Peirce’s understanding of novelty. And this might generate real problems for the idea that a strategy of scriptural reading, following Peirce’s own approaches, can resolve the modern problematic. The point is not to reassert some form of foundationalism, much less intuitionism. Rather, it is to question whether the fact of our being in a fundamentally evolving system, which Peirce’s is, is sufficiently foregrounded in Ochs’ account . [20]

Within Lamberth’s reasoning, Scripture remains “foundational” (in the bad sense) – that is, Scripture serves as ground for foundational or privileged beliefs that determines the justification or warrant for other possible beliefs. [21] But is this how Ochs understands Scripture? Is he a scriptural foundationalist?

The answer to this question is a resounding “no,” and one of the points of Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture exactly is this: the force or upshot of describing pragmatism as a logic of Scripture is that such a logic of Scripture is non-foundationalist. In fact, I take this point to be one of the key virtues of Ochs’s book.

Ochs describes his understanding of foundationalism ” to a third grade of clarity as the attempt to adopt the conclusions of certain rational inquiries as final resolutions of fundamental uncertainties about how to behave in the world .” [22] According to Ochs, Peirce’s pragmatism after 1905 (which the latter terms pragmaticism ) is non-foundationalist in the sense that it “implies that rational inquiries are truth-functional – or offer verifiable claims about matters of fact – only in so far as they offer workable hypotheses about how to respond to identifiable problems of conduct.” [23] How is this non-foundationalist? From “this perspective,” Ochs claims, “foundationalist efforts fail because they misrepresent the relationship between truth-functional inquiries and resolvable behavioral uncertainties.” [24] Ochs’s task, then, is to show how a logic of scripture can indeed “offer workable hypotheses about how to respond to identifiable problems of conduct” rather than falling into the failure of foundationalist efforts which “misrepresent the relationship between truth-functional inquiries and resolvable behavioral uncertainties.” [25]

Before investigating how Ochs fulfills this task, we need to understand briefly what a foundationalist logic of Scripture looks like (based on the terms we have been employing here). In short, it is to treat Scripture as: (a) containing indubitable privileged beliefs or doctrines (in the Christian understanding), (b) allowing these indubitable privileged beliefs to justify or offer warrant for all other beliefs and doctrines, and (c) applying these beliefs and doctrines in clear and distinct ways to all forms of behavior.

Though this logic of Scripture plays itself out – that is, works – in a variety of ways, two of the most common ways are the following. First, deduction becomes a logic of reading scripture where principles are abstracted from the scriptural text and then applied to any and all possible questions and situations. These principles serve in clear and distinct ways to resolve any actual or potential problems in the life of the believer or in the world in general. [26]

Second, inductive Bible studies entail a three-step process that guarantees a best interpretation, a single meaning, and an absolute application for one’s life. Those three steps are: (1) observation, (2) interpretation, and (3) application. Observation includes making objective inferences about the possible meanings of the words on the page; interpretation involves narrowing those possible meanings down to the best interpretation—thus rendering that meaning as the single or only one; and application requires that one meaning as absolutely appropriate and relevant for anyone, anywhere, at any time. [27]

Assuming that these descriptions accurately represent foundationalist logics for reading Scripture, then Lamberth is quite right to worry about foundationalism and Scripture. However, Ochs is equally worried about foundationalism and Scripture. Thus he offers a pragmatist alternative.

In reference to the prophetic books of the Bible, Ochs argues:

[T]here are in fact communities of philosophers [like Peirce] who identify their scripture with Scripture, or the Bible. They read Scripture as the prototypical narrative of how certain musers, often labeled “prophets,” were stimulated by their observations of human suffering to undertake corrective-and-diagrammatic inquiries that terminated in the musers’ dialogues with God. God was known to them as the One who created the universe, who would repair, or redeem, the suffering in it, and who usually ended these dialogues by ordering the musers to tell their communities to care for their sufferers. To provide this care, the communities were often required to change their everyday practices, to change the ways they repaired everyday practices, to change the methods they used to evaluate these repairs, and to change the ways they learned about these methods. These communities of philosophers read this Scripture as an authoritative graph of God’s creative, redemptive, and instructive activities, and they reread it, pragmatically, as a vague and indubitable symbol of the communities’ Rules…. This means that, for scriptural philosophers, an instance of suffering (x) would also already be a vague sign (x-) of the relation that redeems it . [28]

The purpose of Ochs’s discussion about “scriptural philosophers,” I take it, is to suggest that Peirce is a part of a longer tradition of scriptural reasoning within philosophy that strives to make “Scripture” less of a foreign concept within philosophical discourse. [29] Within this tradition, Scripture is not a foundation or ground for privileged beliefs on which all other possible beliefs are based. Rather, Scripture serves as a “narrative” for how “musers” (which is Ochs’s philosophical, Peircean, word for “prophets”) diagram and correct suffering in the world. [30] Ultimately, it is God who repairs the world; the role of the muser, then, is to tell communities what that repair entails and involves on their part. That is, the role of the muser is to be a pragmatic interpreter for communities that experience the suffering.

