Why is the Philosophy of Pragmatism Important?
Pragmatism is a philosophy in which the consequences of actions determine the moral goodness or badness of the causing actions. Since the turn of the century pragmatism has been the prevailing philosophy in America. Much of today's society is "results driven." For them, only the results are important. For pragmatists, there are no objective standards that can evaluate actions up front.
For pragmatists, Darwin has replaced God. There is no longer an authoritian, exalted ruler of the universe who establishes truth. The God above has been replaced by the god within, pantheism or monism. So, in the absense of objective truth, how should pragmatists decide which of many alternative choices is best?
Pragmatists say that life is a process of discovering the truths of how our actions work for us. Their question is not so much "What is true?" or "What ought we to believe?" Instead they ask "What, if we believe it, will work best for us?"
Pragmatic Truth is Tentative
Physical experiences are the only means by which we learn. We experience the world around us through the five senses: touch, smell, sight, hearing, or taste. These sense impressions help us to understand what our world is like. We continuously build our knowledge of our world as we continue to experience it. Our knowledge is incomplete and subject to error. Learning is a lifelong activity. Truth is tentative, based upon our experiences to that point. Even if there were an objective truth that is independent of us, we have no direct access to that reality. Instead, each person experiences different sense impressions and each person has a different understanding of reality. Our view of the world is useful to use only if it allows us to manipulate the world in a way that is useful to use. A concept, idea, or policy is true for us when the result of using it to manipulate the world proves useful or satisfactory to us.
What is Pragmatic Truth?
Pragmatism is the philosophy for which the test of truth is the usefulness of the consequences of an act. There is no static or objective truth. Rather truth is constantly updated through the process of the mind working on the ever increasing store of our experiences. Truth is the instrument or tool by which human beings solve their problems, and it changes as their knowledge and problems change.
Without an objective moral compass to guide our actions, pragmatism causes us to ask, "Does it work?" rather than "Is it right?" Pragmatism does not look backward to axioms, premises or conjectures, but rather it looks forward to conclusions, results, or consequences.
Pragmatism comes from the Greek word pragma, meaning action. Words like practice and practical also derive from pragma. Pragmatism looks at consequences and asks: "What practical difference would there be if this alternative or that were true?" Many philosophical or moral arguments collapse into insignificance when you subject them to this test and find no significant difference in consequence. Pragmatism looks away from first things, principles, categories, supposed necessities, and looks toward results, fruits, consequences.
Scientific knowledge comes through instrumental or electronic measurements. We observe these measurements and create theories about the nature of matter and the forces of nature. We then test these theories with further experiments. Those theories that satisfactorily explain our further observations are considered true. Later, additional observations may take place that cause us to modify or reject the original theory.
No Truth -- Only What Works
There are no absolute truths. Rather, there are postulates. Postulates are true when they function to explain our experiences. All so called truths are empirical and are all man-made. They are valid or true only if within our experience they produce practical results. In other words, a statement is true if believing it provides the most benefit at this moment. The "Law of Pragmatism" is simply: "If it works, it's true."
Each society may value different social conditions. Such differences allow for different rules or moral values that tend to establish or maintain those social conditions. Those activities or policies that "work" for a given society are right and moral for that society.
Where does God Fit?
Pragmatism does not consider the question of God's existence. Rather the important concept is "Does a person's belief in God work satisfactorily for him?" When it is beneficial to believe in God and moral order in the universe, then this is the truth. Would it be "better" to believe or not believe? Pragmatism is willing to consider all possibilities, rational, emotional, spiritual in the search for the truth that fits the world best for us.
Pragmatism denies that objective concepts, eternal judgments, and universal reasoning processes can represent reality.
Pragmatists look at the consequences of a variety of beliefs. The belief that delivers the best results is the truth. They may ask the question: What would the world be like if this alternative were true, or that alternative? If there is no difference, then the distinction is irrelevant. For example, consider the concepts "There is a God" and "There is No God." Which is true? The pragmatist would not examine the evidence, but rather the consequences of each belief. The totality of God cannot be known. All we have is what is know of God, which is an imaginative product of history and the experience and reflection of many peoples. This "apparent god" can give meaning and function to our lives.
Pragmatism in Our Society
Any time you see business leaders, politicians, or other social leaders emphasizing their vision for the future, they are focusing on results or consequences. If they do not emphasize objective moral standards that will help determine their means of achieving those desired goals, they are likely to be adherents to the philosophy of pragmatism.
For example, businesses that seek to improve their profitability may attempt to ignore worker loyalty as well as health and safety standards. This characterizes many companies that move high paying manufacturing jobs from the United States to Mexico. Northern Mexico is the home of numerous U.S. companies for which profits is most important. See
The American educational system is founded on the bedrock of pragmatism. Outcome based education is an ever present phrase associated with modern schools. The Goals 2000 program describes some admirable goals or outcomes for education. Certainly, ensuring that all children are ready for school, increasing the high school graduation rates, and expecting competency in challenging subject matter are excellent goals. But, some may wonder about the specifics of more socially oriented goals: "responsibilities of citizenship" as well as "social, emotional.. growth of children." Perhaps social planners are basing their goals on the philosophy of when they promote goals such as: "The Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education shall ensure that all federally funded programs which provide for the distribution of contraceptive devices to unemancipated minors develop procedures to encourage, to the extent practical, family participation in such programs."
It is clear that the philosophy of pragmatism, devoid of objective moral standards, is a major philosophy guiding much of our nation.
Readings About Pragmatism
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