Inbox: - --- Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that focusses on everyday practices of thought, debate and action (rather than intuitive axioms and timeless abstractions). It developed in the late 19th and early 20th century, partly in response to the work of [[=Charles Darwin]]. Key characteristics: - [[Pragmatism focusses on everyday practices of belief and action, not abstract ideas]]. - [[Pragmatist epistemology focusses on the activity of inquiry, not the nature of knowledge]] - [[Pragmatists think of knowing the world as always linked to agency within it]] - [[Pragmatists think of beliefs as dispositions to act and anticipate]] - [[Pragmatists evaluate beliefs in terms of successful action, not correspondence to facts]] - [[Peirce's Pragmatic Maxim says we clarify a hypothesis by identifying the practical consequences we should expect if it is true]] - [[Pragmatists think of meaning as a product of habit or association within a context]] - [[Pragmatists blur the subject-object distinction, seeing mind as a property of organism-environment interaction]] - [[Pragmatism is what philosophy looks like when you take Darwin seriously]] - [[Pragmatism implies that values and norms are contingent, contextual, ephemeral]] - [[Pragmatism says yes to fallibilism and perspectivism, no to foundationalism]] - [[Pragmatist analyses are interested in central cases, not edge cases]] - [[Pragmatists think all experience is value laden, they blur the fact-value distinction]] - [[Pragmatists recast the theory vs practice distiction: fundamentally, its all practice]] - [[Pragmatists think we use the term "knowledge" as a certificate to indicate "good enough to go on in this context"]] - [[Pragmatists reject the Cartesian method of global doubt—we are always already at sea]] - Role of philosopher: make implicit aspects of our practice become explicit (when useful). - Elijah Millgram: metaphysics as intellectual ergonomics. - Articulate the frames that guide us, consider alternatives - Politics: emphasis on communal nature of inquiry supports liberal democractic values (?) Controversies: - Monism about truth (Peirce) vs pluralism (James, Dewey). - Some philosophers would say this is all descriptive but not normative. Pragmatists are doing sociology or something, not philosophy. Common misconceptions: - Misak: For that account does not hold that to act as if A is true suffices for believing A. If we follow Peirce in treating the account as a partial constitutive claim, then we will not mistake a necessary condition for a sufficient one. For the dispositional account of belief, at least as Peirce and Ramsey interpret it, says only that part of what it is for you to believe A is that you would act on it in various ways, given other aspects of your mental state and background circumstances. Criticisms: - Too vague and ill-disciplined; too weak a sense of what it means to "get it right". The human standpoint plays too great a role in determining truth. - [[Pragmatism might be a self-effacing theory]] - It's not always clear how people assess the usefulness of beliefs. - Russell accuses James of conflating the criterion of truth with the meaning of truth. Key figures: - [[=Charles Sanders Peirce]] - [[=William James]] - [[=John Dewey]] - [[=Frank Ramsey]] - [[=Richard Rorty]] - [[=Cheryl Misak]] Related figures: - [[=Wittgenstein]] - [[=Heidegger]] PH questions #todo: - [[What do the pragmatists say about normativity?]] - [[How do pragmatists talk about theory of value?]] - [[How do pragmatists analyse succesful action?]] - [[What does someone like Parfit think of the pragmatists?]] ## Notes ### [[=Tyler Cowen]] interviewed by [[=Zohar Atkins]] Z: Are you a pragmatist? TC: I'm not sure it's a meaningful question. You're kind of assuming the person is not by the way you ask it. And any answer also assumes the person isn't a pragmatist. ### Rorty: Trotsky and the Wild Orchids This Deweyan claim entails a picture of human beings as children of their time and place, without any significant metaphysical or biological [15] limits on their plasticity. It means that a sense of moral obligation is a matter of conditioning rather than of insight. [...] It is one thing to say, falsely, that there is nothing to choose between us and the Nazis. It is another thing to say, correctly, that there is no neutral, common ground to which an experienced Nazi philosopher and I can repair in order to argue out our differences. That Nazi and I will always strike one another as begging all the crucial questions, arguing in circles. Socrates and Plato suggested that if we tried hard enough we should find beliefs which everybody found intuitively plausible, and that among these would be moral beliefs whose implications, when clearly realized, would make us virtuous as well as knowledgeable. For Deweyan pragmatists like me, history and anthropology are enough to show that there are no unwobbling pivots, and that seeking objectivity is just a matter of getting as much intersubjective agreement as you can manage. ### SEP Pragmatism When William James published a series of lectures on ‘Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking’ in 1907, he began by identifying ‘The Present Dilemma in Philosophy’ (1907: 9ff), a fundamental and apparently irresoluble clash between two ways of thinking, which he promised pragmatism would overcome. James begins by observing that the history of philosophy is ‘to a great extent that of a certain **clash of human temperaments’: the ‘tough-minded’ and the ‘tender-minded’.