AskDefine | Define pragmaticism

Extensive Definition

Pragmaticism is a term used by Charles Sanders Peirce for his pragmatic philosophy after 1905, in order to distance himself and it from pragmatism, the original name, which had been used in a manner he did not approve of in the "literary journals". He said that he coined it because it was "ugly enough to be safe from kidnappers" (CP 5.414). [This introduction fails to define the term.]

The clarification of ideas in inquiry

Whether one chooses to call it "pragmatism" or "pragmaticism", and Peirce himself was not always consistent about it even after the notorious renaming, his conception of pragmatic philosophy is based on one or another version of the so-called "pragmatic maxim". Here is one of his more emphatic statements of it:
Pragmaticism was originally enounced in the form of a maxim, as follows: Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, you conceive the objects of your conception to have. Then, your conception of those effects is the whole of your conception of the object (CP 5.438).
William James, among others, regarded two of Peirce's papers, "The Fixation of Belief" (1877) and "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" (1878) as being the origin of pragmatism. Peirce conceived pragmatism to be a method for clarifying the meaning of difficult ideas through the application of the pragmatic maxim. He differed from William James and the early John Dewey, in some of their tangential enthusiasms, in being decidedly more rationalistic and realistic, in several senses of those terms, throughout the preponderance of his own philosophical moods.
Peirce's pragmatism is a method of sorting out conceptual confusions by equating the meaning of any concept with the conceivable operational or practical consequences of whatever it is which the concept portrays. This pragmatism bears no resemblance to "vulgar" pragmatism, which misleadingly connotes a ruthless and Machiavellian search for mercenary or political advantage. Rather, Peirce's Pragmatic Maxim is the heart of his pragmatism as a method of experimentational mental reflection arriving at conceptions in terms of conceivable confirmatory and disconfirmatory circumstances -- a method hospitable to the generation of explanatory hypotheses, and conducive to the employment and improvement of verification to test the truth of putative knowledge. As such a method, pragmatism leads beyond the usual duo of foundational alternatives, namely:
His approach is distinct from foundationalism, empiricist or otherwise, as well as from coherentism, by the following three dimensions:
  • Active process of theory generation, with no prior assurance of truth;
  • Subsequent application of the contingent theory, aimed toward developing its logical and practical consequences;
  • Evaluation of the provisional theory's utility for the anticipation of future experience, and that in dual senses of the word: prediction and control. Peirce's appreciation of these three dimensions serves to flesh out a physiognomy of inquiry far more solid than the flatter image of inductive generalization simpliciter, which is merely the relabeling of phenomenological patterns. Peirce's pragmatism was the first time the scientific method was proposed as an epistemology for philosophical questions.
A theory that proves itself more successful in predicting and controlling our world than its rivals is said to be nearer the truth. This is an operational notion of truth employed by scientists.
Peirce held that, in practical matters, slow and stumbling ratiocination is not generally to be automatically preferred over instinct and tradition, and held that scientific method is best suited to theoretical inquiry. In "The Fixation of Belief", Peirce argues that what recommends the scientific method of inquiry above all others is that it is deliberately designed to arrive, eventually, at the ultimately most secure beliefs, upon which the most successful actions can eventually be based. Peirce outlines four methods for the settlement of doubt, graded by their success in achieving a sound fixation of belief.
1. The method of tenacity -- persisting in that which one is inclined to think.
2. The method of authority -- conformity to a source of ready-made beliefs.
3. The method of congruity or the a priori or the dilettante or "what is agreeable to reason" -- leading to argumentation that gets finally nowhere.
4. The scientifc method.
In "How to Make Our Ideas Clear", Peirce discusses three grades of clearness of conception:
1. Clearness of the familiar conception.
2. Clearness as of a definition's parts, the clearness in virtue of which logicians call a concept or definition "distinct".
3. Clearness in virtue of clearness of conceivable consequences of the object as conceived of. Here he introduced that which he later called the Pragmatic Maxim.
By way of example of how to clarify conceptions, he addresses truth and the real as questions of the presuppositions of reasoning in general. In clearness's second grade, he defines truth as a sign's correspondence to its object, and the real as the object of such correspondence, such that truth and the real are independent of that which you or I or any definite community of researchers think. Then in clearness's third grade (the pragmatic grade), he defines the truth as that which would be reached, sooner or later but still inevitably, by research adequately prolonged, such that the real does depend on that final opinion -- a dependence to which he appeals in theoretical arguments elsewhere, for instance for the long-term validity of the rule of induction and, given the final ineradicability of error from measurement, not only for the view that space will never be found to be exactly Euclidean, but also for the reality of chance and the real's lack of positive exactness. Peirce argues that even to argue against the independence and discoverability of truth and the real is to presuppose that there is, about that very question under argument, a truth with just such independence and discoverability. For more on Peirce's theory of truth, see the Peirce section in Pragmatic Theory of Truth. Peirce's discussions and definitions of truth have influenced several epistemic truth theorists and been used as foil for deflationary and correspondence theories of truth.
Pragmatism is regarded as a distinctively American philosophy. As advocated by James, John Dewey, Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller, George Herbert Mead, and others, it has proved durable and popular. But Peirce did not seize on this fact to enhance his reputation, and even coined the word "pragmaticism" to distinguish his philosophical position. Peirce wrote in particular of disliking a growing literary use of the word "pragmatism" in unfortunate senses. In a 1908 article he expressed areas of agreement and disagreement with his fellow pragmatists (he singles F.C.S. Schiller out by name and is vague about which among the others he most particularly refers to): Peirce's pragmatism, in its core senses as method and theory of definitions and the clearness of ideas, is a department within his theory of method of inquiry, which he variously called Methodeutic and Philosophical or Speculative Rhetoric. He applied his pragmatism as a method throughout his work.

See also


pragmaticism in German: Pragmatizismus
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