Pragmatism (from Greek – matter, action) is the flow of American thought, in which the practice factor is used as the methodological principle of philosophy. It arose in the 1870’s, took shape on the 1st part of 20 century and how the trend persisted in the second half. Pragmatism is associated with the creativity of different in their style of thinkers – C.S. Pearce, W. James, J. Dewey, J. Mide, naturalists, pragmatic analysts, neo-Pragmatists. Supporters of pragmatism were in the UK (F. Schiller) and other countries.

Kant first used the term “pragmatism” in Critique of Practical Reason, Pierce introduced it into American philosophy. In his article “How to make our concepts clear” (1878), he wrote: “Let us consider what consequences that could supposedly have practical significance are inherent in the object of our concept. Then our idea ofthese consequences is all that constitutes the concept of an object “(Peirce SS, Selected Writtings., 1968, p. 124). Pierce did not attach a general philosophical meaning to the practical method: the scope of his application was limited to scientific concepts and practice that takes place within the scientific community when it is necessary to specify the meanings of the concepts used and the procedure for research.

William James borrowed the idea ofa pragmatic method from Pierce, and, combining it with the utilitarianism of John S. Mill, used to solve existential, epistemological, ethical, religious issues (Pierce protested against such a broad interpretation of pragmatism and, to distance himself from James, the term “pragmatism”). By “pragmatic method”, James meant the conjugation of concepts and ideas with beliefs, their performance in the “stream of experience” of the individual or, as he said, at their “cash value” in one context or another. In the criteria of effectiveness, he saw a way of solving (or removing) philosophical problems and settling philosophical disputes.

The pragmatic approach was designed to weed out far-fetched problems from important ones, to clarify which objects should be taken for existing and which not, and to remove the question of truth as a correspondence of reality. Theories should not be judged by their reflectivity (as advocates of the correspondent theory of truth insist), but rather as beliefs that are false in one experience stream, and in others may turn out to be true. The concepts “truth”, “good”, “right” are used in the experiment functionally and adaptively, so James saw no reason to oppose the judgments of truth and value judgments. “The” true “… this is the way of our thinking that corresponds to the circumstances (expedient), just as” right “is our way of behavior appropriate to the circumstances” (James W. Pragmatism).

The work of the English pragmatist FK Schiller is devoted to the application of the principles of pragmatism to logic and humanism (Studies of Humanism, L., 1930). He took the mindset of James’s version of pragmatism, reinforcing his anthropological and personalistic motives: the experience, he objected to James, is not neutral, its content is the goals, needs, emotions of a person. Evidence of the validity of a given judgment is the consequences that follow from its adoption, which are beneficial and useful to us. However, not everything that works is true, but only that which serves cognitive, moral and humanistic purposes.

Dewey’s pragmatism has in common with James’s pragmatism a struggle with the speculations of speculative metaphysics, an appeal to the empiricism of common sense, anti-dualism and anti-fundamentalism, a refusal to contrast the judgments of fact and value judgments, and also the primary attention in the theory of knowledge to the problem of substantiating knowledge. At the same time, there are significant differences between these two thinkers. James’s pragmatism is anthropological, psychological and existential, Dewey’s pragmatism is more objectivist and scientistic. Dewey increasingly used in his philosophy the historicist approaches and the Darwinian ideas of natural selection and adaptation to the environment.

Dewey did not adhere to methodological monism. The proposed organismal and procedural interpretation of the experience presupposed the application of flexible and diverse methods – functional, operational, experimental, pragmatic, contextual, which are varieties of critical philosophical reflection. Dominant in Dewey’s philosophy was not so much the idea ofpragmatism as the idea ofcontextualism. The pragmatic method was considered as an integral part of the research, which consists in transforming an uncertain or problematic situation into a situation, a definite, integral, resolvable one. The purpose of the study – the solution – is achieved through thought experiments and the natural selection of the most effective and practical hypotheses. “Practical,” or “pragmatic,” is the rule of correlating concepts, theories, conclusions with consequences arising from them. The consequences can be different, both practically applied an aesthetic, moral, imaginary (see: Dewey J. Essays in Experimental Logic, Chi., 1916, Ch. XIII).

Speaking against Hegel’s objectivism and Kant’s epistemology and formalism, against the “passively reflective” and “essential” concepts of cognition, Dewey rejected the concept of “objective truth” and criticized the correspondent theory of truth. Truth should be understood operationally and instrumentally as the accepted “belief” (Belief) within a given context. “Belief” is preferable to “Truth”, as it opens up scope for doubt and criticism. Unlike James, Dewey was more understanding of the need for intersubjective certification of practical consequences and resorted to the term “confirmed affirmation” in the sense of a satisfactory agreement between different actors as to what to believe. Pragmatism, contextualism, and experimentalism in many ways bore the imprint of Dewey’s social reformism and at the same time served as methodological guidelines in his socio-political views.

