Thursday, April 23, 2015

How Dewey’s “The Postulate of Immediate Experience” Makes the World Safe for Aesthetics and Challenges the Dominant Paradigm of Philosophy as Absolutist

In 1905 Dewey wrote an amazing little article, “The Postulate of Immediate Empiricism.”  I am basing my comments here on the article as it appears in Pragmatism and Classical American Philosophy ed. John J. Stuhr. Oxford U. Press, 2000.  The article is not, strictly speaking, about aesthetics and it is written long before Dewey’s great Art as Experience (1934).  However it challenges certain assumptions of the dominant paradigm of philosophy, and in particular the dominant paradigm of empiricism, in a way that, if successful, would give aesthetics a much more significant role in philosophy than hitherto.  The importance of the article has yet to be digested, and the dominant paradigm remains much the same today.  (Dewey himself develops the concept of experience further in the above-mentioned book, and there ties it much more closely to aesthetic experience.)  In essence, Dewey, is trying here to mark out a path for philosophy which is between the extremes of Hegelian absolutism and the kind of empiricism typical of a scientistic and mechanistic worldview.  But that does not mean that he is anti-science.  To the contrary:  whereas most contemporary philosophy is committed to the sort of rationalism that radically separates man and nature, Dewey begins with the fundamental Darwinian insight that man is fundamentally a live creature interacting with his environment.  The most important notion in Dewey’s philosophy is experience, not the experience of a detached spectator, but that of someone as a physical organic being consciously engaged with its surroundings in an objectively real world.  (Thus the position is not a form of idealism.) One interesting result of Dewey’s essay is his insight that mechanistic forms of empiricism are not, in principle, much different from the absolutist Hegelianism.  Hegelianism is largely moribund today. Yet mechanistic empiricism has inherited the gods-eye point of view of the Hegelian Absolute, but without God.  By hewing to a strict equation of reality and truth, the mechanistic empiricist drains experience of its value components, its particularity, and its richness, rendering it merely epiphenomenal.  Dewey’s essay, by stressing how things are experienced as, draws our attention to the phenomenological complexity of things, the ways in which they are funded with meanings.  This is, of course, what art also draws our attention to.  Whereas the mechanist like Descartes would strip the piece of wax of its quale, Dewey stresses, as the artist typically would, that the many ways that the wax is experienced as is the reality of the piece of wax.  I suspect that philosophy’s unwillingness to embrace this perspective is part and parcel with the ongoing battle between philosophy and art going back at least to the time of Plato who, himself, saw it as an ancient debate.

In an unfortunate editorial excision, the first paragraph of Dewey’s essay is missing from the edition I am using.  So will quote it entirely here.

"THE criticisms made upon that vital but still unformed movement variously termed radical empiricism, pragmatism, humanism, functionalism, according as one or another aspect of it is uppermost, have left me with a conviction that the fundamental difference is not so much in matters overtly discussed as in a presupposition which remains tacit : a presupposition as to what experience is and means. To do my little part in clearing up the confusion, I shall try to make my own presupposition explicit. The object of this paper is, then, to set forth what I understand to be the postulate and the criterion of immediate empiricism."

Dewey begins, then, by observing that criticisms of pragmatism and humanism are generally based on a tacit assumption about what experience is and means.  Here follows a summary of the rest of the article along with some of my own comments.

“Immediate empiricism” (which Dewey advocates) says that things are what they are experienced as.  The true description of something is of this.  To describe something truly is to describe what it is experienced as being.  If, therefore, one type of person’s description of a horse is different from another’s there is no reason to believe that one is more real than the other.  This, of course, seems relativistic.  It should be noted, however that in his examples he stresses different types of people with different areas of expertise, for example, assuming that each person is experiencing a horse, he speaks of the psychologist’s horse and the logician’s horse, and only once mentions an individual with a particular need independent of any such discipline, i.e. the timid man who wants a safe horse.  So, it seems that the horse experienced is experienced within the constraints of different domains, and therefore this is not a radical or individualistic relativism.