** The tough-minded have an empiricist commitment to experience and going by ‘the facts’, while the tender-minded prefer _a priori_ principles which appeal to ratiocination. **The tender-minded tend to be idealistic, optimistic and religious, believing in free will, while the tough-minded are materialist, pessimistic, irreligious, dogmatic and fatalistic**. People need a philosophy that is both empiricist in its adherence to facts yet finds room for faith. But all that is on offer is ‘an empirical philosophy that is not religious enough and a religious philosophy that is not empirical enough…’ (1907: 15f). The challenge is to show how to reconcile ‘the scientific loyalty to facts’ with ‘the old confidence in human values and the resultant spontaneity, whether of the religious or of the romantic type.’ Pragmatism is presented as the ‘mediating philosophy’: we need to show how adherence to tough-minded epistemic standards does not prevent our adopting the kind of worldview to which the tender-minded aspire. [...] Peirce on truth: The opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate, is what we mean by the truth, and the object represented in this opinion is the real. That is the way I would explain reality. (EP1: 139) The paper begins by identifying four problematic teachings of modern philosophy: i. One can and should try to doubt all of one’s beliefs at once. ii. The ultimate test of certainty lies in individual consciousness. iii. The ‘multiform argumentation’ characteristic of the Middle Ages is replaced by a single chain of inference. iv. Where scholasticism consciously limited its explanatory capacity (purporting to explain only ‘all created things’), Cartesianism’s stated ambition to explain everything ironically renders its own presuppositions hidden, mysterious and philosophically dangerous. [...] there is something unnatural about the Cartesian strategy. Inquiries normally occur within a context: we address particular questions or problems, relying on background certainties that it does not occur to us to doubt. The Cartesian suggestion that we should begin by trying to doubt everything appears to be an attempt to step outside of this. [...] Many of our familiar certainties are such that we cannot offer any concrete or convincing reason for believing them. We tend to treat our established beliefs as innocent until ‘proven guilty’. The mere lack of a conclusive reason for belief does not itself provide us with a reason for doubt. [...] Peirce also questions Descartes’ understanding of reasoning in holding that we may rely on ‘a single thread of inference’ that is no stronger than its weakest link: Philosophy ought to imitate the successful sciences in its methods, so far as to…trust rather to the multitude and variety of its arguments than to the conclusiveness of any one. Its reasoning should not form a chain which is no stronger than its weakest link, but a cable whose fibres may be ever so slender, provided they are sufficiently numerous and intimately connected. (EP1: 29) [...] The method of doubt may make sense in special cases where enormous weight is given to avoiding error, even if that means loss of truth, but only there. Once we recognize that we are making a practical and forced decision about the relative importance of two goods, the Cartesian strategy no longer appears the only rational one. [...] Hilary Putnam has provided insightful accounts of what is distinctive about pragmatism, and what can be learned from it (See Putnam 1994a). He **has identified four characteristics of pragmatism: the rejection of skepticism; the willingness to embrace fallibilism; the rejection of sharp dichotomies such as those between fact and value, thought and experience, mind and body, analytic and synthetic etc; and what he calls ‘the primacy of practice’** (1994c). ### Naturalism and normativity in pragmatism Perception and action take place simultaneously and function together as recent research shows (No¨e, 2004). Charles Peirce distinguished between them by saying that in action ”our modification of other things is more prominent than their reaction on us” while in perception ”their effect on us is overwhelmingly greater than our effect on them” (cp 1.324). Generally speaking the flow of causal influence follows a loop: from an organism to the environment in action and back to the agent in perception. Interaction with the world proceeds as an ongoing loop of action and perception. It starts when we are born and stops when we eventually die. Causal processes realizing cognition are the ongoing processes of this loop. From this viewpoint mind is not a property of the brain or even the body. Mind is a property of organism/environment interaction (M¨a¨att¨anen, 2015b, ch. 5). If a living organism is isolated from its interaction (or the brain put in a vat) mental predicates become problematic. As Bennett and Hacker (2003) point out, mental predicates are attributed to behaving persons, not to the brain or parts of the brain. If one drops the loop, then one looses mentality out of sight. The mental loop also helps to analyze the central concept that is needed in introducing normativity in naturalism: habit of action. Habits can be characterized as structured schemes of action (M¨a¨att¨anen, 2015b, ch. 3). The structure of a habit fits the structure of the objective conditions of action, and in this sense habits are beliefs about these conditions. Habits are also meanings. Peirce says, ”what a thing means is simply what habits it involves” (cp 5.400). This can be applied to any perceived object. Habits establish meaning relations that are based on the anticipation of habitual action. It turns out, that the capacity to anticipate is an essential element of normativity in nature. [...] Sense organs are kind of crystallized habits of perceiving features that are relevant for action. Of course, the evolution of sense organs is not based on conscious decisions, but natural selection functions to the effect that those courses of action that have positive value for survival are favoured. Generally speaking subconscious habitual skills form the major body of the resources for living the life. Conscious decision is only a top layer on all this. **We do things without knowing the reasons.