What is Pragmatism?
Pragmatism is a philosophical viewpoint founded by American thinker and educator William James in the late 19th century.
Pragmatism is based on the idea that the truth of a proposition is determined by its practical consequences. In other words, the usefulness of a statement or belief is what matters, not its absolute truth or falsity.
Why is Pragmatism Important?
Pragmatism has been influential in American philosophy, politics, and culture. The philosophy has been used to defend various positions, from business practices to the scientific method. Pragmatism is also responsible for the famous saying “that’s just your opinion.”
This blog post looks at pragmatist philosophers such as William James and Charles Sanders Peirce to see how they draw on pragmatist concepts of meaning-making, truth-seeking, and changeability.
What’s The origin of Pragmatism?
There are not a lot of modern Pragmatism examples, at least none that are that interesting. So we thought you should know about the history.
Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that began in the United States around 1870. It has been described as “a perspective that includes pragmatism, naturalism and relativism.”
Who is the most famous pragmatist?
In 1868, William James was a philosophy instructor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
He frequently lectured on and formulated pragmatic concepts including “truth’s cash value,” the idea that ideas are judged by their practical consequences, the “genetic” conception of ‘truth.’
Whereby truth is seen as something generated through intellectual development; and his famous concept of “the will to believe.”
Related: What is Futurism?
What Does Pragmatism teach us about belief?
James’ essay “The Will to Believe” (1897) discusses how belief decides action: believing certain things motivates us to act in specific ways.
Acting free from doubt can involve risks since we might end up with ideas that lead us down wrong or misguided paths.
But it’s also possible that we try not to believe anything and end up nihilists or skeptics. We have to assume that we can learn from experience by taking action.
James’ pragmatic concept of free will in The Will to Believe is discussed in this 2006 article by American pragmatist philosopher Richard Shusterman.
What does Pragmatism say about Religion?
James’ essay “Pragmatism and Religion” (1907) also explores how one’s beliefs can affect one’s life choices, particularly in terms of religious faith.
In this excerpt from James’ essay, he writes about belief influencing our motivations for acting on particular desires or goals:
James writes further on this idea in The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) about how psychological health is cultivated through “serenity” – a mental state resulting from accepting life’s uncertainties.
What does History say about Pragmatism?
For American pragmatist philosopher John Dewey (1859-1952), ideas or concepts were understood as tools for solving problems – sometimes called ‘instruments’ or ‘inventive concepts.’
In Art as Experience (1934), he writes about how ideas have consequences, particularly for the way people act in their lives and understand themselves:
For pragmatist philosopher George Herbert Mead (1863-1931), ideas are understood relative to how they affect our relationships with other people – what he calls ‘social interactions.’ One reason we have beliefs is that others around us believe them, and this affects how we interact with them in a variety of ways:
“Beliefs not only guide action toward objects but also determine who he [or she] will associate with; beliefs thus limit the social environment.” (“The Genesis Of The Self And Social Control,” 1934: p.38).
Related: What is Postmodernism?
What do Critics Say about Pragmatism?
Critics of pragmatism argue that it leads to relativism, the belief that there is no absolute truth, and that pragmatism is nothing more than a “just-so” story.
Pragmatists, in turn, argue that pragmatism is a tool for understanding the world and that it is possible to find truths that are useful even if they are not absolute.
Some beliefs directly affect our lives, e.g., ‘the world is round’ or ‘I live in New Zealand.’
These beliefs are significant because there is no need to do anything with them; it would not make sense to say that you believe about the earth’s shape but then remain indifferent to its truth or falsehood (or actively argue against it).