—pragmatistic, adj./prag"meuh tiz'euhm/, n.1. character or conduct that emphasizes practicality.2. a philosophical movement or system having various forms, but generally stressing practical consequences as constituting the essential criterion in determining meaning, truth, or value. Cf. pragmaticism, instrumentalism.[1860-65; PRAGMAT(IC) + -ISM]
* * *Philosophical movement first given systematic expression by Charles Sanders Peirce and William James and later taken up and transformed by John Dewey.Pragmatists emphasize the practical function of knowledge as an instrument for adapting to reality and controlling it. Pragmatism agrees with empiricism in its emphasis on the priority of experience over a priori reasoning. Whereas truth had traditionally been explained in terms of correspondence with reality or in terms of coherence (see coherentism), pragmatism holds that truth is to be found in the process of verification. Pragmatists interpret ideas as instruments and plans of action rather than as images of reality; more specifically, they are suggestions and anticipations of possible conduct, hypotheses or forecasts of what will result from a given action, or ways of organizing behaviour. See also W.V.O. Quine; Richard Rorty.
* * *Introductionschool of philosophy, dominant in the United States during the first quarter of the 20th century, based on the principle that the usefulness, workability, and practicality of ideas, policies, and proposals are the criteria of their merit. It stresses the priority of action over doctrine, of experience over fixed principles, and it holds that ideas borrow their meanings from their consequences and their truths from their verification. Thus, ideas are essentially instruments and plans of action.Achieving results, “getting things done” in business and public affairs is often said to be “pragmatic.” There is a harsher and more brutal connotation of the term in which any exercise of power in the successful pursuit of practical and specific objectives is called “pragmatic.” The character of American business and politics is often so described. In these cases “pragmatic” carries the stamp of justification: a policy is justified pragmatically if it is successful. The familiar and the academic conceptions have in common an opposition to invoking the authority of precedents or of abstract and ultimate principles. Thus in law, judicial decisions that have turned on the weighing of consequences and probable general welfare rather than on being deduced from precedents have been called pragmatic.The word pragmatism goes back to the Greek πραγμα (“action,” “affair”). The Greek historian Polybius (died 118 BC) called his writings “pragmatic,” meaning thereby that they were intended to be instructive and useful to his readers. In his introduction to the Philosophy of History, Hegel (Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich) commented on this “pragmatical” approach as the second kind of reflective history, and for this genre he cited Johannes von Müller's History of the World (Eng. trans. 1840). As the psychologist and leading Pragmatist William James (James, William) remarked, “the term is derived from the same Greek word πραγμα meaning action, from which the words ‘practice' and ‘practical' come.” Charles Peirce (Peirce, Charles Sanders), another pioneering Pragmatist, who may have been the first to use the word to designate a specific philosophic doctrine, had Kant's German term rather than the Greek word in mind: Pragmatisch refers to experimental, empirical, and purposive thought “based on and applying to experience.” In the philosophy of education the notion that children learn by doing, that critical standards of procedure and understanding emerge from the application of concepts to directly experienced subject matters, has been called “pragmatic.” In semiotics, the general theory of language, that part which studies the relation of the user to the words or other signs being used, is called pragmatics (as distinct from semantics and syntax).Major theses of philosophic PragmatismDuring the first quarter of the 20th century, Pragmatism was the most influential philosophy in America, exerting an impact on the study of law, education, political and social theory, art, and religion. Six fundamental theses of this philosophy can be distinguished. It is, however, unlikely that any one thinker would have subscribed to them all; and even on points of agreement, varying interpretations mark the thought and temper of the major Pragmatists. The six theses are:1. Responsive to Idealism and evolutionary theory, Pragmatists have emphasized the “plastic” nature of reality and the practical function of knowledge as an instrument for adapting to reality and controlling it. Existence is fundamentally concerned with action, which some Pragmatists exalted to an almost metaphysical level. Change being an inevitable condition of life, Pragmatists have called attention to the ways in which change can be directed for individual and social benefit. They have consequently been most critical of moral and metaphysical doctrines in which change and action are relegated to the “merely practical,” on the lowest level of the hierarchy of values. Some Pragmatists anticipated the more concrete and life-centred philosophy of Existentialism by arguing that only in acting—confronted with obstacles, compelled