The question in each of these instances is what sort of experience is denoted?  The contrast is not between Reality and different phenomenal representations of that Reality but between what Dewey calls “different reals of experience.”   It is wrong, however, to translate this point into the idea that things “are only what they are known to be.”  This, Dewey claims, is the logical mistake or “paralogism” made by the various forms of idealism.  Knowing is not the only mode of experiencing.  Further, it is a fallacy to say that Reality is what it would be to an all-comprehensive knower, or even what it is to a finite knower. The business of philosophy (with respect to the experience of knowing) is to determine what sort of experience knowing experience is, as compared to, for example, aesthetic or economic experience.   The question here is, how do we experience things as known things?  One of the main roots of philosophical "evil" (he uses that term!) is the idea that things absolutely are what knowers would find them to be.  

We should stop and reflect here since this claim is both radical and contrary to anything most philosophers since the ancient Greeks would accept.  Dewey is in essence putting the various kinds of experience, including aesthetic experience, on the same level as knowing experience.  Now one could take another direction and argue that all forms of experience, including aesthetic experience, can have a cognitive side.  He will now address that issue.  Following the typical pragmatist practice he uses a thought experiment based on an everyday experiment.  (Peirce and James also feature disturbing noises in their examples!}

For example, a noise is experienced as fearsome but when I experience it as a known thing (a shade tapping in the wind) I find it harmless:  the experience has changed and the thing as experienced has changed, or to put it differently, “the concrete reality experienced has changed.”  It has changed from noise as fearsome to noise as wind-curtain fact.  This change has happened through cognition.  Although a critic might argue that the entire experience is cognitive and that the earlier part is simply a less perfect cognition, the key for the "immediatist" (Dewey’s name for his own position here) is to ask what the fright is experienced as. Dewey argues that there is no reason to assume that the experience is one of “I-know-I-am-frightened” rather than simply “I am frightened” or even just “fright-at-the-noise.” The “I-know-I-am-frightened” experience can be had, but it is of a different sort, and of a different thing. 

So we must distinguish between a thing as cognitive, and one as cognized.  To have a cognitive experience is to have an experience with implications that are fulfilled in that thing experienced as cognized, i.e. as transformed in that way.  The fright-at-the-noise is  cognitive but not cognized.

Many will note a fundamental puzzle here.  Dewey seems ambiguous as to whether he is talking about one or two things.  The main line is that the one thing (noise-as-fearsome) is replaced by another (noise-as-not-fearsome) and yet we are also told that we have learned something about the first thing.  Do we really have replacement rather than continuity when continuity is such a key thing for Dewey in general?  I do not know how to resolve this problem, but perhaps Dewey,, returning to the summary:

Dewey now holds that the words “as” and “that” can explain the empiricist position (i.e. his version of empiricism). Things are as experienced and, to give an account of this is to tell what that thing is experienced to be, i.e. that is is so and so.  One might want to say that each a thing has a quale.  But Dewey insists that a thing experienced does not so much have a quale as is a quale. He illustrates the issue by discussing the famous Zollner illusion from psychology textbooks in which lines that are really parallel appear to be divergent.  For Dewey, the experience of the lines as divergent is still a “concrete qualitative thing” or what he calls a “that.”  Indeed, he thinks this is the key to the question of objectivity for the empiricist.  The lines of that experience are divergent: they do not merely seem so.  It is in the concrete thing as experienced that logical rectification is contained.  This happens by way of the concrete experience developing into a corrected experience.  (So we have continuity here, but without the reality/appearance distinction we usually use playing any role at all.) The second corrected experience is not more real than the first.  But it is truer.  So, in this methodology, truth is disconnected from “more real.”  This is what makes the claim so radical.  Truth is seen, in the end, in a pragmatist way, as the worth of a concrete experienced thing:  "only by taking that experience [of the divergent lines] as real and as fully real, is there any basis for or way of going to an experienced knowledge that the lines are parallel." 

Dewey then observes that determinate experience is the only principle of objectivity.  I may only have a vague impression that there is something that looks like a table, but this is the thing experienced and, qua real, is as real as any vision of an Absolute.  It is this vagueness, however, not general vagueness that is real.  A gain in clearness must grow out of some element in the experience itself.  If an experience of convergent lines is illusory it is because of the thing as experienced not because of something external to it.  It is the tension of its elements that effect its reconstruction, or as Dewey also puts it, “the experience of convergent lines contains within itself the elements of the transforming of its own content.” There is no need, therefore, for something to which all experiences are attached (i.e. the Hegelian absolute).  Dewey then talks of the hypothetical all-knower (God) as no more real than anything else.  Such a God, he hypothesizes, may have its own determinate quale which may be transformed through a continuous series of experienced reals. I suppose he is trying here to think along with the Hegelian absolutists.  Yet, in the end he asserts that the empiricist, unlike the Hegelian, does not see experience as a grandiose remote thing or an indefinite total but simply as experience of some thing.

