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Pragmatism (Read 868 times)

    Scout7 asked about ambiguity and pragmatism on another thread: http://www.runningahead.com/forums/topic/3cd7dcfaac7740b6b6e6d4401324aef1/3 Serious philosophical hoo-hah is about to follow. First, you ask me if I'm a pragmatist/realist. I don't really know what to say here. To be a pragmatist is to say that experience is the beginning and end of all thinking. Our thoughts must not begin with philosophical problems like "Can I be sure that the external world exist?" but with problems that we actually experience, like "How would we be able to say when and if democracy is achieved in Iraq (or in America for that matter)?" Theories about what a legitimate democracy is should not be tested against an ideal found by our faculty of reason (whatever that is), but according to the consequences of that theory for our experience. Instead of asking whether or not a theory is true in some transcendent sense, pragmatists prefer to ask whether it works--i.e. does it have cash value in experience? Does it help us enhance our own lives? Just like a well-designed bed helps us sleep well, a well-designed philosophical theory helps us live well. Given the above approach, I couldn't answer your question about ambiguity in some absolute sense. Certainly we cannot live well with too much ambiguity in our lives. When we make choices, we (sometimes) seek out information in order to gain clarity on the issue. Less ambiguity, in this sense, gives us greater control over our lives. On the other hand, if we are faithful to experience, we must recognize that much of it is ambiguous. Reality does not come in well-organized chunks of processed information. The only place it seems to come like this is in the science lab, where our instruments are set up to produce this sort of reality (though I imagine it's not too hard to find confused scientists as well). However, as conversations about running indicate, the matter of applying this information outside the lab is still quite fuzzy. Indeed, reality comes at us fast and variably. We see issues and objects partially and emotionally. Our perceptions are always colored by our personal histories, the places we live, our moment in history, our language, our education. Further, some degree of ambiguity is quite pleasant. Love, you might say, is ambiguity of the individual. The "I" that I am is the field of my relations with others. When I think of myself, I think of the people that I've met, the places I've been. To be a friend means to give your identity over to ambiguity. It means to put your own interests and the interests of your friend into an ambiguous relationship. Yet that ambiguity gives us an edge to grow against. Ambiguity, in the right amount, is the productive confusion of growth. The question of how much ambiguity is too much, then, must be addressed pragmatically--does the ambiguity you feel enhance your experience by broadening your horizons? Or does it limit your experience by importing too much confusion and fear? Like the question of how much running is too much running, this can only be answered by testing it in experience, by going out and trying. Deciding how much ambiguity you can handle is a matter of putting yourself into ambiguous situations and seeing what happens. So, I'm a realist, if by "realist" you mean someone committed to enhancing human reality by attending to human problems. If you mean by "Realism" the sense that there is a metaphysical reality out there somewhere that is independent and objective and available for unbiased viewing, I would say that it is useful to think like this sometimes, like when we are in the science lab. But is it the Truth about Being? Well, if it would enhance human experience to believe this at all moments, then, go for it. But I'd say that the consequences of such a belief in the political arena, in personal life, are mixed at best.
    Scout7


    CPT Curmudgeon

      Nice. Although in my question, I was referring more to myself, or a declared pragmatist, not you specifically. However, I do like the answer. Oh, and my use of the term realist is somewhat in line with your first definition. Although, I was aligning it with the idea of pragmatism in the sense that, while it's nice to recognize ideal situations / behaviors, one needs to recognize that those ideals are just that, and the reality is that more often than not, those ideals are not met. To clarify, an ideal situation would be that people always act out of goodness, and always take the path that would provide the greatest benefit to the group. The reality is that this is often not the case, and people can be extremely self-serving. I am generally of the opinion that morality is nothing more than an adapted survival instinct. But I've also been called cruel, heartless, and dead inside. *snicker*
        I am generally of the opinion that morality is nothing more than an adapted survival instinct.
        Out of curiosity ... is it - morality - in your view an "adapted survival instinct" for the individual, or for the collective? In other words, have we as a species adopted morality and moral codes to ensure our collective survival, or do we engage in moral behavior as individuals strictly to avoid a Hobbesian state of nature, assuming that individual morality will become the norm out of individual self-interest - that we as individuals will understand that by acting morally, we encourage others to follow suit, and by acting immorally, we likewise encourage immorality, and thus threaten our own survival? Shorter version: if morality is a survival instinct, is the instinct designed for survival of the species, or of the individual? More importantly, what does Jessica Alba think?
        E-mail: JakeKnight2002@aol.com
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          Certainly we cannot live well with too much ambiguity in our lives.
          Unless you're an economist. Big grin Why did God create economists? In order to make weather forecasters look good.
          My Masters (>50) Race PR's: 5K - 20:17 10K - 42:36 HM - 1:31:22 Marathon - 3:20:48
          Scout7


          CPT Curmudgeon

            That's why I said adapted. Morality is a survival instinct that has evolved to encompass the group/society. And laws spring from a moral sense, at least on some basic level. Obviously, some laws are tough to say what moral background they have, and others are much easier to determine. Generally speaking, we all understand that murder is wrong. Why? Most species of animals never fight to the death amongst themselves. It's a survival thing. Killing each other doesn't help the species. Take that to the next level. Murder removes someone who at the least had an opportunity to contribute to the advancement, in some fashion, to society. It hurts the group. So, we call it moral to not kill things.