** ”One of the main jobs of consciousness is to weave our lives together in a story that makes sense to us and is consistent with our self-conception” (Franks, 2010, 70–1). [...] **According to Peirce, what a thing means is simply what habits it involves.** This principle can be applied to any object of perception: doors, windows, apples and words of a language (see M¨a¨att¨anen, 2005). **Words gain meaning when they are used in the context of other practices.** The use (the meaning) of the word ”good” is not independent of the practical context where it is used. It gains a slightly different meaning when used in different contexts. [...] Instead of searching for one precise definition of moral good or set of moral rules we should find ways to discuss what is good or bad for whom, where and when. [...] The focus of epistemological inquiry should not be on showing how we can possess absolute certainty, but on how we can develop self-correcting methods of inquiry that make fallible progress. [...] ### [[=Cheryl Misak]], writing in The Cambridge Pragmatists: Pragmatism is NOT the view that truth is what happens to work or what happens to be thought useful. Perhaps all we can say our many pragmatists hold in common is a link between belief and action, and the idea that our body of background beliefs or assumptions must be taken seriously in philosophy, inquiry, and life. [...] Peirce, James, Ramsey, and Wittgenstein all were pragmatists in the following way. They rejected phenomenologist or introspectionist accounts of meaning and belief, requiring meaning and belief to be linked to behaviour. We have seen differences in how they construed that linkage, but the similarity here far outweighs those differences. None of them want to be extreme behaviourists, and in putting distance between themselves and that ‘insane’ behaviourism, they each carved out a distinctive brand of pragmatism, Wittgenstein’s aversion to the label notwithstanding. [...] The next step in pragmatism is to see that, if beliefs are connected to our actions and expectations, then they can be evaluated in terms of whether those actions are successful and those expectations are met. The pragmatist account of belief, that is, leads directly to a pragmatist account of truth, in which truth is not to be understood as a static or inert relation between a proposition and the world, but must be understood primarily in terms of **what is deserving of belief**. [...] The insight at the heart of pragmatism is that any domain of inquiry—science, ethics, mathematics, logic, aesthetics—is human inquiry, and that our philosophical accounts of truth and knowledge must start with that fact. Our vast store of belief has developed in a way that is contingent on all sorts of historical accidents—the evolution of the human brain and sensory apparatus, the way language-users have posed fundamental questions and answered them, the technology made possible by the earth’s raw materials and by our ingenuity, and so on. [...] As some put it today, the best understanding of our concepts is agent-centred. [...] From this starting point about the human origins of and constraints upon knowledge, pragmatists have made different arguments and drawn different conclusions. Some argue that it makes little or no sense to speak of truth, falsity, or objectivity, but only what passes for true, false, or objective in one community or another. The most prominent proponent of this kind of pragmatism in recent years has been Richard Rorty. Others argue that the contingency of knowledge, and the allied fact that each of our beliefs is a fallible interpretation, does not entail that our beliefs are simply determined by—or answerable only to—what our community decides, or that truth and objectivity are spurious notions. The ideas of truth and objectivity are required if we are to have beliefs at all. [...] Peirce and Ramsey, that is, offer us the best chance of understanding **how it is that beliefs can both be the products of human inquiry and can nonetheless aim at truth**. [...] I shall show that Ramsey had forged a deep connection with some key ideas of Peirce’s: **that a belief is a disposition to behave; that we evaluate beliefs in terms of whether they serve us well**; and that **an understanding of truth as correspondence is not in competition with a pragmatist conception of truth, but is in harmony with it.** [...] Does pragmatism hold across the board, as a general account of belief and truth, or does it hold for only some kinds of beliefs? We shall see that the question of whether there is a bifurcation between discourses that are straightforwardly descriptive and those that should receive a pragmatist treatment is one that occupied both Wittgenstein and Ramsey. It is still a live question today, with local pragmatists or expressivists arguing that only certain domains of discourse are to be construed pragmatically. I shall throw my lot in with global pragmatists, who argue that pragmatist notions of belief and truth hold across the board. Peirce was a straightforward global pragmatist. I shall interpret Ramsey, especially in On Truth, as opting for the global position and influencing Wittgenstein to do so as well. [...] So on the Peircean epistemology, an inquirer has a fallible background of ‘commonsense’ belief that is not in fact in doubt. Only against such a background can a belief be put into doubt and a new, better belief be accepted. All our beliefs are fallible but they do not come into doubt all at once. Those which inquiry has not thrown into doubt are stable, and we should retain them until a reason to doubt arises. Peirce is happy with the idea that, ‘[p]ractically speaking’, many things are ‘substantially certain’ (CP 1. 152, 1897). Practical certainty must be distinguished from absolute certainty. The former can be had, while the latter cannot.