to make choices, and concerned to give form to experience—is man's being realized and discovered.2. Pragmatism is a continuation of critical Empiricism in emphasizing the priority of actual experience over fixed principles and a priori (a priori knowledge) reasoning in critical investigation. For James this meant that the Pragmatistturns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and adequacy, towards facts, towards action . . . . It means the open air and possibilities of nature, as against . . . dogma, artificiality, and the pretence of finality in truth.3. The pragmatic meaning of an idea, belief, or proposition is said to reside in the distinct class of specific experimental or practical consequences that result from the use, application, or entertainment of the notion. As Peirce commented: “Our idea of anything is our idea of its sensible effects.” Two propositions for which no different effects can be discerned have merely a verbal appearance of dissimilarity, and a proposition for which no definite theoretical or practical consequences can be determined is pragmatically meaningless. For Pragmatists “there is no distinction of meaning so fine as to consist in anything but a possible difference of practice.” Meaning thus has a predictive component, and some Pragmatists came close to identifying the meaning of a term or proposition with the process of its verification.4. While most philosophers have defined truth in terms of a belief's “coherence” within a pattern of other beliefs or as the “correspondence” between a proposition and an actual state of affairs, Pragmatism has, in contrast, generally held that truth, like meaning, is to be found in the process of verification. Thus truth is the verification of a proposition, or the successful working of an idea. Crudely, truth is “what works.” Less crudely and more theoretically, truth is in Peirce's words, the “limit towards which endless investigation would tend to bring scientific belief.” For John Dewey (Dewey, John), founder of the “Instrumentalist” school of Pragmatism, these are beliefs “warranted” by inquiry.5. In keeping with their understanding of meaning and truth, Pragmatists have interpreted ideas as instruments and plans of action. In contrast to the conception of ideas as images and copies of impressions or of external objects, Pragmatist theories have emphasized the functional character of ideas: ideas are suggestions and anticipations of possible conduct; they are hypotheses or forecasts of what will result from a given action; they are ways of organizing behaviour in the world rather than replicas of the world. Ideas are thus analogous in some respects to tools; they are efficient, useful, and valuable, or not, depending on the role that they play in contributing to the successful direction of behaviour.6. In methodology, Pragmatism is a broad philosophical attitude toward the formation of concepts, hypotheses, and theories and their justification. To Pragmatists man's interpretations of reality are motivated and justified by considerations of efficacy and utility in serving his interests and needs; the molding of language and theorizing are likewise subject to the critical objective of maximum usefulness according to man's various purposes.History of PragmatismAntecedents in modern philosophyPragmatism was a part of a general revolt against the overly intellectual, somewhat fastidious, and closed systems of Idealism in 19th-century philosophy. These boldly speculative Idealists had expanded man's subjective experience of mind till it became a metaphysical principle of cosmic explanation. To the Idealist, all of reality was one fabric, woven from parts that cohered by virtue of the internal relations that they bore to one another; and this reality was often interpreted in abstract and fixed intellectual categories. The theory of evolution, then still new, seemed to the Pragmatists, on the other hand, to call for a new, non-Idealist interpretation of nature, life, and reason—one that challenged the long-established conceptions of fixed species. The new emphasis was on the particular variations and struggles of life in adapting to the environment. Philosophically, the fact of growth and the development of techniques for instituting changes favourable to life became the significant factors rather than the Idealist's ambitious rationalistic account of human goals and of the universe in general, and important developments in natural science and logic also encouraged a critical attitude toward earlier systems.There were two main influences on the early formation of Pragmatism: One was the tradition of British Empiricism in the work of John Stuart Mill, Alexander Bain, and John Venn, which had stressed the role of experience in the genesis of knowledge—and particularly their analyses of belief as being intimately tied in with action and, indeed, as definable in terms of one's disposition and motive to act. The work of George Berkeley (Berkeley, George), an important 18th-century empirical Idealist, which presented a theory of the practical and inferential nature of knowledge, of sensations as signs (and thus predictive) of future experience, led Peirce to refer to him as “the introducer of Pragmatism.” The other major influence came from modern German philosophy: from Kant's (Kant, Immanuel) analysis of the purposive character