He concludes his essay by noting that although nothing can be deduced from the postulate of empiricism, you can learn a method of philosophical analysis.  He thinks that this is the same as the method of the scientist.  It is that if you wish to find what a philosophical term means, determine what the thing is experienced as.  This method does not allow for off-handed demonstrations of God, freedom, etc.  But such philosophical conceptions are no longer useful as stimulants or sanctions.  Nonetheless, they remain useful as experienced meanings.  [In the Stuhr edition the … is incorrect.  The essay ends here with a period.]

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Freud, Daydreaming, Art and Everyday Aesthetics

   Freud's 1908 essay "Der Dichter und das Phantasieren" or, in English, "The Relation of the Poet to Day-Dreaming,” has long been anthologized in textbooks of aesthetics and philosophy of art.  In it he asks how the poet comes by his material and how he arouses emotion in us.  Can we find an activity in ourselves which is similar?  If so, we could gain insight into the creative powers of imaginative writers.  Freud, not surprisingly, looks to the child, and notes that the child's best-loved activity is play.  In play, like an imaginative writer, the child creates a world of his own, or rather, rearranges things to create a world that pleases himself.  He takes all of this very seriously, expanding much emotion on the activity.  Play mainly involves wish-fulfillment, i.e. fulfilling the wish to be most play involves imitation of adult life.

 What strikes me about this analysis is that, as with Dewey and the pragmatists, continuity is found between processes of art and processes of everyday life.  Freud argues that the child's experience is continued into adulthood but there transformed into daydreams and art.  Daydreams involve wish-fulfillment as well, but now, in adulthood, mainly either erotic or ambitious.  These wishes, however, are considered shameful and so are generally kept hidden.  The poet, in turn, is able to transform these daydreams from what would normally be considered shameful into something pleasing and vicariously satisfying.  This, again, is much like Dewey insofar as he speaks of continuity between processes of everyday life and processes of art.  For Freud, the writer creates a world of phantasy, which he takes seriously and invests with feeling.  

Assume that Freud is right that day-dreaming is an extension of play, and closely related, in turn. to art.  It would seem then that there would be an aesthetics of play, an aesthetics of day-dreams, and even an aesthetics of dreams, and that all are intimately related to the aesthetics of art.  We need to distinguish and define our terms however, since Freud has his own use of "aesthetic" (which he associates with the purely formal).  He thinks of aesthetic pleasure as a fore-pleasure provided to seduce us into the artist's phantasy world.   Only there do we find deeper more intense pleasures related to wish-fulfillment.  "The writer softens the egotistical character of the day-dream by changes and disguises, and he bribes us by the offer of a purely formal, that is, aesthetic, pleasure in the presentation of his phantasies." I would want to say that both pleasures are aesthetic, but would retain the distinction between more shallow and deeper for intense forms of pleasure.

  Another way in which Freud is similar to Dewey (and to James as well) is the attention he pays to the temporal relation in experience between past, present and future.  Dewey seldom speaks of childhood.  However I am sure he would be happy with, or at least fascinated by, Freud's temporal related formulation of his main point:  “Some actual experience which made a strong impression on the writer had stirred up a memory of an earlier experience, generally belonging to childhood, which then arouses a wish that finds a fulfillment in the work in question, and in which elements of the recent event and the old memory should be discernible.”

One thing that puzzle is whether it is the play of childhood that is found repeated in the daydream and in art or is it some other pleasure of childhood, as for example the experience of close homey family life.  Sometimes Freud talks as though it is the first, and sometimes the second.  That is, the current impression, on Freud's account, leads us back to an invent in infancy during which the wish (or one like it?) was fulfilled.  Freud of course believed that infant have erotic wishes that are in fact fulfilled.  But note that the play of children is not associated with erotic wishes but with the wish to be an adult.  