What are the indubitable and vague symbols of the communal rules? (These sound foundational!) However foundational they appear, the vagueness of the symbols of the communal rules decreases the chance of the symbols being foundational. Why? Because, being vague, they do not provide a sufficient foundation on which to ground other beliefs.

But indubitable? “The indubitable beliefs are redescribed as…a dialogic relation between divine activities of correction…and of revelation.” [31] Indubitable beliefs, and symbols, are not necessarily certain or definite the way they are within epistemological foundationalism. Rather, following Clarence Lewis, they might be described as “pragmatic a priori “-s. [32] That is, they are (back to Peircean terms) unquestioned beliefs that remain possibly fallible if real doubts arise about them. Ochs talks in terms of the involvement of a dialogical relationship, and indubitable beliefs function in this relationship as what makes communication possible at all. As indubitable, they can be known and used with confidence to a certain degree. As vague, though, they cannot ground other beliefs. [33]

William James on Novelty and Reasoning

In Psychology: The Briefer Course , James dedicates a chapter to “Reasoning.” [34] In what follows, I argue that James’s description of “reasoning” helps us understand (a) a possible background for the “reasoning” of scriptural reasoning, and (b) how novelty is possible within this Jamesean understanding of “reasoning.” [35]

Within his chapter on “Reasoning,” [36] James makes a distinction between “empirical thinking” and “reasoning”: “whilst the empirical thinking is only reproductive, reasoning is productive.” [37] An empirical thinker, according to James, is one who is a “‘rule-of-thumb’ thinker” – that is, “can deduce nothing from data with whose behavior and associates in the concrete he is unfamiliar.” [38] On the other hand, reasoning is what we use to find our way through and get “out of unprecedented situations.” [39] James offers what he considers to be an “exact definition” of his use of reasoning: the ” ability to deal with novel data [is] the technical differentia of reasoning ,” and this ability marks “it out from common associative thinking” and therefore allows us to locate “what peculiarity it contains.” [40] In short, then, for William James, the ability to reason is the ability “to deal with novel data.” How is this possible? Where does this novel data come from?

Reasoning, for James, is defined further ” as the substitution of parts and their implications or consequences for wholes .” [41] The art of reasoning, then, consists of “two stages”: “First, sagacity , or the ability to discover what part”; and “Second, learning , or the ability to recall promptly…consequences, concomitants, or implications.” [42] What James calls ” learning ” here refers to “the ability to seize fresh aspects in concrete things [which is] rarer than the ability to learn old rules” in the sense that “in most actual cases of reasoning, the minor premise, or the way of conceiving the subject, is the one that makes the novel step in thought.” [43] Lamberth’s argument that where there is perceived newness there is concreteness is exactly what James is explaining in this context. The act of ” learning ,” for James, is not acquiring information; rather it is ” learning ” how information seizes “fresh aspects in concrete things” – that is, novelty is required for learning. Moreover, we have not genuinely or truly learned if we have not applied or used that information toward some end or good. [44] This application and use is not reductive or utilitarian but rather creative and imaginative. James’s point, though, is that the act of learning always involves some kind of novelty, and novelty for James enables seizing “fresh aspects” of some concrete object. What we might say here is that ” learning ” is not acquiring information, but developing skills for reasoning. [45]

James’s use of ” sagacity ” is the following: “To reason, then, we must be able to extract characters, – not any characters, but the right characters for our conclusion.” [46] James puts this question to himself: ” How are characters extracted, and why does it require the advent of a genius in many cases before the fitting character is brought to light? [47] In order to answer this question, James says, “we must begin a new research, and see how our insight into facts naturally grows.” [48] What is this “new research”? [49] It is James’s “reinstatement of the vague” into the areas of epistemology and reasoning. [50]

When James reinstates “the vague to its proper place in our mental life” [51] he is referring to “things” that have “not degenerated into an overly false clarity” and to things that do “not intend to come up with final certainty.” [52] Concerning the possibility for extracting the right characters, he says:

All our knowledge at first is vague. When we say that a thing is vague, we mean that is has no subdivisions ab intra , nor precise limitations ab extra ; but still all the forms of thought may apply to it. It may have unity, reality, externality, extent, and what not – thinghood , in a word, but thinghood only as a whole. In this vague way, probably, does the room appear to the babe who first begins to be conscious of it as something other than his moving nurse. It has no subdivisions in his mind, unless, perhaps, the window is able to attract his separate notice. In this vague way, certainly, does every entirely new experience appear to the adult. A library, a museum, a machine-shop, are mere confused wholes to the uninstructed, but the machinist, the antiquary, and the bookworm perhaps hardly notice the whole at all, so eager are they to pounce upon the details. Familiarity has in them bred discrimination. Such vague terms as ‘grass,’ ‘mould,’ and ‘meat’ do not exist for the botanist or the anatomist. They know too much about grasses, moulds, and muscles. [53]

Vagueness is an initial and necessary part of all of our knowledge. Becoming an authority and professionalization in general leads to forgetfulness of how “the vague” is a part of knowledge. Vagueness, and thus new experiences or novelty, become impossible for specific authorities or professionals within their discipline or field. Because of the impossibility of novelty, extracting the right characters becomes determined strictly by “our practical or instinctive interests” and not by “our aesthetic interests.” [54] But extracting the right characters, ultimately, depends on both aesthetic and practical interests because novelty must remain a possibility in order for the extraction to do its proper work. Therefore, our “aesthetic interests” always have to be a part of our reasoning. [55] When they are, novelty remains a possibility. [56] James concludes: “The diverse interests lead…to a diversification of experiences.” [57] These diverse interests are the aesthetic and practical interests and not simply any and all interests. It is in the “diversification,” or multiplication, “of experiences” that results from both the aesthetic and the practical where newness and novelty become a possibility for James. [58]

The Trick of Scriptural Reasoning

Peter Ochs makes the same case about reading Scripture: because Scripture has been over-determined by both biblical scholars and the religious traditions, it has lost its qualities of indeterminacy or vagueness. [59] In Jamesean terms, Ochs is arguing that the (religious) “authorities” and (academic) “professionals” need to reinstate the vague to its proper place in the study of Scripture. [60] Hence, there needs to be some kind of reasoning that (a) encourages the possibility for a “new experience,” or novelty, in “this vague way” (what might be called “aesthetic interests”), but (b) does so without asserting or assuming that the habits and skills that are gained from being an academic biblical scholar or a member of a religious tradition need to be ignored or thrown out (what might be called “practical interests”). [61] Herein lies the trick. [62]

Explaining a different trick, that of the relation between reason and tradition, Nicholas Adams offers a way forward for us in regards to our question. Without mention of William James’s work, Adams offers a helpful way to think about James’s distinction between “empirical thinking” and “reasoning” in relation to reading Scripture and thinking theologically. The distinction Adams makes is between “tradition” and “reasoning.” For Adams, tradition “is not a thing” but rather “people giving gifts to their children” by handing off “descriptions, rules for interpreting them and making new ones, and teach[ing] the skills for using them.” [63] Furthermore, according to Adams, reasoning names “the common shorthand for using rules.” [64] Rules allow and enable us to make “connections between things” as well as to make “judgments.” [65] To make good judgments and proper connections, one has to be “skilled” in reasoning.

So what is the relationship between reasoning and tradition, according to Adams? It is one of learning the rules and the skills of reasoning within a tradition. Adams’s question, then, becomes: “What is the best way for Christians to characterize the interplay between what is received (tradition) and what is contributed (reasoning)?” [66] It seems that “tradition” functions for Adams in analogous ways to how “empirical thinking” does for James while “reasoning” works for both of them the same. The similarity between Adams’s use of tradition and James’s use of “empirical thinking” is that they are both “reproductive” (to use James’s word), but the difference between their uses is that tradition does more work for Adams than “empirical thinking” does for James. For James, “empirical thinking” is not the handing down of skills but rather remains mere data. [67]

How is this a way forward for our question concerning the possibility for novelty within the reading of Scripture? It means that Scripture itself is not tied to any kind of foundationalism (as discussed in a previous section), but that there is also no necessary reason why it has to be over-determined by academic professionals and religious authorities. What we need are practices that help us perform the trick and not necessarily a fully developed theory for how it will come out in the end. [68]

For Adams, reciting the creeds ought to be understood as one such practice (but not the only practice) for performing both (in James’s terms) “reproduction” and “production”: the handing on of tradition and generating new ways of reasoning within tradition. [69] Different and diverse practices or ways of reading Scripture are needed to maintain the possibility for newness and novelty for Scripture itself. Offering the conditions for such practices seems to be an important part of Ochs’s work in scriptural reasoning. That is, he offers the conditions for bringing together the aesthetic and the practical for the purpose of a diversification and multiplicity of readings of Scripture – which is the condition, within Ochs’s scriptural reasoning, for newness and novelty . [70]