of belief and of the roles of will and desire in forming belief and his doctrine of “regulative ideas,” such as God or the Soul, which guide the understanding in achieving systematic completeness and unity of knowledge; from Romantic Idealists, for whom all reason is “practical” in expanding and enriching human experience; and from Hegel's historical and social conception of changing and developing subject matters. In sum, Peirce was profoundly impressed by Kant and by the Scottish philosophy of common sense, James by British Empiricism and by the voluntarisms (stressing the role of choice or will) of the genetic epistemologist James Ward and the relativistic French Personalist Charles Renouvier, Dewey by Coleridge's version of Kant's active conception of mind and by neo-Kantian and Hegelian Idealism.Finally, to these influences must be added that of American social experience in the 19th century: the rapid expansion of industry and trade and a popular optimism, with its roots in Puritan theology, holding that hard work and virtue are bound to be rewarded. Both the precariousness of frontier life, however, and the rapidly expanding economy weakened the prevailing Calvinistic belief in a predestined future and encouraged the emergence of inventiveness, a sense of living still in the New World experiment, and adoption of the ideal of “making good.”The Metaphysical ClubIt was in the critical group discussions of the “Metaphysical Club” in the 1870s in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that Pragmatism first received philosophic expression. In addition to Peirce and James, membership in the club included Chauncey Wright, F.E. Abbot, and Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. A version of Peirce's now classic paper “The Fixation of Belief” (November 1877) seems to have been presented at the club. But James also published a paper in 1878, “Spencer's Definition of Mind as Correspondence,” in which his Pragmatism and analysis of thought and belief are clearly discernible. It was in a lecture delivered 20 years later, however, that James introduced Pragmatism, then fully crediting the idea to Peirce. It was primarily James's exposition that became famous and was received by the world at large.The classical PragmatistsThe Pragmatic philosophy of Charles Sanders Peirce was part of a more general theory of thought and of signs. Thought, or “inquiry,” it was held, results from doubt, a state in which habitual actions are blocked or confused and from which organic irritation and irresolution result. Resolution, unobstructed conduct, on the other hand, are products of belief, which is a form of stability and satisfaction. It is the function of scientific thought to produce true beliefs. In a prolonged effort to embed this analysis of doubt and inquiry within a more comprehensive theory of signs in which communication, thought, knowledge, and intelligent conduct could be fully understood, Peirce achieved a wealth of original insights. A sign is a socially standardized way by which something (a thought, word, object) refers man (the community of sign users) to something else (the interpretant), which, in turn, is itself another sign. Peirce's Pragmatism is thus a method for translating certain kinds of signs into clearer signs in order to surmount linguistic or conceptual confusion. Getting at the interpretant involves determining the “effects” or consequences of the signs or ideas in question.Peirce's Pragmatism is therefore primarily a theory of meaning that emerged from his first-hand reflections on his own scientific work, in which the experimentalist understands a proposition as meaning that, if a prescribed experiment is performed, a stated experience will result. The method has two different uses:(1) It is a way of showing that when disputes permit no resolution, the difficulties are due to misuses of language, to subtle conceptual confusions. Such questions as whether the physical world is an illusion, whether man's senses always mislead him, or whether his actions are fated are “not real problems.”(2) The method may be employed for clarification. As Peirce wrote:Consider what effects, that might conceiveably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.To say, for example, that an object O is hard means that if the operation of scratching O is performed, O will not be scratched by most substances. One thus achieves clarity when one can supply a conditional statement of this kind.Similarly, in his theory of truth, one means by truth of belief that if a certain operation is the subject of continuous scientific inquiry by the community of investigators, assent to the belief would increase and dissent decrease “in the long run.” Consequently, not only is thought purposive but meaning carries a reference to the future. Peirce's concept of the community of sign users and inquirers also has social and moral relevance, for it is nothing less than the ideal of rational democracy.Witnessing his doctrine undergo a medley of dubious interpretations, Peirce eventually dissociated himself from these by calling his own view “Pragmaticism,” a term he called so ugly as to be safe from uninformed use. Parts of the work of Dewey, of the social Pragmatist G.H. Mead, and of the conceptualistic Pragmatist C.I. Lewis are a further development of the logical Pragmatism of Peirce. The English logician