You are on page 1of 7

Contemporary Philosophy (WESTERN) Paper I (Core) PAPHI101 Mallika Pattabhiraman MA (PHILOSOPHY) PART I WEEKEND BATCH 2013-2014

CONTENTS Acknowledgement Page No

1. Summary of pragmatism and conceptions of truth Willam James



Summary of pragmatism and conceptions of truth : WILLAM JAMES

Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that originated in the United States around 1870. The most important of the classical pragmatists were Charles Sanders Peirce (18391914), William James (18421910) and John Dewey (18591952). The cornerstone of pragmatism is the pragmatist maxim, a rule for clarifying the hypothesis by bringing out their practical results. In the work of Peirce and James, the most leading purpose of the pragmatist maxim was towards the concept of truth. The pragmatic method is mainly a way of finding solutions to metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be never-ending. There are so many questions about this world like whether it is one or many? Fated or free? Material or spiritual? These concepts may or may not be right for the world. In these cases in pragmatic method one tries to interpret each concept by taking it to practical outcome. If the dispute is serious then pragmatic approach ought to be able to show the difference that one must follow from a side or the others which is right. Pragmatism is derived from the Greek word pragma which means action from which the words practice and practical came in. Pragmatism was first introduced into philosophy by Charles Peirce in 1878. In a article entitled how to make ideas clear in the popular science monthly Peirce puts forth his view that for achieving clearness in thoughts one needs to consider what possible of practical kind the object may involve, what feelings it may evoke and the reactions one may prepare for. The conception of the object and its effects (immediate or remote) is

the whole conception of the object so far as it has positive significance. The principle of pragmatism is credited to the principle of Peirce which was unnoticed for twenty years till the same was brought out. The term is applied to a number of tendencies hence there is no collective name and it has stayed on. Many philosophical disputes collapse into irrelevance when they are subjected to take the test of a concrete result. There can be no difference anywhere that does not make a difference elsewhere. There cannot be a difference in abstract truth that does not exist in the concrete fact imposed on somebody, somehow, somewhere at any time. The whole function of philosophy is to understand what difference it will make at definite instants in the life and the world. James also stated that there is nothing new in the pragmatic method, he referred to old philosophers

like Socrates, Locke, Berkeley, Hume and Hodgson and how they used pragmatism in fragments till later it had generalized itself. James says pragmatism represents a known and empiricist attitude in more essential and non controversial form. A

pragmatist shuns a lot of confirmed habits of old philosophers and moves away from insufficiency, abstraction, bad a priori reasons from fixed principles, closed systems and pretended absolutes and origins. In facts he takes a turn towards concreteness, adequacy, facts, action and power. This principle brings about open air and possibilities of nature as opposed to belief, hypocrisy and pretence in the finality of truth. Earlier Metaphysics followed a very primitive kind of quest. The theories became instruments not answers to enigmas in which one can depend. Pragmatism agrees with nominalism in always appealing to particulars, to utilitarianism by emphasizing practical aspects and to positivism in its contempt for useless questions, oral solutions and metaphysical abstractions. Compared to rationalisim which is a facade, pragmatism is fully equipped and revolutionary but in the beginning it does not stand for any results. James praises a young Italian pragmatist named Papini for giving example of a corridor of a hotel which has many chambers and in each chamber one is following ones own path, but all must pass through the corridor for getting in or out of their rooms. He furthers goes on to state that in the method of pragmatism there is attitude of looking at results, fruits, consequences and facts rather than looking at the first principle, categories, supposed necessities etc. He further talks about inductive logic which is one of the most cultivated

branches of philosophy and it is the study of conditions under which the sciences evolved but as these sciences having developed further gave rise to rivalries. He stressed on the workability of pragmatism by saying that truth in ideas and beliefs means the same thing that it means in science, the ideas become true just in so far as they help us in getting satisfactory relation with other parts of the experience. A theory may be true in proportion to solving the problem of maxima and minima and also the individuals will stress their points of satisfaction differently. He also speaks about everydayness that simply come and are the new contents , the truth about them is what ones says or feels about them. He questions what would be better to believe or what we ought to believe? Can we keep what can be better or what is true of us be apart. Pragmatism disagrees with its point. Hence James states that what