Returning to Lamberth’s Criticism

The question remains, though, whether James’s philosophy can be read hermeneutically or even scripturally. James himself seems to think so. In his introductory lecture entitled “Religion and Neurology” in The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature , he devotes three paragraphs to biblical interpretation. James makes a logical distinction between two orders of inquiry: an existential judgment or proposition” and “a spiritual judgment ” or “a proposition of value .” [71] Higher criticism, according to James, assumes the logic of ” existential judgment ” for reading the Bible. But the logic of existential judgment within higher criticism places limits on the Bible that might not be suitable to those who consider the Bible revelation. Existential judgments, according to James, address a specific set of questions: “what is the nature of it [the Bible]? how did it come about? what is its constitution, origin, and history?” Spiritual judgments, on the other hand, address the question of what the importance , meaning , and significance of the Bible is for us today . Existential judgments cannot account for the Bible as revelation; only the logic of spiritual judgments can do that, because revelation is not a proposition in and for itself but rather “a proposition of value ,” according to James. Revelation is “a proposition of value ” because it involves more than questions concerning history and origin. It involves questions concerning “persons wrestling with the crisis of their fate.” [72] In Hans Frei’s terms, we might say that James here is talking about the difference between questions concerning the “ostensive reference” of the biblical stories (existential judgments) and questions concerning reading the biblical stories as “realistic narrative” (spiritual judgments). [73]

In his “Introduction” to James’s Varieties , Wayne Proudfoot recognizes the force of James’s distinction for biblical interpretation. He comments,

Biblical scholars employ philological, archeological, and historical tools to study the biblical text and its origins. But the results of their scholarship do not settle the question of the significance of the text. That requires a different judgment, and it depends upon the questions motivating the inquiry. A scholar trying to reconstruct the history of the ancient Near East will bring different questions to a passage in the book of Jeremiah and find different answers from a person, perhaps even the same person, who is reading in a liturgical context. [74]

Though Proudfoot understands James’s argument here only as an “example” for why this “distinction is particularly important for the study of religion,” it determines the method of the whole Varieties . James wants to make existential judgments on the lives of those he studies, but he does not want his existential judgments to be materialist and reductive as they tend to be in the higher criticism of the Bible. James’s philosophy might not be reducible to language, as Lamberth accuses Rorty’s reading of James of doing, but it certainly takes questions of hermeneutics and language (even biblical hermeneutics and the logic of reading scripture) into account.

However, Lamberth’s concern is whether or not the pragmatism of James and Peirce – as a whole – can be understood hermeneutically or linguistically. [75] No answer to this question can be offered here. [76] Even though it is an important question, not knowing the answer to it does not warrant ceasing an investigation into how James or Peirce help us think about reading in general and reading the Bible in particular. Clearly, as displayed in his most popular book, James was aware of the limitations of certain ways in which the Bible is read (namely higher criticism of the Bible). At the least, then, it can be said of James that he invites applications of his work to questions concerning hermeneutics in general and biblical hermeneutics in particular. [77] The goal of this investigation, in conclusion, has been to explore how James helps us think about the possibility for novelty within biblical interpretation as well as the reasoning of Ochs’s scriptural reasoning. There seems to be no reason, within James’s own thought, that this kind of application remains out-of-bounds. [78

Special Acknowledgement

My deep gratitude goes to Augustana College and Sioux Falls Seminary – both in Sioux Falls, South Dakota – for their financial support (Augustana College) and a place to think and work (Sioux Falls Seminary). Augustana College invited me to lecture on Scriptural Reasoning, and part of their offer involved providing a week for research and writing. As a result, I was able to write the majority of this essay during my time in Sioux Falls. Though the present essay was not offered as a lecture there, many of my conversations throughout the week helped shape parts of it. I want to thank David O’Hara, especially, who made it all possible and Philip Thompson, as well, for securing a place for me to write in the seminary library.


Adams, Nicholas. 2004. “Confessing the Faith: Reasoning in Tradition.” In The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics . Edited by Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell.

Adams. 2008. “Reparative Reasoning.” In Modern Theology , volume 24, number 3.

Boersma, David. 2009. Pragmatism and Reference . Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Frei, Hans. 1974. The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics . New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.

Gavin, William Joseph. 1992. William James and the Reinstatement of the Vague . Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Temple University Press.

Goodman, Russell. 2008. American Philosophy and the Romantic Tradition . New York, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Haack, Susan. 1983. “Descartes, Peirce, and the Cognitive Community.” In The Relevance of Charles Sanders Peirce . Edited by Eugene Freeman. Chicago, Illinois: LaSalle.

