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.