J.Mid understood “pragmatism” primarily in the sense of an activity and contextual approach to problems. Unlike Pierce, who was not interested in social philosophy, and James, for whom she was on the periphery of his interests, at Mead, like Dewey and S. Hook, she was one of the central. He more detailed than Dewey, explored the notion of “sociality”, making it key in his philosophical constructs (Mead G. The Philosophy of the Act., Ch., 1938). The need for cognition arises from the need to resolve a specific problem situation that determines the meanings of statements, cognitive tools and the intended results. Representations about the true, proper, right are imbued with sociality, are dictated by practical tasks and are formed in communities of people. In Mead’s pragmatism, sociality has acquired the significance of a universal principle that operates not only at the human level but also at all levels of nature.

Although the pragmatists (Dewey and Mead), within the framework of instrumentalism, turned to the problems of the logic of scientific research. They did not specifically deal with the interpretation of formal systems (with the exception, perhaps, Charles Morris), outside their interests there were technical problems of language and meaning (this does not apply to Pierce).

“Linguistic” turn, made in the USA by analytically oriented philosophers, ousted classical pragmatism from the proscenium of academic life. However, many approaches typical for the pragmatic tradition were preserved, they were reinterpreted and further developed in philosophical naturalism (Hook, E. Nagel, E. Eidel, S. Lamprecht, J. Randill, E. Krikoryan, etc.), as well as in a pragmatic analysis, in various synthetic pragmatist-positivist and neo-pragmatist concepts.

The most active advocate of the American pragmatic and naturalistic tradition was Hooke. In the early period of his creative work, under the strong influence of Marxism (later he became the intellectual leader of the United States in criticizing the Leninist-Stalinist variety of Marxism and communism), he attempted to combine Dewey’s pragmatism with Marx’s understanding of practice. He applied social reformist interpreted pragmatism to political, ethical and educational problems. Later Hook was engaged in equipping pragmatic critical reflection with the technique of logical analysis. Turning to existential difficulties and criticizing pessimistic theories, highlighting the tragic meaning of life, Hook contrasted them with optimism and meliorism of pragmatism.

One of the prominent representatives of the pragmatic branch of analytical philosophy was W. van O. Quine. For Quine, as for postpositivist philosophy, it is characteristic to translate all philosophical questions into a linguistic and interthoracic level. The question of the existence of any objects can be put only in the framework of the language of the theory, which postulates their existence. For the first time, this idea was expressed by R. Carnap; Quine strengthened her holistic and pragmatic aspects: both logical and empirical sentences should not be checked in situ as Dewey did but as part of a coherent theoretical system within which they have their meaning. It can only be about the justification of the whole system, and it can only be pragmatic (Quine W. van O. Word and Object., Cambr. (Mass) – N.Y.-L., 1960).

Another representative of pragmatic analysis, M. White, was close to Quine on some critical issues, but unlike him, he more broadly interpreted the scope of practical criteria and advocated the synthesis of pragmatism and neopositivism (White M. Toward Reunion in Philosophy, N.Y., 1963). White criticized the neo-positivists for holding rigid boundaries between different areas of philosophical knowledge and substantiated the inner connection of ontology, logic and ethics: there is no dichotomy between the judgments of the fact and value judgments since there is an ethical element in the factual judgments. Any pragmatic procedure for testing knowledge is akin to ethical procedures, and the notion of “truth” carries an ethical load.

The philosopher-analyst D. Davidson believes that, in spite of his relativism, Quine is concerned, as in his time Dewey and Meade, with the problem of realism, that is, Our conceptual schemes (languages) refer to experience (nature, reality, sensory data). Language (and conceptual schemas) he acts as something third between consciousness and neutral reality. Davidson suggested that the idea oflanguage as a mediator between knowledge and nature be discarded altogether. Language conventions do not relate to the reflection of reality, but to social communication. From the concept of “truth” can not be denied, but it must be translated from the verification plane into the communication plane. In the spirit of Dewey, he argues that the truth is not based on a universally valid criterion, but on the principle of trust to the speakers of another language and other conceptual schemes (Davidson D. On the Idea ofthe Conceptual Scheme in: Analytical Philosophy, Selected Texts, 1993).

On the prudence of the old pragmatism says H. Putnam. Having spent enormous efforts to justify the reference theory of meaning and “natural realism” with the help of analytical techniques, and then, disenchanted with the results of his research, he proposes the category “truth” to be replaced by the old pragmatic notions of “fitness”, “fitness”.