Hannah, Robert. 2009. Rationality and Logic . Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Higton, Mike. 2004. Christ, Providence, and History: Hans W. Frei’s Public Theology . London: T & T Clark International.

James, William. 1950. Principles of Psychology: Two Volumes . New York, New York: Dover Publications.

James. 1995. Pragmatism . New York, New York: Dover Publications.

James. 2001. Psychology: The Briefer Course . Mineola, New York: Dover Publications.

James. 2003. Essays in Radical Empiricism . Mineola, New York: Dover Publications.

James. 2004. The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature . Introduction by Wayne Proudfoot. New York, New York: Barnes & Noble Classics.

Lamberth, David C. 1999. William James and the Metaphysics of Experience . New York, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Lamberth. 2008. “Assessing Peter Ochs through Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture .” In Modern Theology , volume 24, number 3.

Lentricchia, Frank. 1989. Ariel and the Police: Michel Foucault, William James, Wallace Stevens . Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press.

Lewis, C. I. 1923. “A Pragmatic Conception of the A Priori.” In The Journal of Philosophy , Volume XX, Number 7.

Norris, Christopher. 1991. Spinoza and the Origins of Modern Critical Theory . Cambridge, Massachusetts: Blackwell.

Ochs, Peter. 1998. Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture . New York, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Ochs. 2006. “Philosophic Warrants for Scriptural Reasoning.” In The Promise of Scriptural Reasoning . Edited by David Ford and C. C. Pecknold. New York, New York: Blackwell.

Ochs. 2007. “From Two to Three: To Know Is to Know the Context of Knowing.” In Scripture, Reason, and the Contemporary Islam-West Encounter: Studying the “Other,” Understanding the “Self.” Edited by Steven Kepnes and Basit Koshul. New York, New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Ochs. 2008. “Reflections on Binarism.” In Modern Theology , volume 24, number 3.

Ochs. 2009. “Reparative Reasoning: From Peirce’s Pragmatism to Augustine’s Scriptural Semiotic.” In Modern Theology , volume 25, number 2.

Richardson, Joan. 2007. A Natural History of Pragmatism: The Fact of Feeling from Jonathan Edwards to Gertrude Stein . New York, New York: Cambridge University Press.

Rorty, Richard. 1979. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Seigfried, Charlene Haddock. 1990. William James’s Radical Reconstruction of Philosophy . Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.


[1] See David C. Lamberth, “Assessing Peter Ochs through Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture , in Modern Theology , vol. 24, no. 3, (July 2008), 459-467.

[2] Lamberth, William James and the Metaphysics of Experience , (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 211. William Gavin concurs with Lamberth’s criticism of Rorty on this point. See William Joseph Gavin, William James and the Reinstatement of the Vague , (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1992): “against Richard Rorty…, at least in some sense for James, language does not go all the way down” (187).

[3] Lamberth, William James and the Metaphysics of Experience , 211. Lamberth concludes, “Rorty, then, considers only one half of James’s world-view, a fact clearly underscored by his exclusive focus on pragmatism and his refusal to take radical empiricism seriously” (211).

[4] Making this kind of connection clear, Christopher Norris notes that when Rorty says that interpretation ” goes all the way down ,” he means “that philosophy, like every other kind of discourse, can rest on nothing more than the language-games…that keep the whole enterprise in business” (Christopher Norris, Spinoza and the Origins of Modern Critical Theory , [Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1991], 107).

[5] Lamberth is right to make this connection in Ochs’s work, but he is wrong to argue that he substitutes experience and experimentalism for hermeneutics and language. Moreover, there is a relation between “the linguistic turn” in contemporary philosophy and “the return to Scripture” in contemporary theology. For this connection, especially in relation to scriptural reasoning, see my “Richard Rorty and Scriptural Reasoning,” in Richard Rorty, Religion, and the Religious: Confessional and Critical Engagements , ed. Jacob Goodson and Brad Elliott Stone, (forthcoming). Specifically concerning Ochs’s work, he works within “the return to scripture” in contemporary theology but does so in a kind of Spinozist mode (corrected logically by Peirce) where experimentalism and science play a fruitful part of biblical interpretation.

[6] Peter Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture , (New York, NY: Cambridge University, Press, 1998), 166.

[7] Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture , 166.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Lamberth, “Assessing Peter Ochs,” 463.

[11] Ibid., 464.

[12] Lamberth, William James and the Metaphysics of Experience , 42-43.

[13] For James’s explicit development of the reality of relations, see William James, Essays in Radical Empiricism , (Mineola, NY: Dover, 2003).

[14] There is much to unpack in this sentence, which I cannot do here, but is part of the argument developed in my dissertation: Empiricism and Hermeneutics: Interpretation after William James .