It is noteworthy of course that the comparison is made to work mainly by relating the experience of popular art, for instance the popular romance or adventure fiction, although Freud makes a more indirect connection to what would be considered "fine art" by way of his claim that some art involves mythology, legends and fairy-tales which might well be seen as wish-fulfillment fantasies of the culture in question.  Another strategy he uses is to speak of "an uninterrupted series of transitions" between the naive daydream and the sophisticated novel.  In response, one could say that the overemphasis on popular art, e.g. the hero who always gets the girl, makes the case too easy.  Yes, popular fiction is like daydreaming, but perhaps fine art fiction is significantly different.  

Monday, March 30, 2015

Dewey on Substance and Form

Here I am limiting myself to the Ross selection (in Art and its
) from Substance and Form chapter of Art as Experience.  [See the end of this comment for a note on an editorial mistake in Ross.]

Dewey is relatively unique in discussing art in terms of the creative process, and of expanding the notion of the creative process to include the receiver as well as the artist.  Art is seen as communicative, as a set of languages each attached to its own medium, in which the artist says something that cannot be said in any other language, and in which the perceiver is a partner in the creative process, completing the work through his or her own experience.  The point is phenomenological in that the artist, even when alone in her studio, must bear in mind the audience with which she wishes to communicate. (Dewey is also unique in discussing the work of art “in progress” as well as at the stage of completion.)  The artist must be the audience vicariously.  Thus the creative process has two moments that mirror one another:  the moment of the artist/audience relation prior to the actual experience by the audience, and the moment of actualization of the work by the audience member.  Both involve a triadic relation of artist, audience and work, although, in the first, the work is "in process" and the audience is imagined.

Dewey then offers this wonderfully convoluted sentence:  "He [the artist] can speak only as his work appeals to him as one spoken to through what he perceives."  The artist can only speak or create if the work appeals to him when he perceives it in the way it would to an ideal audience member?  The passage is followed by a quote from Matisse speaking of how a finished painting is like a new-born child it that it will take the artist himself time to understand (he must live with it).  The juxtaposition is odd since the complex relation of artist/object/audience is at least on first sight different from that between artist and new-born work. But the idea perhaps is that the object as new-born child is something that speaks to the artist who perceives it just as it would be to an audience member. 

The distinction between substance and form is between what is said and how it is said.  Does the substance come first and then the form or way of expressing it later?   No, for Dewey, the whole creative endeavor of the artist is “to form material so that it will be in actuality the authentic substance of a work of art.”  The material is not distinguished from substance in the final product.  Another way to put this is that you cannot separate the aesthetic value attached to sense materials from that which is attached to expressive form. 

Dewey goes on, contra Plato, to argue that beauty is not a matter of some form that comes down from a transcendent realm.  Rather it is “a name for the esthetic quality that appears whenever material is formed in a way that renders it adequately expressive….”  Form arises when “an experience attains complete development.”   Form is something that happens in this world, not in another.  In short, it happens when we have “an experience.”  This, of course, is in as much opposition to the formalism of Bell as to that of Plato.

In a way, Dewey synthesizes formalism and expressionism.  Yet his view is as different from the expressionist theory of Tolstoy as from the formalism of Bell.  Tolstoy, Dewey might argue, does not pay sufficient attention to form itself.  Both Dewey and Tolstoy see art as self-expression, but, for Dewey, the self is not isolated from the process or the product of expression.  Self-expression is not external to the thing expressed.  In elaborating his own notion of self-cxpression Dewey incorporates Kant's idea of the free play of the imagination and the understanding.  He speaks of the “free play of individuality” with its “freshness and originality” as necessary for creativity in art.  He observes further that the material of the work of art comes from “the common world,” but then the self “assimilates the material in a distinctive way.”  If the work is successful the viewers will similarly rebuild old materials in their own experience. 

Dewey discusses two ways in which the perceiver can go wrong.  One is to look at the work “academically” i.e. in terms of what is familiar and related to past art.  He can also look at it sentimentally and for illustrations.  That is, he could look at it as kitsch. But to perceive esthetically is to “create an experience of which the intrinsic subject matter, the substance, is new.”