F.P. Ramsey and the Italians Giovanni Vailati and Mario Calderoni also undertook significant extensions of Peirce's Pragmatism.An alternative, though not wholly different, version of Pragmatism was developed by William James. It took a psychological and moral form largely unforeseen and unintended by Peirce.A basic difference between Peirce and James is discernible in their respective conceptions of the direction to be taken by Pragmatic analysis. While Peirce construed meaning in general, conditional schema, and interpretants, James focussed upon the distinct contributions that ideas and beliefs make to specific forms of human experience on the living level of practical wants and purposes. Between the two close friends there persisted a fundamental philosophical difference in outlook that affected even their styles. While James was a Nominalist, holding that the full significance of ideas, meanings, and actions lies in their particular concrete existent occurrence, Peirce—as a scholastic Realist—sharply criticized him at this point, arguing that “a thing in general is as real as in the concrete.”The most conspicuous feature of James's writings on Pragmatism is the dominant place given to considerations of value, worth, and satisfaction—consequences of his teleological (purposive) conception of mind (cf. his Principles of Psychology). James maintained that thought is adaptive and purposive but also suffused with ideal emotional and practical interests—“should-be's”—which, as conditions of action, work to transform the world and create the future, even to “make the truth which they declare.” Consequently, truth and meaning are species of value: “The true is the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief.”James took meaning to be an intimate part of the use of ideas for expediting action. The notion of the difference that a proposition makes in experience was fundamental in James's Pragmatic methodology. He remarked that “it is a good rule in physiology, when we are studying the meaning of an organ,” to look to the specific function that it performs. In like manner, the special difference that the presence of mind makes in observable cases, reflected in its unique functioning, defines the use of “mind”; “In particular, the pursuance of future ends and the choice of means . . . are thus the mark and criterion of the presence of mentality.”With his training in medicine and psychology and the influence of Darwin in the background, James considered that the main function of thought is to help us establish “satisfactory relations with our surroundings.” Thus man helps to mold the character of reality according to his needs and desires. Indeed, this is fundamental in James's defense of the right to believe in his famous essay “The Will to Believe” (1897). James argued that we may have a reasonable right to hold a religious or metaphysical belief (e.g., that there is a perfect, eternal, and personal aspect of the universe) when the belief in question would supply a vital psychological and moral benefit to the believer, when evidence for and against the belief is equal, and when the decision to believe is forced and momentous. In James's functional conception of truth, the “working,” and hence the truth, of ideas is their role in opening up valuable possible directions of thought and action—“a leading that is worth while.”James's “working” view of truth and of a reality that man in part makes by acting out and realizing ideas, and especially his essay “The Will to Believe,” were enthusiastically received by F.C.S. Schiller in England and by Giovanni Papini in Italy, and these doctrines became a cause célèbre for Pragmatists and their critics.An admirer and friend of James, Schiller, now nearly forgotten, was once the most famous Pragmatist in England and Europe. Schiller was initially a humanist in the sense that, for him, both reality and knowledge are reflections of human activity—“the taken” rather than “the given.” He first came to appreciate James's (James, William) “The Will to Believe” in 1897 and subsequently acknowledged its impact on his thinking in an early and important paper, “Axioms As Postulates” (1902). He was a tireless critic of the “closed” systems of Idealism of F.H. Bradley, J.M.E. McTaggart, and Bernard Bosanquet and an advocate of the intellectual freedom that consists in “open,” plural, changing, and to some extent never finished philosophical theorizing. According to Schiller, reality and truth are “man-made” rather than eternal verities. The true and the false are basically forms of good and bad and are relative to the private purposes of some particular person. He attempted to describe and analyze the “logic” of the experimental “trying” through which such needs are satisfied. For Schiller, reality is wholly plastic; and, starting out from initial postulates, one proceeds to construct one's schemes for achieving a satisfactory outcome of desire, finally rendering one's unformed possibilities (hylē) into a common world of language and action. On this view, all of science derives from and is inescapably guided by the psychological process of human thought; man is the measure of all things.John Dewey once noted that “Peirce wrote as a logician and James as a humanist.” This distinction characterizes not only the course of Pragmatism but also the shaping of Dewey's own thought. Dewey