Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Pragmatist

In a recent long, winding, sometimes frustrating, sometimes fruitful discussion, I attempted to clarify my philosophical position.
No, Feodor, I am not a skeptical British empiricist. I am a very happily American neo-pragmatist in my philosophy, and an equally happy American liberal in my theology. The relationship between the two should be obvious.

A skeptical British empiricist would still consider the question, "Is being prior to knowledge?" an important question to consider. A pragmatist would not; indeed, a pragmatist would think such a question nonsensical.

In order to clarify my own position, I will allow the premiere neo-pragmatist, the late Richard Rorty, make my point (which he does without a whole lot of fuss), from the Introduction to his essay collection, The Consequences of Pragmatism:
The essays in this book are attempts to draw consequences from a pragmatist theory about truth. This theory says that truth is not the sort of thing one should expect to have a philosophically interesting theory about. For pragmatists, "truth" is just the name of a property which all true statements share. It is what is comm to "Bacon did not write Shakespeare," "It rained yesterday," "E equals mc squared," "Love is better than hate,", "The Allegory of Painting was Vermeer's best work," "2 plus 2 is 4," and "There are nondenumerable infinities." Pragmatists doubt that there is much to be said about this common feature. They doubt this for hte same reason they doubt that there is much to be said about the common feature shared by such morally praiseworthy actions as Susan leaving her husband, America joining the war against the Nazis, America pulling out of Vietnam, Socrates not escaping from jail, Roger picking up litter from the trail, and the suicide of the Hews at Masada. They see certain acts as good ones to perform, under the circumstances, but doubt that there is anything general and useful to say about what makes them all good. The assertion of a given sentence - or the adoption of a disposition to assert the sentence, the conscious acquisition of a belief - is a justifiable, praiseworthy act in certain circumstances. But, a fortiori, it is not like that there is something general and useful to be said about what makes all such actions good - about the common feature of all the sentences which one should acquire a disposition to assert.

There's a whole lot more - the pragmatist position is not "relativist" or "subjectivist" because both these loaded terms assume things the pragmatist simply rejects; there are still interesting things to talk about, but Truth and Goodness, even Philosophy are not among them - but this sums up an approach that not only reframes what philosophy is, but offers a way forward that does not insist on agreement to questions that, by their very nature, have no answers.

Virtual Tin Cup

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