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The distinguishing scheme of philosophical pragmatism is that effectiveness in practical application by some means offers a criterion for the resolve of truth in the case of declarations, correctness in the case of actions, and worth in the case of assessments. Nonetheless, it is the first of these perspectives, the matter for meaning and truth that has traditionally been the most major.
Pragmatism as a philosophical principle goes back to the Academic Sceptics in classical ancient times. Refuting the likelihood of attaining genuine knowledge (episteme) concerning the real truth, they educated that we must manage with credible information (to pithanon) sufficient to the requirements of practice. Kant’s specification ‘contingent belief, which yet forms the ground for the effective employment of means to certain actions, I entitle pragmatic belief’ (Critique of Pure Reason, A 824/B 852) was also significant for the progress of the principle. Another determining stride was Schopenhauer’s perseverance that the intellect is unanimously secondary to the will, a line of contemplation that was detailed by more than a few German neo-Kantian thinkers. Moral utilitarianism, with its examination of the appropriateness of styles of action in terms of their ability to offer the greatest good of the maximum number was yet another stride in the progress of pragmatic contemplation. For it too evokes much the same utility-maximization model, and there is a profound structural parallel between the argument that an accomplishment is right if its results rebound to ‘the greatest good of the greatest number’, and the thesis-orientated account of a pragmatic theory of truth-claiming that an experimental claim is right if its reception is maximally beneficial.
Nonetheless, pragmatism as a determinate philosophical principle comes down from the work of Charles Sanders Pierce. For him, pragmatism was chiefly a theory of meaning, with the connotation of any idea that has function in the real world inherent in the relationships that connect experiential circumstances of application with visible results. But by the ‘practical consequences’ of the recognition of an thought or a debate, Pierce meant the results for experimental practice – ‘experimental effects’ or ‘observational results’ – so that for him the import of a proposition is decided by the fundamentally positivist standard of its experiential results in severely observational terms. And going a step further, Peirce also educated that pragmatic effectiveness comprises a quality control check of human cognition – though here again the practice matter is that of scientific praxis and the criterion of efficacy centering on the matter of particularly predictive success. Peirce built-up his pragmatism in contrast to idealism, observing that the examination of applicative success can direct simple theorizing to stump its toe on the hard rock of truth. But his descendants moderated the principle, until with present-day ‘pragmatists’ the effectiveness of ideas comprises in their simple acceptance by the community rather than in the accomplishment that the community may (or may not!) meet as it sets those views into practice.
Charles Pierce writes:
“Not only may generals be real, but they may also be physically efficient, not in every metaphysical sense, but in the common-sense acception in which human purposes are physically efficient. Aside from metaphysical nonsense, no sane man doubts that if I feel the air in my study to be stuffy, that thought may cause the window to be opened. My thought, be it granted, was an individual event. But what determined it to take the particular determination it did, was in part the general fact that stuffy air is unwholesome, and in part other Forms, concerning which Dr. Carus has caused so many men to reflect to advantage-or rather, by which, and the general truth concerning which Dr. Carus’s mind was determined to the forcible enunciation of so much truth. For truths, on the average, have a greater tendency to get believed than falsities have. Were it otherwise, considering that there are myriads of false hypotheses to account for any given phenomenon, against one sole true one (or if you will have it so, against every true one), the first step toward genuine knowledge must have been next door to a miracle. So, then, when my window was opened, because of the truth that stuffy air is malsain, a physical effort was brought into existence by the efficiency of a general and non-existent truth. This has a droll sound because it is unfamiliar; but exact analysis is with it and not against it; and it has besides, the immense advantage of not blinding us to great facts-such as that the ideas “justice” and “truth” are, notwithstanding the iniquity of the world, the mightiest of the forces that move it. Generality is, indeed, an indispensable ingredient of reality; for mere individual existence or actuality without any regularity whatever is a nullity. Chaos is pure nothing.” [WHAT PRAGMATISM IS by Charles Sanders Peirce The Monist, 15:2 (April 1905), pp. 161-181]
Although Pierce developed pragmatism into a significant philosophical theory, it was William James who gave it place on the intellectual map in his extremely powerful Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (New York, 1907). Nonetheless, James changed, and in Peirce’s opinion ruined, Peircean pragmatism. For while Peirce observed in pragmatism a path to remote and objective standards, James gave it a personalized and subjective turn. With James, it was the individual (and probably distinctive) thought of effectiveness and achievement held by specific people that offered the pragmatic heart, and not a vague community of ideally rational influences. For him, pragmatic effectiveness and applicative accomplishment did not transmit to an impersonalized community of scientists but to an expanded plurality of flesh-and-blood individuals. Reality for James is consequently what reality pushes and forces human individuals to suppose; it is a substance of ‘what pays by way of belief’ in the route of human activity within the circumambient surroundings and its attainment is an creation rather than a exposure. With James, the tangibility of a hypothesis is resolute in terms of its experiential results in a far more vast than simply observational term- a logic that accepts the sentimental sector too.