first felt the influence of James in the 1890s, during the period in which he was struggling to free himself from the hold of Hegelian Idealism. Later, he recognized the value of Peirce's work, which clearly prefigured certain ideas that he had developed independently.With indefatigable effort and care Dewey reformulated Pragmatism, critically readjusting some of its conflicting doctrines, drawing upon his own work in psychology and education, and finding stimulation in the social Pragmatism of his friend George Herbert Mead. The resulting construction was instrumentalism, which Dewey conceived as a single coherent theory embracing both the logical and humanistic currents of Pragmatism and thus integrating the methods and conclusions of scientific knowledge with beliefs about values and purposes.While scientific, moral, and social experiences may differ in subject matter, the method of thought functioning “in the experimental determinations of future consequences” remains the same for all inquiry. Initially provoked by doubtful or problematic conditions, intelligent conduct is addressed to a resolution and settling of these conditions and to a “warranted assertion”—Dewey's version of “truth.” Such is the “mediative function” of reason. “Truth” is thus identified with the outcome of competent inquiry. Actions occurring on the organic level, if they be at first confused and obstructed, can then become organized, coherent, and liberated through such inquiry.Dewey's analysis of the organic, cultural, and formal conditions of intelligent action implies that all reflective conduct issues in an evaluation of a situation with respect to future action and consequences: thus inquiry is essentially an evaluative procedure. This method, most impressively applied in the sciences, is nonetheless a paradigm of moral activity as well. In ethics, “the action needed to satisfy” the situation is not to be found simply by the application of moral codes. The meaninghas to be searched for [since] there are conflicting desires and alternative apparent goods . . . . Hence inquiry is exacted . . . . The good of the situation has to be discovered, projected and attained on the basis of the exact defect and trouble to be rectified.In general, for Instrumentalism, moral ideals and “ends” function as means and hypotheses in guiding the deliberative process directed to controlling experience and attaining future goods.Not health as an end fixed once for all, but the needed improvement in health—a continual process—is the end and good . . . . Not perfection as a final goal, but the ever-enduring process of perfecting, maturing, refining is the aim of living . . . . Growth itself is the only moral ‘end.'Inquiry possessed a genuine religious significance for Dewey (Dewey, John), and in its functioning as a critical, self-corrective social process of human growth he envisaged the working ethic of democracy.Other American PragmatistsTwo important contributions to American Pragmatism, which have not yet received the attention that they deserve, came from Mead (Mead, George Herbert) and Lewis.Mead's orientation was social psychology. He had studied physiological psychology in Germany, had earlier worked under James and Josiah Royce at Harvard, and was also familiar with Peirce's analyses of thought and signs. Dewey regarded him as one of the most fertile minds (mind) in American philosophy.Mead developed the most comprehensive of the Pragmatist theories of mind. He depicted the evolution of mind and self-consciousness as emerging from social interactions and the use of gestures and “significant symbols” such as words. In contrast to other creatures, an individual regarded as having mind, engaging with others in social acts, can respond to his own gestures as others respond to them—thus taking on social roles and becoming an “other” in respect to himself. It is therefore by means of language, the use of “significant symbols,” that mind emerges.Fundamental to Mead's philosophy is his conception of the social act, in which individuals modify and direct one anothers' activities, work out their purposes, and accordingly transform their environments. In the social act the future controls present conduct, and this is distinctive of consciousness. Since the function of intelligence is to render the world “favourable for conduct,” Mead viewed the development of scientific knowledge and the evolutionary process as coinciding.Lewis's theory of “conceptualistic Pragmatism” was derived partly from his study of modern logic and partly from the influence of Royce and the classic Pragmatists. The critical results of a careful study of Kant are traceable in his work.Lewis's (Lewis, C.I.) Pragmatism focusses upon concepts, categories, and principles through which experience is interpreted. Though the sensuously given is “unalterable,” how it is taken, how conceptually interpreted, depends on the purposes and initiatives of the mind—the a priori element in knowledge, which, functioning as categorical criteria of reality, is “true no matter what.” It is by means of these that a systematic interpretation of reality is developed. However,there may be alternative conceptual systems, giving rise to alternative descriptions of experience, which are equally objective and equally valid . . . . When this is so, choice will be determined . . . on pragmatic grounds.In