pragmatism
The philosophy of meaning and truth especially associated with Peirce and James . Pragmatism is given various formulations by both writers, but the core is the belief that the meaning of a doctrine is the same as the practical effects of adopting it. Peirce interpreted a theoretical sentence as a confused form of thought whose meaning is only that of a corresponding practical maxim (telling us what to do in some circumstance). In James the position issues in a theory of truth, notoriously allowing that beliefs, including for example belief in God, are true if the belief ‘works satisfactorily in the widest sense of the word’. On James's view almost any belief might be respectable, and even true, provided it works (but working is not a simple matter for James). The apparently subjectivist consequences of this were wildly assailed by Russell, Moore, and others in the early years of the 20th century. This led to a division within pragmatism between those such as Dewey, whose humanistic conception of practice remains inspired by science, and the more idealistic route taken especially by the English writer F. C. S. Schiller (1864–1937), embracing the doctrine that our cognitive efforts and human needs actually transform the reality that we seek to describe. James often writes as if he sympathizes with this development. For instance, in The Meaning of Truth (1909), p. 189, he considers the hypothesis that other people have no minds (dramatized in the sexist idea of an ‘automatic sweetheart’ or female zombie) and remarks that the hypothesis would not work because it would not satisfy our (i.e. men's) egoistic cravings for the recognition and admiration of others. The implication that this is what makes it true that other persons (females) have minds is the disturbing part.
Peirce's own approach to truth is that it is what (suitable) processes of enquiry would tend to accept if pursued to an ideal limit. Modern pragmatists such as Rorty and in some writings Putnam have usually tried to dispense with an account of truth (see minimalism ), and concentrate, as perhaps James should have done, upon the nature of belief and its relations with human attitude, emotion, and need. The driving motivation of pragmatism is the idea that belief in the truth on the one hand must have a close connection with success in action on the other. One way of cementing the connection is found in the idea that natural selection must have adapted us to be cognitive creatures because beliefs have effects: they work. Pragmatism can be found in Kant's doctrine of the primacy of practical over pure reason, and continues to play an influential role in the theory of meaning and of truth. See also instrumentalism ; logical positivism ; Pascal's wager ; science, philosophy of ; will to believe.

Philosophy dictionary. . 2011.

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