James’s first book, the colossal Principles of Psychology (1890), recognized him as one of the most powerful thinkers of his era. The work progressed the belief of functionalism in psychology, thus taking away psychology from its conventional position as a subdivision of philosophy and founding it among the laboratory sciences supported on experimental process.
In the next decade James implemented his empirical techniques of investigation to philosophical and religious matters. He discovered the queries of the being of God, the eternity of the soul, free will, and ethical values by directing to human, religious and moral experience as a direct basis. His outlook on these themes were offered in the lectures and essays published in such books as The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897), Human Immortality (1898), and The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902). The last is a compassionate psychological explanation of religious and mystical occurrences.
Later lectures published as Pragmatism: A New Name for Old Ways of Thinking (1907) finalized James’s innovative offerings to the theory called pragmatism. James universalized the pragmatic method, mounting it from an analysis of the logical foundation of the sciences into a foundation for the assessment of all knowledge. He argued that the meaning of ideas is established only in relation to their probable results. If results are short, ideas are worthless. James argued that this is the technique used by scientists to describe their stipulations and to check their hypotheses, which, if significant, involve forecasts. The hypotheses can be regarded correct if the forecasted events occur. Conversely, most metaphysical theories are hollow, because they involve no testable predictions. Significant theories, James disputed, are tools for handling troubles that come up in knowledge.
According to James’s pragmatism, truth is that which works. One decides what works by examining proposals in experience. By this method, one discovers that some propositions become correct.
Pluralism, Pragmatism, and Instrumental Truth” William James (From A Pluralistic Universe, New York, 1909, pp. 321-4 and Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking , New York, l909, pp. 52-61)
What at bottom is meant by calling the universe many or by calling it one?
Pragmatically interpreted, pluralism or the doctrine that it is many means only that the sundry parts of reality may be externally related. Everything you can think of, however vast or inclusive, has on the pluralistic view a genuinely “external” environment of some sort or amount. Things are “with” one another in many ways, but nothing includes everything, or dominates over everything. The word “and” trails along after every sentence. Something always escapes. “Ever not quite” has to be said of the best attempts made anywhere in the universe at attaining all-inclusiveness. The pluralistic world is thus more like a federal republic than like an empire or a kingdom. However much may be collected, however much may report itself as present at any effective centre of consciousness or action, something else is self-governed and absent and unreduced to unity.
Monism, on the other hand, insists that when you come down to reality as such, to the reality of realities, everything is present to everything else in one vast instantaneous co-implicated completeness — nothing can in any sense, functional or substantial, be really absent from anything else, all things interpenetrate and telescope together in the great total conflux.
For pluralism, all that we are required to admit as the constitution of reality is what we ourselves find empirically realized in every minimum of finite life. Briefly it is this, that nothing real is absolutely simple, that every smallest bit of experience is a multum in parvo plurally related, that each relation is one aspect, character, or function, way of its being taken, or way of its taking something else; and that a bit of reality when actively engaged in one of these relations is not by that very fact engaged in all the other relations simultaneously. The relations are not all what the French call solidaires with one another. Without losing its identity a thing can either take up or drop another thing, like the log I spoke of, which by taking up new carriers and dropping old ones can travel anywhere with a light escort.
For monism, on the contrary, everything, whether we realize itor not, drags the whole universe along with itself and drops nothing. The log starts and arrives with all its carriers supporting it. If a thing were once disconnected, it could never be connected again, according to monism. The pragmatic difference between the two systems is thus a definite one. It is just thus, that if a is once out of sight of b or out of touch with it, or, more briefly, “out” of it at all, then, according to monism, it must always remain so, they can never get together; whereas pluralism admits that on another occasion they may work together, or in some way be connected again. Monism allows for no such things as “other occasions” in reality — in real or absolute reality, that is.
Metaphysics has usually followed a very primitive kind of quest. You know how men have always hankered after unlawful magic, and you know what a great part in magic words have always played. If you have his name, or the formula of incantation that binds him, you can control the spirit, genie, afrite, or whatever the power may be. Solomon knew the names of all the spirits, and having their names, he held them subject to his will. So the universe has always appeared to the natural mind as a kind of enigma, of which the key must be sought in the shape of some illuminating or power-bringing word or name. That word names the universe’s principle and to possess it is after a fashion to possess the universe itself. “God,” “Matter,” “Reason,” “the Absolute,” “Energy,” are so many solving names. You can rest when you have them. You are at the end of your metaphysical quest. But if you follow the pragmatic method, you cannot look on any such word as closing your quest. You must bring out of each word its practical cash-value, set it at work within the stream of your experience. It appears less as a solution, then, than as a program for more work, and more particularly as an indication of the ways in which existing realities may be changed.