            You'll ruin your knees!

              That's why I said adapted. Morality is a survival instinct that has evolved to encompass the group/society. And laws spring from a moral sense, at least on some basic level. Obviously, some laws are tough to say what moral background they have, and others are much easier to determine. Generally speaking, we all understand that murder is wrong. Why? Most species of animals never fight to the death amongst themselves. It's a survival thing. Killing each other doesn't help the species. Take that to the next level. Murder removes someone who at the least had an opportunity to contribute to the advancement, in some fashion, to society. It hurts the group. So, we call it moral to not kill things.
              OK, I realize this isn't someone killing someone else, but if it is about extending the species, how do you explain this? http://darwinawards.com/darwin/darwin2005-07.html http://darwinawards.com/darwin/darwin2006-05.html

              ""...the truth that someday, you will go for your last run. But not today—today you got to run." - Matt Crownover (after Western States)

                That's why I said adapted. Morality is a survival instinct that has evolved to encompass the group/society ... Murder removes someone who at the least had an opportunity to contribute to the advancement, in some fashion, to society. It hurts the group. So, we call it moral to not kill things.
                Okay ... so is anything that benefits the greater good then, by definition, moral? Can the good of the individual ever trump the good of the group? If it could theoretically be demonstrated thatan individual could not possibly "contribute" to society, and was in fact a negative detriment to society ... would his murder become, by definition, moral? Is there morality outside of the greater good? If so - what is it based on? If not - who or what defines the greater good? And isn't Jessica Alba, by definition, the greatest good of all?
                E-mail: JakeKnight2002@aol.com
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                Scout7


                CPT Curmudgeon

                  Hey, regardless of how evolved a species is, you're always gonna get idiots. A digression here, based on the first story......I used to be a combat engineer in the Army. In brief, we dealt with setting up and removing obstacles (ours and the enemy's). This includes using demolitions, and land mines. Anyhoo, there's a standard slide show you get to see for the mine warfare portion. It shows all different types of mines, how they work, etc. It also shows the.....effects of some of those mines. Additionally, there's a couple photos of the aftermath of a guy who tried to crimp his blasting cap with his teeth. Always fun, lemme tell ya. This story may provide a certain level of insight into my rather bizarre and twisted sensibilities.
                    To be a pragmatist is to say that experience is the beginning and end of all thinking. ... Given the above approach, I couldn't answer your question about ambiguity in some absolute sense. Certainly we cannot live well with too much ambiguity in our lives. When we make choices, we (sometimes) seek out information in order to gain clarity on the issue. Less ambiguity, in this sense, gives us greater control over our lives ... On the other hand, if we are faithful to experience, we must recognize that much of it is ambiguous. .
                    What does a pragmatist do when the problem becomes not one of ambiguity but of differing perceptions? In other words, if experience is the "beginning and end of all thinking," if it is assumed that experience is more about perception than about objective reality, how do pragmatists collectively approach real-world issues? We may experience the same thing - but we may perceive that experience very differently, and thus reach different conclusions about the application of that experience to specific problem-solving. It would seem that pragmatism would actually create ambiguity because of this - because of the need to specifically define "experience" before applying it to "thinking." It would seem that for the individual, pragmatism could involve limited ambiguity, but for the group, the filter of perception would render "experience" not much more valid than specifically ambigious concepts (like love, in your example). Enlighten me, hippie. And pass the joint. Probably helps. This thread should be interesting reading tomorrow. Peace out, most excellent philosophy dudes.
                    E-mail: JakeKnight2002@aol.com
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                    You'll ruin your knees!

