Pragmatism

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.

Pragmatism

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.

james_dewey

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.

Pragmatism

Modern Philosophy (Interlude)

Modern Philosophy 1 (Interlude)

The enlightenment era marks the beginning of the end for the scholastic philosophy from which much of the Western church doctrines and humanity’s knowledge of the world is derived. From a political standpoint, the authority of the Western church and its papal orders were severely undermined in reaction to its gross abuses of powers; the selling of both indulgences and simony violated the spirit of the original gospels. The protestant reformation, spearheaded by Luther and Calvin, resulted in another schism of the Church, particularly in the northern European nations where Papal authority was distant; subsequent power shifted away from the church and back to the state. Political theorists such as Machiavelli and Hobbes produced new commentaries as to how states are both won and maintained. Renewed interests in the classical Greek works led to a revival of a humanistic tradition (life on Earth as opposed to the heavens) and scientific inquiry not seen since the pre-Socratic philosophers.

reformation

The protestant reformation rejected many of the Catholic church practices in favor of salvation by faith alone. Catholic doctrines on the purgatory (one’s sentence can be reduced through indulgences) were in clear violation of the protestant beliefs. Merits by good works no longer altered one’s passage to the after-life; it is only through God’s grace that one is pre-destined to enter either heaven or hell. Last, confessions of sins to a priest (middle man) were no longer required as one’s relationship with God has moved onto one’s individual faith alone.

political theory

The power shift from Church to individual (and thus state) gave rise to new commentaries on how societies emerge and are held in check. Machiavellian power-dynamics are a form of instrumentality that exchanges stability for moral corruption; such is the sharp departure from previous incarnations of Utopias idealized by Plato and More. Hobbes approached state-crafting from the perspective of self-preservation (rather than from a “will to power”) where men are equal in the state of nature (where the only right he can claim is his self-preservation) but live short and brutish lives unless engaged in social contracts with each other. However, a society (sovereign entity, state) built upon social-contracts would devolve back to anarchy unless leadership was provided; absolute monarchy was argued as the best leadership as it had fewer conflicts of interest.

science

The rise of scientific discourse, as a criterion of knowledge, placed hypotheses verified by observation above axiom/priors favored by the Platonic ideals. Francis Bacon’s induction finds similarities amongst accumulated data to build hypotheses. Copernicus placed the sun back into center of the universe; Kepler hypothesized that the orbits of planetary masses were ellipsoidal rather than circle ideals. Galileo developed the dynamics of acceleration and the law of inertia. Newton unified all these models in the universal theory of gravity; a mechanistic description of the universe is formed.

Modern Philosophy (Interlude)