In Pragmatism and the Theory of Truth, William James presents the pragmatic explanation of how humans form their beliefs. He argues that the belief formation process is dependent on each individual’s set of ideas. If this is true, it seems that it is impossible for humans to fully understand objective truth. However, the Mahayana Buddhist concept of upaya works with a very similar understanding of belief formation while maintaining that it is possible for us to fully understand objective truth. Upaya, or skillful means, refers to a teaching method tailored to a specific student. A wise teacher uses this individualized method in order to communicate some greater truth to the student. The tailored method itself is known as upaya. Here upaya seems to acknowledge the importance of each individual’s set of ideas in belief formation, much like the pragmatic explanation. However, within the context of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, upaya’s final goal is to help the individual understand the objectively true nature of reality.
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