                      You guys aren't going to talk about shadows on the cave wall, are you? This would be an awesome discussion on a 20 miler! Lynn B

                      ""...the truth that someday, you will go for your last run. But not today—today you got to run." - Matt Crownover (after Western States)

                      Scout7


                      CPT Curmudgeon

                        You guys aren't going to talk about shadows on the cave wall, are you? This would be an awesome discussion on a 20 miler! Lynn B
                        Ugh.....I hated reading through that whole thing. Actually, I hated reading through a lot of political thought / philosophy. Mostly because they're studies in ideals, and often don't take into account human traits, like competitive spirit (communism was really bad with that).
                          What does a pragmatist do when the problem becomes not one of ambiguity but of differing perceptions? In other words, if experience is the "beginning and end of all thinking," if it is assumed that experience is more about perception than about objective reality, how do pragmatists collectively approach real-world issues? We may experience the same thing - but we may perceive that experience very differently, and thus reach different conclusions about the application of that experience to specific problem-solving. It would seem that pragmatism would actually create ambiguity because of this - because of the need to specifically define "experience" before applying it to "thinking." It would seem that for the individual, pragmatism could involve limited ambiguity, but for the group, the filter of perception would render "experience" not much more valid than specifically ambiguous concepts (like love, in your example).
                          Okay, obviously there are many questions, and it would probably take a book to address one of them singly. I'll do my best here with the warning that philosophy is not well suited to the message board medium. First a compliment: JK, you've hit the nail on the head. Experience is the central term in pragmatic thought, and I think it is still not fully developed. The way that the pragmatist escapes your objection is we say that thinking is only a certain type of experience. Experience is mental and physical; it encompasses emotions and ideas, feelings and activities. Hence, there is a kind of virtue in leaving the nature of experience ambiguous. In fact to say that experience could be "specifically defined" does a kind of injustice to the spontaneity of it. Your objection makes the unwarranted assumption that the whole of experience could be captured and pinned down by one kind of experience--namely the experience of thinking. This assumption does split experience in the way we normally split it--the individual's subjective experience on the one hand and the group's (more) objective experience on the other. This is a pragmatically useful distinction for the reasons you've discussed. Often individuals see things differently from groups. Or individuals see things differently form other individuals. Or groups see things differently than other groups. But it is not a necessary distinction, and sometimes it generates false problems. The important point is this one: pragmatism cannot solve THE problem of THE difference between perceptions (be they of individuals, groups, ponies, or ape-men). It says that this problem does not exist in the general form that you phrased it, and if it did it's certainly unclear whether philosophy could solve it by thinking about it. Instead, we must take problems of differences in perception on a case-by-case basis, as they arise in experience. If we approach these questions pragmatically, we will see that the context gives us means of addressing them, whereas if we approach them abstractly, we will get stuck. And, some of these differences in perception will never be reconciled (I mean, do we all really want to see the world in the same way, anyway?). I think this also helps with Scout's points. We have a tendency to ask the question of morality or ethics in terms of the individual's interests vs. the interests of the social whole. This is a particular development in thinking that occurs with the modern idea of the innate freedom of the individual (see Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, etc.). These ideas are built into the way we frame political discussions (the private rights of the individual vs. the public good, etc.) My two cents are that this was a good way of framing moral and political discussions when the threat to democracy was absolute monarchy, which denied the autonomy of individuals. However, the tendency to frame all discussions as a question of individuals v. social wholes is very dangerous because it pits one against the other. If we attend to our own experience, we will find that individual freedom is not prior to society, but a function of it and necessarily connected to it. Freedom does not come granted from on high, but is educated into us by our environment. For me, then, the good of the individual and the good of the society are rarely at odds with one another. In fact, the one cannot be thought without the other. So, the practical distinction between the rights of the individual and the good of the whole was useful when resisting tyranny of the individual. But framing political questions this way doesn't seem very helpful now. Though this response probably bored everyone to tears, particularly dead-hearted Scout, it makes me happy to find that people actually care about philosophical ideas and find them relevant to their lives. The greatest weapon of the philosopher is not his logical skill, but his ability to tire the opponent. Just ask Socrates.
                          Scout7


                          CPT Curmudgeon

                            Actually, I found your explanation (as I usually do) quite interesting, and fairly easy to follow. And I agree with you on the connection to individual and group rights / freedoms.
                              Actually, I found your explanation (as I usually do) quite interesting, and fairly easy to follow.
                              Thanks, man. That's my job. Wink By the way, I taught the cave allegory last week. I'm sorry you had a bad experience with it, but you might find it worth returning to in your older age...if you look at what Plato's doing as creating concepts (e.g. the distinction between appearance and reality) that allow us to discuss the good life and how to achieve it instead of as a final theory on the state, there is much to be learned...
                              Scout7


                              CPT Curmudgeon

                                It's possible. It has been a while. And it wasn't a bad experience with it, so much, as that the writing style and prose can be.....difficult to follow at times. But, that was my problem when dealing with a lot of political theorists and philosophers. Also one thing I think Machiavelli did very well, regardless of personal opinion on his ideals. He made his points relatively short and easy to digest. Guess that's my pragmatic nature coming out.....Or the ADD, you decide.
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