stressing the purposive character of conceptualization, Lewis is thus in the main course of American Pragmatism.Pragmatism in EuropeIn his preface to Pragmatism, James commented that the Pragmatic movement was the focal expression of a number of philosophic tendencies suddenly becoming conscious of themselves and of “their combined mission.” He mentioned the French thinkers Maurice Blondel (Blondel, Maurice), Édouard Le Roy, and B. de Sailly and the Italian Giovanni Papini. Blondel was the author of L'Action (1893) and spokesman for a voluntaristic and activistic theory of knowledge. He was a founder of the “school of action,” a liberal Catholic group that was part of the modernist movement (which employed the new historico-critical approach to the Bible and promoted a rationalistic interpretation of the faith). As early as 1888, Blondel appropriated the term Pragmatisme, only to abandon it when he learned of American Pragmatism, which was a more naturalistic philosophy than his own. Le Roy, closer to James than other French thinkers, also called his views Pragmatism. In broad respects he was like James in holding that the truth and the full significance of beliefs is found in acting them out. Le Roy was a disciple of Henri Poincaré (Poincaré, Henri), who had argued that scientific theories are not mere summaries of data, nor deduced from axioms, but are creative constructions, products of human thought and ingenuity, “conventions.” To the question of what limits are imposed on otherwise arbitrary conventions, of what justifies them, Le Roy suggested their convenience in use. James saw similar forms of Pragmatism in Ernst Mach, Wilhelm Ostwald, Pierre Duhem, and Théodore Ruyssen in “the notion that no theory is absolutely a transcript of reality” and that “their great use is to summarize old facts and lead to new ones” so that they are a “man-made language, a conceptual shorthand . . . in which we write our reports of nature.”Another French thinker, Georges Sorel (Sorel, Georges), undertook to reformulate James's Pragmatism into a “useful” doctrine of social criticism. Mussolini later cited Sorel and James as two of his philosophic mentors. He claimed to find in James “that faith in action, that ardent will to live and fight, to which Fascism owes a great part of its success.” To the democratic James, no lesson could have been more badly learned.A more immediate and direct form of James's Pragmatism occurred in Italy with its centre in the journal Leonardo, under the leadership of the iconoclastic critic Giovanni Papini (Papini, Giovanni). James referred to Papini as “a brilliant, humorous and witty writer.” He called him a genius and was addressed in turn by him as “the Master.” Papini's Pragmatism, derived from James's “The Will to Believe,” became a theory of the will to action. In action, through creative power and passion, man achieves a kind of divinity. This romantic exaltation of action was appealing to artists but also to fanatics. Papini and his associate Giuseppe Prezzolini comprised the “magical” school of Pragmatism (in the sense of seeking “divinely-creative” power) in contrast to the “logical” school inspired by Peirce of G. Vailati and M. Calderoni.Later tendenciesCertain extensions and applications of Pragmatism are to be found in current American philosophy. Sidney Hook (Hook, Sidney) has directed some of the critical techniques of analysis against a number of ideologies. In the tradition of the scientifically oriented Pragmatisms of Peirce and Dewey, he has explored the relation between the logic of experimental inquiry and the ethic of democracy. A converging of Pragmatism and Logical Positivism resulted in the movement of “logical empiricism” which, in addition to Dewey and Lewis, included the top-rank philosophers of science P.W. Bridgman, Rudolf Carnap, and Ernest Nagel, and the philosophical semanticist Charles W. Morris, all of whom were responsive to the Pragmatisms of Peirce, James, and Dewey. More recent and detailed studies of the structure of science, the nature of theories and explanation, by Carnap, Lewis, and Nagel, and a new interest in Instrumentalism deriving from the work of F.P. Ramsey, Ludwig Wittgenstein, W.H. Watson, and Gilbert Ryle (as well, of course, as from Dewey) exhibit a further continuation of Pragmatism.Maintaining a “more thorough Pragmatism” than that of Carnap and Lewis, who viewed choices made within scientific frameworks as pragmatic decisions, the prominent logician W.V. Quine (Quine, Willard Van Orman) has argued against the alleged boundary between analytic (analytic proposition) and synthetic truths. No portion of the conceptual scheme of science is exempt (as analytic truths were supposed to be) from possible revision in the flux of experience and in the light of pragmatic interests in efficacy and comprehension in predicting future experience. In important respects Quine's view of the evolution, organization, and function of the conceptual structure of science is close to that of Schiller, James, and Dewey.Quine has also defended a methodological Pragmatism and relativism on ontological questions on the nature of being or reality. This position, also taken by another contemporary philosopher of science and language, Nelson Goodman, recalls the earlier Pragmatists' notion of the “plastic” character of reality, now seen as conceptually plastic in