Pragmatism is a school of philosophy that directs thought towards the service of practical uses rather than a function representation of phenomena. That is, holding thoughts and beliefs led to actions on the sensible world that may or may not have been efficacious; the veracity of such beliefs corresponds to a “cash value” or use value in the sensible world for the believer. Two major proponents of this school of thought are William James and John Dewey who the former is more concerned with the justification of moral beliefs and the latter with the justification of scientific knowledge.
In William James’s “Will to Believe”, he defends the belief in faith (religion) without evidence on the grounds that all moral beliefs entail a degree of trust prior to sensible evidence. A situation may arise where one is unable to not make a choice (non-action is also a choice) before evidence abounds. The very consequence of holding a belief may influence the outcome as in the case of “confidence”. That is, evidence may not be realized unless a prior faith is constituted. Extending this to the religious sphere, one’s may never encounter proof of God unless one has placed in God prior faith. Curiously enough, the scientific method is not so different in the sense that it makes hypotheses (albeit more verifiable) that begs/challenges forth an answer (evidence). This is typical of the “radical empiricism” of the modern age when neither observer nor observation can be frozen in time and separated; both facts and theories condition one another.
His ontology presupposes experience from which mater and thought enter into relations with. Pure experience is “the immediate flux of life which furnishes the material to our later reflection with its conceptual categories”. That is, experience isn’t reduced to the objects of experience (Hume, Locke) which is wholly scientific but rather is imbued with both meaning and intentionality structured by human thought. Such a view also treats trans-empirical entities as superfluous as naturalistic accounts of meaning/intentions are sufficient explanations in practical terms.
John Dewey applies pragmatism to scientific inquiry where theories are judged accordingly to how well they predict phenomena in their respected domains; theories are instruments of prediction (instrumentalism) rather than laws that uncover truths about nature and thus relegated to approximations of truth. However, such a notion of truth is not absolute and appears at times appear probabilistic via statistical certainties. Instead, true/false can be viewed as a mutual adjustment between an organism (more on this side) and its environment; a satisfactory adjustment promotes a belief that has significance in the way that it induces behavior. The logic of belief follows inquiry which seeks to transform an undetermined situation into a determined set of relations or a unified whole (Hegel’s influence). In the sphere of facts, this creates complications where the external consequences in a future are used to constitute facts; for example, one believes that they woke up this morning by virtue of not sleeping at the current moment rather than by looking at regularities of sleep cycles in the past. Such is the empowering yet dangerous element in Dewey’s philosophy where man, who has become unchained from the past, is able to make greater leaps forward in his own invention whilst being blinded by his own hubris.
Bergson’s philosophy distinguishes two forms of time which provides a counter-argument to Kant’s free-will as partly subject to causality. Kant, along with most philosophers have adopted spatial or mathematical-time which borrows from our intuitions on the divisibility of space; time acquires discrete units and can be measured. Bergson argues that pure time or duration is both continuous and indivisible; events evade comparison and so there neither can be mechanistic determinism nor teleology. Duration is initially described as qualitative multiplicity (heterogeneous-temporal) as opposed to quantitative multiplicity (homogeneous-spatial); a typical example follows the experience of interpenetrating feelings (one feeling transforming into another) which evade non-conceptual comparison (akin to the difference senses). A lesser image is one of color gradient/spectrum where different colors are represented but do not interpenetrate. Thus, duration can be characterized by heterogeneous moments that blend or progress from one form to another; it evades conceptualization as language imposes structures that demarcate categories and would separate duration.
Intuition for Bergson is the experience of entering into oneself (sympathy); it escapes the divisioning of things into parts and then the re-synthesis into categories that only give relative knowledge (regularized by our needs). By entering into a thing (a Buddhist principle), we are able to move between others through effort by sensing differences (other durations). This movement allows extremes in heterogeneity to be connected (e.g. red to blue) and thus unify dualistic positions. The prolongation of past movement with the current moment, Bergson calls memory and equates with intuition or image. Image is a middle-ground between material in realism and representation in idealism; representation is a sectioning of the image for utility’s sake whereas material lacks the power to cause representations. The canonical example of memory follows the image of the inverted cone intersected with the plane; the apex represents the present, the base is pure memory or the unconscious, and the plane is the representation of the world (if the apex intersects with the plane, then the image of the body participates in the world). Thinking focuses the cone on distant memories to produce singular images; this is a movement from interpenetration into fragmentation. Action contracts the singular images so that only one is selected; the scene contracts to a single image whence a generalization can be made.
Bergson’s third principle of creative evolution reconciles the continuity/interpenetration of duration (time) with the practical utility of representation (space); the theory consists of four parts:
- Vital impulse: This is an all-embracing impulse at the beginning of life to explain change and the tendency towards consciousness/complexity. It is unlike mechanism which is specific enough to account (drive) all novelty from low-order parts. It is unlike finality which explains complexity in hindsight (w.r.t. final causes).
- Principle of divergence/differentiation: Life differentiates itself according to opposing instinct and intelligence. Within instinct are more opposites such as mobility/immobility (e.g. animals/plants). Intelligence or the production of representations in humans and lesser primates are differentiated from tool use/creation to abstract thought. Human, whose ego is the product of intelligence is at a loss from instinct which is necessary for understanding time and ultimately, vital impulse (source of change).
- Intelligence/Instinct: This is the claim that a shred of instinct remains within man’s being; both intelligence and instinct are tendencies that have origins in the production of change. For example, one can both read how to swim (intelligence) and actually swim by immersing oneself into water (instinct).
- Intuition or the process of getting in touch with things themselves within themselves (navigating heterogeneous interpenetrating moments) allows man to gain knowledge of the absolute.