Unlike analyst philosophers, who choose from the pragmatic heritage specific consonant ideas, R.Rorty offers a new look at all the work of James and Dewey regarding their contribution to postmodernism. Nietzschean motifs from James, the idea ofhistoricism and permanent reconstruction in Dewey, their general rejection of the Kantian-Cartesian epistemological tradition, and explicit anti-fundamentalism paved the way for postmodernism (Rorty R. Consequences of Pragmatism, Minneapolis, 1982). Rorty proposed a postmodern version of neopragmatism, in which the rejection of philosophy as a theoretical activity and giving it the status of “literary criticism” is proclaimed. The ideology of objectivism and truth, which dominated Western culture, he suggests replacing the ethnocentric thinking of solidarity with the opinions and pragmatic beliefs of the community.

In ethics, according to James, it is necessary to distinguish three areas of research, or three questions:

  • psychological (in which the origin of moral concepts is considered),
  • metaphysical (in which the meaning of moral concepts is considered),
  • casuistic criterion of good and evil in their specific manifestations and the resulting responsibilities.

In the question of the origin of moral concepts, James argued in controversy with utilitarianism, social utopianism and evolutionism that there was an innate tendency in human nature to ideal (in contrast to pleasant and useful) for himself. In the question of the nature of moral concepts, he proceeded from the premise that their content and the very fact of their existence are conditioned by the existence of a “sentient being” – a person capable of distinguishing between good and evil, based on his preferences and independently of external duties. In other words, the moral world is the product of the subjective consciousness of man.

Accordingly, there is no obligation on their own, but only as meeting the requirements formulated by a sentient and willing being. Thus, moral concepts (“good”, “bad”, “commitment”) do not mean “absolute essences” and do not reflect speculative self-assertive laws, but are objects of feeling and desire. “The ethical world” develops by the existence of living consciousnesses, “making judgments about good and evil and demanding each other”; “Ethical republic” exists regardless of whether or not there is a God in the world. On the most difficult issue – about the criteria of the good James admits that it is impossible to build an ethical system that would contain all the blessings on earth: there is always discord between the ideal and the reality, which is eliminated only by the sacrifice of the part of the ideal. Therefore, to avoid skepticism and dogmatism, the moral philosopher must accept as the guiding principle of ethics the following: “constant satisfaction of as many requirements as possible”; because of which the best is the act leading to the best whole with the least number of victims. In the context of casuistic analysis, ethics, according to James, can be similar to natural science, i.e. positive, empirical and constantly changing knowledge; but in this sense the philosophy of morality is impossible.

A characteristic feature of the pragmatist approach, as it was developed in the ethic of Dewey, is the consideration of moral problems regarding concrete and specific situations. Accordingly, due and proper is understood behavior leading in this particular case to the greatest good both for other people and for the person acting himself, under good is that which meets the requirements set by the situation. The moral task of the person is seen in ensuring the greatest completeness of the good in a situation of conflicting demands. Each moral dilemma, according to Dewey, is unique, and the concrete correlation of realized and trampled ideals arising from each individual decision always represents a world for which there has not yet been a precedent and for which a rule has not yet been created in behavior.

The moral rule is formulated in each concrete situation anew. In morality, we are not talking about the definition of “true value” as opposed to “false value”, but about defining a line of behavior in which all the valuesincluded in the situation would be taken into account, if possible. Moreover, value is not that of its authenticity, in contrast to falsity, but because it exists (D.Mid). This kind of situationalism, or contextualism, was criticized for not leaving room for the accumulation of moral experience. To which Dewey responded that generalized ideas about goals and valuesexist in the same forms as any general ideas, and are used as intellectual tools in judgments about specific cases as they arise; as tools they are created and tested in their applicability to these cases.

In Ethics, written by Dewey in conjunction with J. Tafts (1908), and for decades remained one of the most popular books in the US on moral philosophy, a distinction is made between “reflective” and “customary” morality.

  1. Understood those ideas and rules that arise in the process of solving moral problems in specific situations.
  2. Those common moral goals and principles that are formed on the basis of repetitive situations and which can be regarded as “operational a priori”, each time verified and confirmed in new emerging situations of making moral decisions.

Dewey’s ethical ideas have received an application in political theory, in particular in the doctrine of “democracy as a moral concept,” and in the theory of education, in particular, moral education.

In the 1960’s and 70’s pragmatism has lost its position in philosophy but since the late 1980’s. he received a “second wind” as an American parallel to the post-Nietzschean innovations in European philosophy (D.Dennet, H.Patnem, R.Rorty).

Tags: American PhilosophyWestern Philosophy
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