Pragmatism

December 18, 2011

Pragmatic Philosophy Short Definition

Pragmatism: Doctrine that knowledge should be used to act on things. An idea is indeed true if it has a practical efficiency.

Pragmatism is the Theory that the intelligence function is not to know to find, but to know to act. William James defended an idea is true only when it has been proven, but can he argue that an idea is only true because it is already true. We can also understand that an idea is true only if it is useful, which may mean that any idea (theory) is born of a practice, that is to say that abstract representations of systems are born concrete conditions, which have their own development and determine the scope of their validity. This thesis is found both in the case of history through dialectical materialism, in the case of the psychology of knowledge (Piaget) and psychoanalysis, where the taste for truth expresses an interest to another order (mechanism of sublimation, for example).

Explanations and Pragmatic Philosophers

Pragmatism (from Greek pragmatic business) has an ordinary meaning (‘stick to reality’) and a philosophical meaning (‘to bind the meaning, cognition and action’). Pragmatism is a philosophical school founded in the 19th century by philosophers and scientists who opposed the modern metaphysics (Hegel) and the dichotomy of theory / practice (Aristotle, Kant). The ‘founding fathers’ are Peirce, James, Dewey, Mead (1850-1950) and ‘new pragmatists’ are Rorty, Putnam, Quine, Goodman (1950-2000). The philosophy of pragmatism born in America has been criticized by some philosophers of Europe, such as Russell and Popper, who accused him of being a ‘philosophy for engineers’ because of its emphasis on practice. However, pragmatism is more a philosophy than a set of unique philosophies, as evidenced by the variety of options that are his own about the relationship between truth and meaning, cognition and action, science, morality and art. Pragmatism is also, thanks to Dewey, a significant contribution to the philosophy of technology.

Pragmatism is primarily a method of philosophy designed to ‘make our ideas clear’ (Peirce) and to avoid confusion by referring our ideas to their practical effects. The basic rule stated by Peirce’s pragmatism is: ‘Look what the practical effects that you think can be produced by the object of your design: the design of all these effects is the whole of your conception of the object’ . Similarly, for James, if there is no practical difference on the effects of two different concepts (eg, water and H2O), then they refer to the same thing. Still, representatives of pragmatism have developed a variety of designs, including the crucial concept of truth. For Peirce, truth is a belief state based on a perfect and complete information associated with the completion of an investigation conducted by a community of researchers, for James, truth is not a property of objects but of ideas and indicates the completion of a verification process on the basis of a criterion of satisfaction or utility to an individual or community, and finally, to Dewey, the truth is a ‘assertibility guarantee’ that depends on an ability to build an adequate justification about an assertion (or affirmation).

One of the destroyers of pragmatism in Europe, Russell, considered the instrumental conception of truth (truth as an instrument of prediction, rather than a copy of reality) is both logically inconsistent and politically dangerous. In this, he says pragmatism is a ‘philosophy for engineers’, waiting theories that they conform to the wishes of men of action, or men of faith. As for Popper, he believed that pragmatism leads to confusion between science and technology, assimilating scientific theories to simple calculation rules, ‘rules computational’. Contemporary pragmatists such as Rorty responded by arguing that there is no way any rational method of research, or Discourse on Method (Descartes) or Logic of Scientific Discovery (Popper). The true and the good can not be discovered by any “method” scientific or philosophical, but only through the discussion in a human community whose outcome is contingent. However, for Putnam, another neo-pragmatist, if we can reach the truth, at least we can demand that our assertions that they have a rational acceptability involves a set of justifications.

Dewey’s Pragmatism

In fact, unlike the other pragmatists, Peirce the logician and the psychologist James, Dewey has covered most areas of philosophy, from logic to politics. Dewey’s logic is actually a ‘theory of inquiry’, the survey is an ability common to all living things, man as animal. Living things have continued to experience a situation forming a unified whole, but in case of breakage, they undertake to restore the unity and balance the situation through an investigation. In this way, a situation initially determined, but which is disrupted by a failure to become permanent, is transformed into a new position determined by a survey.

The ethics of Dewey rejects the conventional opposition between ethics (based on the rule and duty) and teleology (oriented towards an end and happiness). In addition, he said, a trial practice is reflective, not just an impulse or a habit again, a value-judgment is constitutive (unification of an activity), relational (relationship between means and consequences) and exploratory ( use of Action for the assessment of the consequences of value). For Dewey, the model of reasoning for a fixed and limited survey means is not adequate, because the ends are also the causes of consequences that require evaluation of their value.

Finally, the policy of Dewey opposed the doctrine of liberalism based on the notion of negative liberty (the absence of constraints) and supports the positive freedom (the power of being an individual self). The realization of individual freedom in an industrial society requires in his participation, consultation and deliberation of the people and a smart political control of political institutions. Democracy for Dewey is a political system whose purpose is to protect the interests of the people in respect of a ruling class made up of experts. The method of democracy is the social survey designed to explore the issues in debate and resolve disputes.

Dewey is one of the founding fathers of pragmatism to have made a significant contribution to the philosophy of technology. He developed a particular philosophical history of technology, identifying three types of objectification. In the case of Aborigines, for example, there is no scientific interaction with their environment, so that the objectification is minimal. In the case of Greek thinkers, Plato and Aristotle, the purpose of the experiment are abstract, and are reduced to objects of eternal knowledge, so that objectification is impossible. However, in the modern age, instrumentation and moving from observation to experimentation makes the objectification not only possible, but maximum. Thus, the use of technical methods in science involves handling and reduction, suggesting that once reduced (eg reduced water H2O), the properties of a thing can be manipulated to use more wide.

Dewey also defends a broad conception of technology, embracing both art than science. He rejects the hierarchy of knowledge and certainty that ranks first theoria (knowledge), followed by praxis (action) and finally the poiesis (production). Moreover, he refuses the divorce between theory and practice, which are only different phases of a survey intelligent: the theory is ‘best act’, the practice is ‘the idea made’. Dewey describes science as a kind of productive technique involving trials and tests, including abstract mathematics. He rejects the opposition between ‘fine art’ and ‘Arts and Crafts’ which is actually the product of the distinction between ends and means. Technology is an activity twice as Dewey technical and social adjustment in the world, science-based and designed to meet human needs. However, Dewey was aware of the gap between two cultures, the impact of science on society through its technical developments. That’s why he felt such a threat requires counterparties, which he called the name of ‘moral technology’.

Later, the technology took a much wider meaning, becoming synonymous with the method of the investigation. Nevertheless, to Dewey, all that men do does not necessarily mean an adjustment to their environment, so much so that all human activity is not technology.

Ultimately, philosophy, or rather, the philosophies of pragmatism, reflections of the American ‘spirit’, appear as a major trend and recognized in Western philosophy, as well as a significant contribution to contemporary philosophy of technology. Pragmatism has built America into a genuine philosophical tradition, in opposition to that of Europe long dominated by the categories and hierarchies inherited from Aristotle. The major contribution of pragmatism is surely the transformation of relations between theory and practice, which was strongly resented some representatives of European philosophy, which rated it ‘philosophy for engineers’. The reason for this denial is too central position granted to engineering design (effects of the action), at the expense of a more conventional design epistemic (cognitive causes). Pragmatism opened the way for a kind of techno-centrism based on the general criterion of utility, which seemed to contradict an aesthetic ideal of beauty and freedom dear to some European philosophers. In fact, pragmatism shows a different but common commitment to experimentalism and instrumentalism, but Dewey is the only one to have developed a genuine philosophy of technology.