[15] See, for example, Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture , 76-93.

[16] Nicholas Adams, “Reparative Reasoning,” in Modern Theology , vol. 24, no. 3, (July 2008), 448; emphasis added.

[17] Adams, “Reparative Reasoning,” 449; emphasis added.

[18] For the context of Adams’s argument that makes possible my point here, see Adams, “Reparative Reasoning,” 447-451.

[19] Why James? Three reasons: (1) James provides an account of “reasoning” that I find congruent with and fruitful for how Nicholas Adams and Peter Ochs understand the goals and nature of scriptural reasoning; (2) James’s use of “novelty” is grounded in his understanding of how “reasoning” works and thus speaks to Lamberth’s concern with Ochs in particular and scriptural reasoning in general repressing novelty; and (3) Ochs claims, in a footnote in his response to Lamberth’s “Assessing Peter Ochs,” that while “Peirce and James were close friends, Peirce eventually renamed his pragmatism “pragmaticism,” in part, to distinguish it from what Peirce considered misrepresentation by James and others” (Ochs, “Reflections on Binarism,” in Modern Theology , vol. 24, no. 3, [July 2008], 496-497). Though it is true that James and Peirce have differences, these differences do not warrant further neglect of James’s work.

[20] Lamberth, “Assessing Peter Ochs,” 464; emphasis added.

[21] Foundationalism, as I understand it by way of Susan Haack’s work, is thus the conjunction of two theses: First, “that some of our beliefs are epistemologically privileged,” and second, that those beliefs that are not epistemologically privileged “are justified by means of support of these privileged beliefs” (Susan Haack, “Descartes, Peirce, and the Cognitive Community,” in The Relevance of Charles Peirce , ed. Eugene Freeman, [Chicago, IL: LaSalle, 1983], 250; cited in Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture , 149).

[22] Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture , 151.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] The strength of deduction as a logic of reading scripture is epistemological : it serves as a good beginning orientation to the words of Scripture and offers a kind of grounding that might serve well if a new reader has difficulty knowing where to begin.

[27] The strength of inductive Bible studies is moral : when the application is understood in a local and/or personal way, it has a more immediate use and is taken to mean the amending of one’s life in accord with what one has read.

[28] Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture , 287-288.

[29] See, for example, Ochs’s reading of Augustine: Ochs, “Reparative Reasoning: From Peirce’s Pragmatism to Augustine’s Scriptural Semiotic,” in Modern Theology , vol. 25, issue 2, (April 2009), 187-215.

[30] I understand Ochs’s use of “narrative” here to be another example of his non-foundationalism in the sense that “narrative,” for theologians like Hans Frei, renders Scripture as analogous to a story where one finds oneself in the middle and not ever in a place where one’s beliefs can be grounded in the biblical narrative. (I say analogous because Frei does not equate his technical use of “narrative” with a non-technical or popular use of “story.” On this point, see Mike Higton, “Frei and Story Theology,” in Christ, Providence, and History: Hans W. Frei’s Public Theology , [London: T & T Clark International, 2004], 239-241.)

[31] Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture , 289.

[32] See C. I. Lewis, “A Pragmatic Conception of the A Priori,” in The Journal of Philosophy , vol. XX, no. 7, (1923), 169-177.

[33] For example, within Ochs’s understanding of it, “Peirce’s pragmatic rule diagrams both a Scriptural rule of compassion and a Scriptural rule of faith. The rule of faith is that, for the sufferer who is also a member of the community of scriptural readers, suffering is itself a vague sign that one’s redeemer is at hand: a human care-giver for finite sufferings, and a divine Redeemer for infinite ones. This rule may be graphed, in shorthand, as sRo: a dialogic relation between suffering, a vague sign “s-,” and the “other,” “-o,” who would deliver care. The rule of compassion is that, for the scriptural reader who observes suffering, this suffering is a determinate sign that the reader must become redeemer and help the sufferer. The rule may be graphed, again, as sRo: received as a call to action for one who knows the rule, “-R-,” and who identifies him- or herself as the other “-o,” who sees the suffering, “s-.” The Rule of Pragmaticism is simply to recognize this rule when others may not” (Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture , 289-290).

[34] It should be noted that James’s Principles of Psychology could be used here as well, as James did not revise the chapter on “Reasoning” as much as he did other chapters. I chose to use The Briefer Course because it is more accessible.

[35] By possible background, I do not mean in an actual or explicit way. Rather, the goal of this paper is to add on to Ochs’s work on Peirce for scriptural reasoning. In what follows, I hope to be read as making some suggestions for why James should be added to this conversation (for reasons listed in footnote 19).