is better for us to believe is true unless the belief clashes with other important benefit. Pragmatism does not deny the existence of God in fact it widens the search for GOD. Test of truth for Pragmatism is what works best in leading men, and fits into every part of life along with life experiences, demands etc. There cannot be any other kind of truth than all the above which agrees with the concrete reality. The pragmatisms manners are varied and flexible having rich and endless resources and the same time friendly like Mother Nature. James confirmed his belief in free will as moral effort need belief in free will, and a belief that the world needs to be and can be improved, for the highest effort a belief in a God who is on the side of good. This cannot be proved by scientific methods or established at all. James stated that pragmatism is a theory of truth. He restates Peirces maxim to develops thoughts meaning and find out what it can produce and that manner is most significant. He takes Peirces maxim in a wise sense. James does not regard the mind as a passive receptacle. He states that a set of concepts developed by humans such a time, space, cause and thing. The experiences may also lead the humans to change or modify the concepts. James believed that one experiences relations between things and their properties. about sensations he says they include the deliverances of the five senses along with emotions. As the mind is not passive the theories are not only summarizes of past experiences not the deliverances of an a priori reason but are instruments; they become true just in so far as they help us to get into satisfactory relation with other parts of the experience. So the pragmatist theory of truth is an effort to make clear what is concerned in the claim that the truth is in conformity with the actuality, which itself is a mere truism. Pragmatists are of the view that there are many relations of conformity. A mental image copies what one has just perceived, but in most cases a certain belief leads to probable of future experiences and so long as these are not disappointed one can say this belief is true. All existence in this world is insecure hence the true beliefs are most important, its good to believe. At the same time it does not mean that these beliefs are agreeable or satisfying at the moment. One is not free to believe what one wants; beliefs should complement with past experiences and must be logically coherent and prove itself throughout in the indefinite future. This is what James meant by saying beliefs become true. In many cases it is seen that a fact cannot come about unless there is initial faith in it. A faith in a fact

can help to create the fact. In truths which are dependent on own action, then the faith is based on what one desires is possible and is essential. James states the faith that truth exists and that our minds can find it can be interpreted in two ways: The empiricists way and the absolutists way of believing the truth a) empiricists would say that we can attain the truth but we cannot know when b) absolutists would say that we not only can attain the truth but can know when we have attained to knowing it. James held the belief in his God, a God who strives to make this world a better place, helping to lead a better life. James belief in God gives utmost moral power. One chooses a belief and devotes oneself believing the end result will be

good, so the chosen beliefs are subject to verification or falsification as all the beliefs that exist. He says that to know is one thing, and to know for certain that we know is another. James says that scepticism is not avoiding an option it is in fact option of a kind of risk better risk loss of truth than a chance of error. James cannot see his way to accept the sceptical rules for truth seeking or agree to keep his enthusiastic nature out of this quest. He feels that a rule of thinking which would absolutely prevent me from acknowledging certain kinds of truth if those kinds of truth were really there, would be an irrational rule He finds such a rule ridiculous. He finally states that that in all the very important dealings of life one has to take a leap in the dark if the question remains unanswered that is a choice and if one falters in the answer that is also a choice but in whatever choice one makes one makes it at owns risk. If one does not believe in God, one can prevent it and on one can show that one is mistaken beyond doubt. Hence each one must act as he thinks best and he is wrong so much is worse for him. The situation is akin to standing on a mountain pass aware of the paths which seem deceptive but if standing still then one may freeze to death , if wrong road is chosen then one will be lost so in such a situation what best one can do is to be strong and have good courage. Act and hope for the best and accepts what comes and if so death ends itall that one cannot meet death in a better way.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Classics of Western Philosophy by Ed. Steven M. Cahn 2002 Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co. Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy Class Notes of Metaphysics key terms