Pragmatism and the Tragic Sense of Life

Pragmatism and the Tragic Sense of Life

Pragmatism and the Tragic Sense of Life

Pragmatism and the Tragic Sense of Life

Excerpt

The element that unifies this collection of essays, written over the span of a generation, is the commitment to the philosophy of pragmatism in the tradition of Charles Peirce and John Dewey. Peirce repudiated the term "pragmatism" after William James made it popular. Dewey often deplored its debasement in common usage. In recent years it has been made synonymous in some quarters with chicanery, unprincipled behavior, and self-serving expediency.

It would be more appropriate to use the term "experimentalism," if only to stress the reference to action, empirical control, and the test of consequences inherent in the pragmatic tradition. But the term "experimentalism" is also subject, although in lesser measure, to widely prevalent misunderstanding. In one view, the experimental philosophy is taken to entail universal skepticism. The strange notion prevails among those who misread Peirce and Dewey that because any assertion of fact or value may be challenged to submit its credentials to further test, we therefore can possess no firm knowledge about anything. Equally bizarre is the assumption that the experimentalist believes that we can or should experiment in human affairs in the same manner or with the same methods and techniques employed in the natural sciences.

My main reason for not abandoning the term "pragmatism" for some newly minted expression is pedagogical. It is hoped that the juxtaposition of the term with ideas that seem unrelated or even opposed to popular conceptions of pragmatism will be sufficiently arresting to lead readers to a critical reassessment of their understanding of the doctrine.

Technically, pragmatism was developed as a theory of meaning and then as a theory of truth. In its broadest sense as a philosophy of life, it holds that the logic and ethics of scientific method can and should be applied to human affairs. This implies that one can make warranted assertions about values as well as facts. It recognizes that . . .

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