[36] For a good overview of the place of James’s chapter on “Reasoning” in the history of logic, see Robert Hannah, Rationality and Logic , (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009), 115-154.

[37] James, Psychology: The Briefer Course , (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2001), 219.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid., 220.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Ibid., 221.

[44] James backs off his boldness a bit in his caveat: “This is, to be sure, not always the case: for the fact that M carries P with it may also be unfamiliar and now formulated for the first time” (221).

[45] It might be worth noting, for some of the conversations among scriptural reasoners, that James mentions “wisdom” as a synonym for “learning” in this context.

[46] James, Psychology , 229.

[47] James, Psychology , 229. James develops his understanding of what constitutes a “genius” in another chapter of The Principles of Psychology : “Geniuses are commonly believed to excel other men in their power of sustained attention. In most of them, it is to be feared, the so-called ‘power’ is of the passive sort. Their ideas coruscate, every subject branches infinitely before their fertile minds, and so for hours they may be rapt. But it is their genius making them attentive, not their attention making geniuses of them ” (PP, 1.423).

[48] James, Psychology , 229.

[49] The phrase “new research” might seem a bit odd, but James is merely attempting to endorse and show the importance of his own work in philosophical psychology as “new research.”

[50] For James’s reinstatement of vague, see the following: James, Principles of Psychology , two volumes, (New York, NY: Dover, 1950), 1.254-255; James, Psychology , 32-33; William Joseph Gavin, William James and the Reinstatement of the Vague , (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 1992).

[51] James, The Principles of Psychology , 1.254.

[52] Gavin, William James and the Reinstatement of the Vague , 3.

[53] James, Psychology , 229-230.

[54] James, Psychology , 230.

[55] James’s use of “aesthetic” is quite complicated and, unfortunately, cannot be developed here properly. However, I address and develop James’s use of “aesthetic interests” in my work on James’s radical empiricism and its application to questions in hermeneutics and interpretation theory. All that can be said now is that, for James, “aesthetic interests” should remain both (a) necessary for reasoning and (b) distinct from “practical interests” – that is, refuse to collapse into the practical or the ” pragma .”

[56] See James, Psychology , 231.

[57] Ibid.

[58] James revisits this argument, though in a different form, in his book Pragmatism : “A new opinion counts as ‘true’…in proportion as it gratifies…desire to assimilate the novel in…experience to…beliefs in stock” (James, Pragmatism , [New York, NY: Dover, 1995], 25). Commenting on this argument, David Boersma actually employs terms (“dyadic” and “triadic”) that Ochs himself uses to interpret Peirce as well as to justify scriptural reasoning. Boersma argues, “for James, truth is not a dyadic relation simply between reality and the statement (or belief) or a dyadic relation simply between a past stock of statements (or beliefs). Rather, it is a triadic relation between reality, a past stock of statements (or beliefs), and the present statement (or belief) at issue” (Boersma, Pragmatism and Reference , [Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2009], 77). For an introduction to Ochs’s use of these terms, see Peter Kang’s “Mapping Triadic Vistas” in this volume of The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning .

[59] See Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture , 161-245.

[60] “According to the method of pragmatic reading I employ and examine in this study, vague symbols may be defined only with respect to particular contexts of interpretation (“interpretants” in Peirce’s vocabulary). The resulting definition displays, nonetheless, a species of indeterminacy that would enable interpreters to draw lessons from one context to another. This phenomenon is significant, since it discloses a way of generalizing the results of pragmatic inquiry without transgressing the limits of context-specific interpretation and, thus, without recourse to the universalisms (or “foundationalisms”) the pragmatists criticized” (Ochs, Peirce, Pragmatism, and the Logic of Scripture , 9).

[61] I take this to be one of the points of Ochs’s technical essay, “From Two to Three: To Know Is to Know the Context of Knowing,” in Scripture, Reason, and the Contemporary Islam-West Encounter: Studying the “Other,” Understanding the “Self” , eds. Steven Kepnes & Basit Koshul, (New York, NY: Palgrave MacMillian, 2007).

[62] I am using the word “trick” here, not in a negative way, but rather to suggest that Ochs has set himself no easy or small task of showing how reasoning is both traditioned and novel . The “trick” of scriptural reasoning, then, describes the pragmatist background of Ochs’s development of scriptural reasoning. This section simply introduces this background.

[63] Adams, “Confessing the Faith: Reasoning in Tradition,” in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics , ed. Stanley Hauerwas & Samuel Wells, (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004), 211.

[64] Ibid., 209.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Ibid., 211.

[67] Within Adams’s rationale, this part of James’s argument makes James look right at home in the “Enlightenment” or modern understanding of “tradition” as “passive” (see Adams, “Confessing the Faith,” 211-212).