Theories thus become instruments, not answers to enigmas, in which we can rest. We don’t lie back upon them, we move forward, and, on occasion, make nature over again by their aid. Pragmatism unstiffens all our theories, limbers them up and sets each one at work. Being nothing essentially new, it harmonizes with many ancient philosophic tendencies. It agrees with nominalism for instance, in always appealing to particulars; with utilitarianism in emphasizing practical aspects; with positivism in its disdain for verbal solutions, useless questions and metaphysical abstractions.
All these, you see, are anti-intellectualist tendencies. Against rationalism as a pretension and a method pragmatism is fully armed and militant. But, at the outset, at least, it stands for no particular results. It has no dogmas, and no doctrines save its method . . . [But] the word pragmatism has come to be used in a still wider sense, as meaning also a certain theory of truth. . .
One of the most successfully cultivated branches of philosophy in our time is what is called inductive logic, the study of the conditions under which our sciences have evolved. Writers on this subject have begun to show a singular unanimity as to what the laws of nature and elements of fact mean, when formulated by mathematicians, physicists and chemists. When the first mathematical, logical, and natural uniformities, the first laws, were discovered, men were so carried away by the clearness, beauty and simplification that resulted, that they believed themselves to have deciphered authentically the eternal thoughts of the Almighty. His mind also thundered and reverberated in syllogisms. He also thought in conic sections, squares and roots and ratios, and geometrized like Euclid. He made Kepler’s laws for the planets to follow; he made velocity increase proportionally to the time in falling bodies; he made the law of the sines for light to obey when refracted; he established the classes, orders, families and genera of plants and animals, and fixed the distances between them. He thought the archetypes of all things, and devised their variations; and when we rediscover any one of these his wondrous institutions, we seize his mind in its very literal intention.
[From A Pluralistic Universe, New York, 1909, pp. 321-4 and Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking , New York, l909, pp. 52-61]
James was divergent to complete metaphysical systems and disputed against monism, a principle that preserves that reality is a combined, monolithic total. In Essays in Radical Empiricism (1912), he disputed for a pluralistic universe, refutingh that the world can be clarified in terms of an complete strength or system that decides the connections of things and events. He maintained that the connections, whether they provide to keep things jointly or apart, are just as genuine as the things themselves. His pragmatic philosophy was more built up by the American philosopher John Dewey and others.
Holmes himself is an instance of a man who began as an Emersonian Idealist and pursued the natural trajectory of this discipline into behaviorism. The midpoint on the voyage is the viewpoint of pragmatism, and Holmes was there at the formation. After the Civil War, he was an associate of the Metaphysical Club, which included both William James and Charles Peirce, the latter usually considered as the father of pragmatism. In spirit, pragmatism is just another type of idealism. A “problem,” in the pragmatist scheme of things, is just the observation of some absurdity. If you arrange substances so that you no longer have this discernment, then the difficulty is solved. If the new understanding does not match to your system of logic, then there is something incorrect with your system. The nonstop effect of Peirce on Holmes has been much discussed, and some writers have almost certainly overstated it. Still, the philosophy of “The Common Law” is pragmatic in the severe logic. The common law is not a set body of policies and the syllogisms resulting from them, but an unrefined structure that has come up in reaction to “the felt necessities of the time.” The method to assess a law is to gauge the extent of subjective fulfillment it gives the community. By the point of his essay “The Path of the Law,” published in 1885, he had finished the development to a behaviorist theory of law. Whatsoever you may believe of Holmes’s jurisprudence, “The Path of the Law” is an unmistakably great implement in legal philosophy; certainly it endures the test of time much more than “The Common Law.”
Adam Begley writes:
Oliver Wendell Holmes was wounded three times during the Civil War; he witnessed some of the fiercest fighting. The battlefield narrative is alternately thrilling and grim, and leads convincingly to philosophical concerns: “The lesson Holmes took home from the war can be put in a sentence. It is that certitude leads to violence.” Of course, that sentence requires elaboration. Holmes lived for 70 years after the war; in his brilliant career as a jurist, he proved himself a subtle and rigorous thinker (he was also Olympian in his detachment, and wonderfully pleased with himself). He would not have called himself a pragmatist, but his legal reasoning chimed perfectly with pragmatism; his judicial opinions, which, as Mr. Menand shows, did a great deal to guarantee the Constitutional protection of free speech, are a splendid example of pragmatism in action.
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