the sense of being expressible in a variety of systems of symbols and languages. It is conceptually misguided to seek the nature of objects, since what there is is not describable in abstracto from the particular language in which an ontological question has been put. Objects declared to be real, be they classes, numbers, atoms, or stones, may differ widely. But differences between the “theoretical” and the “factual” entities are basically differences of degree and purpose in evolving conceptualization. Hence reality is anything that it is truly said to be—in any of many linguistic and symbolic systems; and where differences in ways of speaking about objects call for choices, the ensuing adjudications will be pragmatic.Evaluation of PragmatismPragmatism has been vulnerable to certain criticisms. It has often been portrayed as a rationalization of the American business ethos—a portraiture perhaps inspired, but not by any scrutiny of the writings of the philosophers themselves. Similarly, the Pragmatic theory of truth has been assailed. Concerning an idea or belief, James had held that one can say: “ ‘It is useful because it is true' or that ‘it is true because it is useful.' ” “Both phrases,” he added, “mean the same thing.” Most scholars, however, have denied this equivalence. His position may seem, moreover, to allow for an idea to be true (i.e., useful or expedient) for one person and false (inexpedient) for others. Finally, James was accused of reducing truth to a subjective play of opinions that one happens to relish or find useful to believe. To these charges James replied that “what immediately feels most ‘good' is not always most ‘true' when measured by the verdict of the rest of experience.” He also warned: “Woe to him whose beliefs play fast and loose with the order which realities follow in his experience.”As a single movement, Pragmatism is no longer extant; but as a body of ideas it contributes a heritage that is destined for future analysis and development. Chief among these are the interpretation of thought and meaning as forms of purposive behaviour, of knowledge as evaluative procedure in which normative and descriptive materials are integrally related, and of the logic of scientific inquiry as a norm of intelligent conduct in the affairs of men. Finally, Pragmatism has succeeded in its critical reaction to the 19th-century philosophy from which it emerged. It has influenced the current conception of philosophy as a critical method of investigating problems and clarifying communication rather than as a universal synthesis of knowledge. Pragmatism thus has certain affinities with the critical philosophizing of G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell, as well as with the thought of the French intuitionist and vitalist Henri Bergson and his disciple Édouard Le Roy, of Blondel, of the early Positivists Mach and Duhem, of the fictionalist Hans Vaihinger, of the Vienna Circle and the philosopher of logic and language Ludwig Wittgenstein, and also of the founder of Phenomenology, Edmund Husserl, and some of the continuing forms of Phenomenology and Existentialism. It has recognized the relative, contingent, and fallible (yet still authentic) character of human reason, rather than perpetuating the dubious ideal of philosophy as a system of eternal truths. In so doing, and in thus altering the philosophical scene, Pragmatism has become vitally implicated in the practices of current intellectual life; and in the light of this fact, a more pragmatic justification of Pragmatism is difficult to imagine.H.S. ThayerAdditional ReadingClassic works on Pragmatism include Charles Sanders Peirce, “The Fixation of Belief,” “How to Make Our Ideas Clear,” and “What Pragmatism Is,” in Collected Papers, vol. 5, ed. by C. Hartshorne and P. Weiss (1934); William James, Principles of Psychology, 2 vol. (1890), The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (1897), Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking (1907), and The Meaning of Truth (1909); John Dewey, How We Think (1910), The Influence of Darwin on Philosophy (1910), Democracy and Education (1916), Essays in Experimental Logic (1916), Reconstruction in Philosophy (1920, 1948), Human Nature and Conduct (1922), Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938), Theory of Valuation (1939), and Problems of Men (1946). On F.C.S. Schiller see R. Abel, The Pragmatic Humanism of F.C.S. Schiller (1955), with a bibliography of Schiller's writings; on French and Italian pragmatists, H.S. Thayer, Meaning and Action: A Critical History of Pragmatism, part 3 (1968), with further bibliographical references.For surveys of the movement, see H.S. Thayer, Meaning and Action: A Critical History of Pragmatism (1968), with bibliography; “Pragmatism,” in D.J. O'Connor (ed.), A Critical History of Western Philosophy, pp. 437–462 (1964); and H.S. Thayer (ed.), Pragmatism: The Classic Writings (1970), the basic writings in the Pragmatism of Peirce, James, Dewey, Mead, and Lewis, and further bibliographical references; John Dewey, “The Development of American Pragmatism,” in Philosophy and Civilization, pp. 13–35 (1931); and Charles W. Morris, The Pragmatic Movement in American Philosophy (1970). Jacques Barzun, A Stroll with William James (1983), is an excellent discussion of his ideas.
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