Notice, then, that creating aesthetically is, contrary to Bell again, a matter of activity and something related deeply to subject matter as well as to newness.  It follows that a poem, or any other work of art, is a succession of experiences, and “a new poem is created by every one who reads poetically” since each person is individual and brings something of his or her own”:  “A work of art no matter how old and classic is actually, not just potentially, a work of art only when it lives in some individualized experience.”  So we distinguish between the work of art qua physical object and the work of art qua work of art.  The first is always identical, but the later is recreated over and over again.  To say a work of art is universal is not to say it is always the same but to say that it can be successfully experienced differently at different times in history and by different individuals.   This is made clear when we think that a musical score is actualized in a different way each time it is played.  A work of art as like a musical score in this respect.  We can see how radically different Dewey’s formalism is from that of Bell in his claim that form “marks a way of envisaging, of feeling, and of presenting experienced matter so that it most readily and effectively becomes material for the construction of adequate experience on the part of those less gifted..”  Form is a way of doing something on the part of the artist in relation to his or her materials and subject matter and in relation to the experiencer, the audience.  The form is a triadic relation, not a singular or a dual one.   

There is unfortunately a significant error in the Ross selection of Dewey.  The selection from Substance and Form ends on page 213 with “form and substance…”  The net paragraph is actually from the chapter “The Common Substance of the Arts” and continues on page 214.  The …. After “with ourselves” on pg. 214 is wrong since the next paragraph is the next paragraph in the text.  So the title “The Common Substance of the Arts” should have been on the previous page.

Friday, March 27, 2015

William James on the psychological question in morality: it is a matter of taste!

I have long thought that aesthetics is short-changed by philosophy in its relation to ethics.  This is almost always the case, but sometimes a philosopher will begin to grant its importance.  Instructive in this regard is a passage in William James’ classic work “The Moral Philosophy and the Moral Life.”  There, he divides moral philosophy into three questions, of which he notes that the psychological is, for most, the only question.  The main point of the essay has to do with the other two questions, the metaphysical and the casuistical  (he deals with each in sequence). But I think sometimes the revealing stuff comes at the beginning.  Here (on the psychological question) he notes that the usual debate is between the doctor of divinity and the popular science enthusiast, for whom the question of ethics is really one of whether there is a unique faculty of conscience or whether such a faculty is superstition in the face of environmental determinism.  He calls it the debate between the intuitionist and the evolutionist.  It still goes on today.   James seems to associate the second school with the utilitarians (Bentham, Mill, Bain).  Utilitarians, he argues, hold that ideals must have arisen from association with simple bodily pleasures and pains.  (He must not be thinking seriously about Mill’s modification of Bentham’s utilitarianism where quality gains over quantity.)  But, James argues, we cannot explain all our sentiments and judgments in this way.  There are “secondary affections” that relate our impressions in a different way than by association.  He lists a number of these, from “the love of drunkenness” to “the passion of poetry.” These cannot be wholly explained by association or utility, even though they might go with other things that can be so explained.  He sees these things as originating not in environmental conditions but in brain structure, and he thinks that a vast number of our moral perceptions are of this kind.  The passion for music figures as highly here as a “sense for abstract justice” and a love of “higher philosophical consistencies.”  He speaks further of “the feeling of the inward dignity of certain spiritual attitudes, as peace, serenity, simplicity, veracity” which he finds “quite inexplicable except by an innate preference….for its own sake.”  I would argue that these “spiritual attitudes” can be seen, at least in the cases of peace, serenity and simplicity, as aesthetic qualities.  (Why not veracity too?)  James then makes the aesthetic theme explicit when he says “The nobler thing tastes better.”  Moreover, he argues, although consequences may “teach us what things are wicked,” they do not explain what we consider “mean and vulgar.”  We are disgusted, for example, when the husband who shoots his wife’s lover and then makes up with her, and with a utopia based on one person’s lonely torture.  He is particularly impressed by recent condemnations by Tolstoy, Ballamy and Guyau of punitive forms of retributive justice.  Such “subtleties of the moral sensibility” go “beyond the law of association” as much as “the delicacies of sentiment” (note the use of this term so closely associated with Hume's theory of taste) as between a pair of lovers that goes beyond mere norms of etiquette in the courting process.   In short, his claim seems to be at least in part that the higher moral considerations, at least the ones that go beyond "commonplace moral maxims" are basically aesthetic.