[68] In my “Richard Rorty and Scriptural Reasoning,” I summarize how Scriptural Reasoning works as a practice:

Scriptural Reasoning is first and foremost a practice . On a basic level, it is a practice where Jews, Christians, and Muslims gather to read their Scriptures together and simply see what happens! There are more complex and complicated levels, all depending on the composition and purpose of each particular group. I offer, as a sample here, this basic description of the practice…for groups that I have helped get started – which are usually more academic oriented.

SR is a time and place for Christians, Jews, and Muslims to gather and attempt to read their scriptures together in ways different from reading in one’s own religious tradition but also in ways different from the academic disciplines of reading the Bible – what we might call “historical criticism.” Reading in one’s own religious tradition encourages one to always contextualize, to come to the theological point of the text or draw a moral application from the text. Historical criticism brings a logical framework to the text that sets the boundaries and limitations of what the text can do and say. Both of these methods of reading tend to over-determine the text either through contextualization or through deciding ahead of time – that is, before the text is actually read – specific criteria for what “the meaning” of the text can be. SR seeks to be an alternative to these two approaches but without knowing ahead of time what that alternative exactly is or even looks like. However, we have found that stating some “rules” for SR does help groups get started and give them an idea of how the practice works best. As a way to avoid the risk of over-determining the text, these rules are more about how to engage with one another rather than how to read the text. Reading the texts is a necessary part of the practice . When reading the texts, we encourage you to read carefully and slowly and to stay within the parameters of the passage on the page in front of you. Engagement with one another should always happen through the texts – that is, all claims and questions need to be filtered through the texts themselves. In order to nurture this kind of engagement, here are some suggested (and always evolving) rules.

[69] See Adams, “Confessing the Faith,” 215-221.

[70] See Ochs, “Philosophic Warrants for Scriptural Reasoning,” in The Promise of Scriptural Reasoning , ed. David Ford & C. C. Pecknold, (New York, NY: Blackwell, 2006), 121-138.

[71] It should be noted that James’s use of “existential” here is not typical; James uses the word “existential” to describe questions concerning the “context,” “history,” and “origin” of the Bible.

[72] James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature , (New York, NY: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2004), 17-18.

[73] See Hans Frei, The Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century Hermeneutics , (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1974).

[74] Wayne Proudfoot, “Introduction,” in The Varieties of Religious Experience , xxii.

[75] In this sense, it seems that Lamberth worries about Richard Rorty’s argument that philosophy ought to shift from epistemology to hermeneutics (see Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature , [Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1979]). Lamberth puts this worry onto Ochs’s book thereby collapsing Ochs’s argument into Rorty’s argument, which might be reasonable given Ochs’s work in scriptural reasoning. However, I find no warrant for such a concern within Ochs’s book itself – which is what Lamberth claims to be assessing. Ochs seems to think that (given how he writes): (a) it is difficult to separate any spheres of philosophy (a kind of philosophical pluralism); (b) not any one sphere of philosophy ought to become or shift into another sphere (in a totalitarian sense); and (c) different spheres always speak to the other spheres (in a dialogical sense). Ochs might say, following Peirce, that there is some kind of order or priority within the relationships of the spheres of philosophy. But this is not the same as Lamberth’s concern because, for Rorty, epistemology should not be ordered or under hermeneutics; rather, Rorty argues that epistemology ought to be replaced by hermeneutics. I do not find this kind of logic of substitution anywhere in Ochs’s book.

[76] It represents a rather serious debate among scholars of William James, and I think Lamberth (as well as Gavin) dismisses too quickly this possibility – especially given that James himself seems to struggle with the question in his own work.

[77] There is precedence within James scholarship for applying his work to questions concerning hermeneutics in general and biblical hermeneutics in particular. For the former, see the following: Russell Goodman, American Philosophy and the Romantic Tradition , (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2008); Frank Lentricchia, Ariel and the Police: Michel Foucault, William James, Wallace Stevens , (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989); Charlene Haddock Seigrfried, William James’s Radical Reconstruction of Philosophy , (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1990). For the latter, see Joan Richardson, A Natural History of Pragmatism: The Fact of Feeling from Jonathan Edwards to Gertrude Stein , (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2007). I highly recommend Richardson’s chapter on James for biographical warrant that James’s pragmatism was influenced by questions concerning allegory and typology within biblical interpretation.

[78] This paper improved immensely because of the editorial comments and suggestions of Rumee Ahmed, Jason Byassee, Bill Elkins, Tommy Givens, and Keith Starkenburg. Conversations with Angela McWilliams Goodson, Stanley Hauerwas, and Peter Ochs provided some healthy directions as well as needed encouragement.

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