James assumes that these judgments are based on “subtle brain-born feelings,” insisting that “inward forces are certainly at work” in all of these secondary cases.  But then he follows this with the claim that “all the higher, more penetrating ideals are revolutionary.”  I wonder why the higher, more penetrating ideals would necessarily be attached to subtle brain-born phenomena as opposed to environmental based phenomena or a combination of both.  But let us set this issue aside and continue with his argument.  James goes on:  “They [such ideals] present themselves far less in the guise of effects of past experiences than in that of probable causes of future experience.”  This point seems to veer off from talk of subtle events in the brain, the point being simply that the environment can also be forced to bend to our own needs as well.  He concludes that our ideals have many sources and are not explicable simply in terms of “corporeal pleasures” and pains: the intuitionists at least saw that much.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

William James and the Possiblity of an Aesthetic Turn in Philosophy

When I speak of the possibility of an aesthetic turn in philosophy I speak very speculatively and for a future generation.  It is very unlikely that such a thing will happen in the near run.  Aesthetics is still the step-child of philosophy, as it has been going all of the way back to Plato, who shunted his main comments on the philosophy of art to the end of the Republic, and then added insult to injury by outlawing the imitative arts from the ideal society.   It is unfortunate that aesthetics holds so little interest for contemporary philosophers as the domain of aesthetic value is immense and is equally large and significant to our lives to moral value, often overlapping the issues of moral value as well.   Part of the neglect of aesthetics may be traced to a certain attitude contemporary philosopher have towards consciousness itself, an attitude that William James tried to overcome in his Principles of Psychology.  The comments I will make here are based on material found in the selection from that book, called "The Stream of Thought," found in John J. Stuhr ed.  Pragmatism and Classical American Philosophy 2nd ed. (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2000.)  My argument briefly is that James' attack on associationist psychology is an attack on traditional empiricism going back to Locke and Hume,  that this attack is still relevant today, that those philosophers and that tradition have neglected some fundamental characteristics of thought, which, when attended to, indicate that aesthetic experience may be much more fundamental to consciousness than people ordinarily think.

James does not mention aesthetics in this selection, and only mentions art once, although in an important way.  Yet I will show that his examples show an awareness of aesthetic phenomena as foundational to a study of consciousness.  It is perhaps because James studied as a painter when a young man, and then later in his 20s, spent considerable time thinking about the nature of art, that his insight into consciousness has so many affinities to an aesthetic approach to philosophy.  It is also not surprising that in reading these passages from the Principles of Psychology one is often reminded of Dewey's later description of "an experience" in his Art as Experience (1936).  I suspect that there is a direct line of influence here.  But Dewey's book does not make as clear the importance of these insights for philosophy in general.  

James begins by observing that most psychology books begin with sensations "as the simplest mental facts" and then proceed to construct higher stages of thought from these.  Yet "no one ever had a simple sensation by itself."  Rather, consciousness is "of a teeming multiplicity of objects and relations" and even what we call simple sensations "are results of discriminative attention."  Instead, James believes we should start with the fact of thinking itself, where "thinking" means "every form of consciousness."  My argument will be that the shifts in our understanding of consciousness brings out aesthetic features of experience that are systematically neglected by the philosophical tradition up until our own time.  

James lists five characters of thought, all of which are relevant to our purpose, but only two of which I will discuss today.  This is cumulative, and the relation to aesthetics might not seem evident from the first.  Bear in mind that in these passages James has nothing to say about pleasure or aesthetic qualities.  There is no mention of grace, beauty, ugliness, and so forth.  However, James is drawing our attention to the greater complexity of experience than is found in traditional psychology, a complexity that is brought out phenomenologically by referring to a halo of experience (177), and also by a deep awareness of the ways in which an experience of, say, the speaking of a sentence, carries something of the past with it, develops over time, and projects into the future.  The overall aesthetic quality that conscious experience has for James might be called "dramatic structure."  The experience of a thought turns out to be much like the experience of a play in Aristotle, with its emphasis on beginning, middle and end, the whole being an organic whole in which each part represents the whole.  Without this understanding of the nature of consciousness, an understanding of experience as fundamentally related to aesthetics, perhaps as fundamentally aesthetic, is lost.  Ironically, although James' thought is directed against Hume's psychology, there is an affinity between James on consciousness and Hume on taste.  Just as Sancho's cousins are able to engage in subtle discrimination, telling that the wine is good but for a taste of leather in one case and metal in the other (both confirmed by finding the key with the leather thong at the bottom of the barrel) so too the subtle elements of consciousness observed by James require very high levels of discrimination.  

James' first point about thought, that "thought tends to personal form" seems at first little related to the point at issue.  The most of value here is the possible implication that all thought is colored by the self to which it is attached, thus increasing the phenomenological complexity of thought.  The mental procession in my mind is the primary datum of psychology, and  it is my mental procession personified as mine and shaded by my personal selfhood. 

The second point, that "thought is in constant change" takes us however in a direction directly opposed to the Lockean theory of simple ideas.  The point is deeply Heraclitean, although oddly requiring a non-Heraclitean view of the external world to do its work.  He writes:  "no state once gone can recur and be identical with what was before."  and further "there is no proof that the same bodily sensation is ever got by us twice." (164)  What is got twice rather is the same object.  It is noteworthy here that the examples suddenly veer to the aesthetic realm:  "We hear the same note over and over again; we see the same quality of green, or smell the same objective perfume, or experience the same species of pain." (165)  We believe in the permanent existence of these realities.  And it is these realities that come up again and again in thought.  But it is careless to think that the ideas of them are ever the same.  He alludes to a later chapter where he will observe that "our habit of not attending to sensations as subjective facts, but only as stepping stones to pass over to the recognition of the realities whose presence they reveal." (163)  Attending to these sensations is the aesthetic as opposed to the practical way of perceiving.  This hunch is immediately confirmed by James when he now brings up what we would today consider to be one of the main insights of the Impressionist movement in art.  Bear in mind that James publishes this in 1890, that he constantly travels to Europe, and that Monet and Renoir are doing impressionist painting in 1869.  So there is ample time for the ideas to pass over.  Here is the quote:  "The grass out of the window now looks to me of the same green in the sun as in the shade, and yet a painter would have to paint one part of it dark brown, another part bright yellow, to give its real sensational effect." He further asserts:  "We take no heed, as a rule, of the different way in which the same things look and sound and smell at different distances under different circumstances."   James' awareness of the phenomenological complexity of sensation, based on the notion that it is never the same, goes also to differences in sensibility based on differences in emotion  about things from one age to another or in different overall moods:  "What was bright and exciting becomes weary, flat, and unprofitable.  The bird's song is tedious, the breeze is mournful, the sky is sad."  That is, things shift in their aesthetic/expressive properties.  A similar thing happens to "every thought we have of a given fact":  "The friends we used to care the world for are shrunken to shadows; the women, once so divine, the stars, the woods, and the waters, how now so dull and common!  the young girls that brought an aura of infinity, at present hardly distinguishable existences; the pictures so empty; and as for the books, what was there so mysteriously significant in Goethe, or in John Mill so full of weight?"  (166)  All of this, although focused in negative aesthetic experience, is still aesthetic.  

I will save discussion of the third and fourth points for later.

The last (fifth) point about thought, that "it is always interested more in one part of its object than in another, and welcomes and rejects, or chooses, all the while it thinks" is directly related to aesthetics by James himself.  What is the aesthetic approach to sensation but a matter of selecting?  As James puts it:  "Accentuation and Emphasis are present in every perception we have." and he takes an example from music: "a monotonous succession of sonorous strokes is broken up into rhythms, now of one sort, now of another, by the different accent which we place on different strokes."  (178)  Further, "what are our very senses themselves but organs of selection?" so that "out of what is in itself an undistinguishable, swariming continuum, devoid of distinction or emphasis, our senses make for us, by attending to this motion and ignoring that, a world full of contrast, of sharp accents, of abrupt changes, of picturesque light and shade." (178)  He even defines things as "special groups of sensible qualities, which happen practically or aesthetically to interest us." (178) 

Not only do the senses select ranges of sound, for example, to attend to, the mind also selects from among sensations to most truly represent something.  For example I may take a table-top as square (and other ways it looks as matters of perspective), erecting "the attribute squareness into the table's essence, for aesthetic reasons of my own."  

When he finally passes to the "aesthetic department" of thought he finds that this law is even more obvious than in other domains since the artist selects tones, colors, shapes and so forth to create unity, harmony, etc.  (179) 

Finally, he sees the entire activity of consciousness as art-like:  it consists of selection of some possibilities and suppression of others by way of attention:  "The mind, in short, works on the data it receives very much as a sculptor works on his block of stone." (180)  It seems that the very construction of consciousness is deeply and fundamentally aesthetic.