Talk:Pragmatism/Archive 1

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Can you please be more specific as to your distress regarding the intro? I happen to be rather fond of it as is. Sam [Spade] 03:28, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)

Well, 'twasn't me, but I will say that "given goal" is, if not POV per se, at any rate wrong for the forms of pragmatism with which I'm familiar. No one goal, especially no one arbitrary goal, is the standard of pragmatic truth or can be on a Deweyan, Jamesian, etc. reading. -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽ 04:28, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
Yes, if you notice I left out the given goal bit. It was just a bit of exteraneous ad-libbing on my part. I assume the current version is acceptable then? Sam [Spade] 07:43, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
Yeah, the current version seems okay. Also, the guy who originally objected doesn't seem to have come back, so we can assume he's cool with it too. -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽ 20:07, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
Oops. Spoke too soon. (Kukkurovaca's watchlist=too long). How about we loose the efficiency bit, which is a slight overstatement, and keep the "insistence on consequences" part, which I'm pretty sure shouldn't be objectionable. And I'll add a bit putting it in broader context. -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽ 20:12, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)


' Pragmatism does not hold, however, that just anything that is useful or practical should be regarded as true, or anything that helps us to survive merely in the short-term; pragmatists argue that what should be taken as true is that which most contributes to the most human good over the longest course. In practice, this means that for pragmatists, theoretical claims should be tied to verification practices--i.e., that one should be able to make predictions and test them--and that ultimately the needs of humankind should guide the path of human inquiry. '

isn't this a definition of utilitarianism? "Pragmatism does not hold, however, that just anything that is useful or practical should be regarded as true" actually strikes me are inaccurate. Sam [Spade] 21:29, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)\
Well, utilitarianism is more a moral/economic thing than an epistemological thing; pragmatism is a much more thorough and complex philosophical trend, but it's closely related to utilitarianism; James, as I recall, considered himself deeply indebeted to Mill. Pragmatism rejects things that are only useful or practical in the short run, i.e., just for some people or just for a little while. This is most intuitive on the ethical front; it may be useful for me to lie, cheat, and steal if my purpose of the moment is getting money, but that isn't to say that this makes these good strategies from a pragmatic ethics standpoint, because they incur negative consequences for my community and, many pragmatists would argue, for me as well, in that they are part and parcel of erroneous association of money with happiness that isn't necessarily borne out over the course of a life, etc. That's what I mean when I say that "not just anything that is useful or practical" should be regarded as true. There may be a better way to make this clear, and obviously I welcome suggestions to that end. -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽ 21:56, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
It would appear a section discussing similarities/patrimony w utilitarianism would be warranted. Sam [Spade] 22:03, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
Absolutely; it's far more topical than Kant, who already gets a section here; unfortunately, my knowledge of utilitarianism is pretty slim, so I'm not qualified to write it... -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽ 22:36, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
Intro to philosophy (and reading the article here ;) is about as far as I get. Utilitarianism and Pragmatism both stuck out to me at the time as being agreeable, but I didn't see them as equivalent. I've said it this way elsewhere: In Pragmatism, "that which is efficient is correct", "that which is expedient is necessary" is Machiavellian, and "that which does the most good for the most people (is correct)" is Utilitarianism. I think they are all compatible (I like to think I bring them together in my life :) but subtlety distinct concepts. The area they all three seem to be at a loss is how to qualify "good" or "efficient" in a way which is universally agreed upon. Sam [Spade] 23:54, 22 Jun 2004 (UTC)
I wouldn't say "efficient"; I'd say "effective", and I wouldn't say that either, because it would imply some cases that pragmatists would never admit in actual practice. I'd expand it out to say "That which enables me to predict events in a way that is useful in helping me interact favorably with my environment is true", which is proably the best broad summary of classical pragmatic epistemology. (Or, rather, an ungainly phrasing approximating such a best summary).
BTW, Pragmatism isn't as much at a loss about how to define the good as people commonly think. Dewey did considerable work on this front, for example, and his conclusion is that it's possible to distinguish some values which are compatible with and support the furthering of other existing values and the creation of still more, all in harmony--in other words, those things are really good which seem good without my believing them to be good encouraging me to act in a way that is in conflict with other things that also seem good. I.e., Dewey admits all harmonizing goods and excludes nonharmonizing goods. This is part of the reason why pragmatism is unable to handle the concept of the tragic, which depends upon conflicting goods. (Of course, there are later correction of pragmatism that attempt to allow the tragic; there are also versions of pragmatism that totally exclude the question of value (i.e., Quine)). -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽ 00:01, 23 Jun 2004 (UTC)


From what I just read he used better and worse rather than right and wrong. Had a variety of strange opinions outside of any of this as well ;) Sam [Spade] 04:45, 23 Jun 2004 (UTC)

Ah, it's not that Quine rejects value per se, it's that certain of his positions lead to certain forms of relativism regarding value. He says, essentially, that individuals must decide for themselves by what standards to judge things. This isn't so terrible, but a lot of people get freaked out when you remove the foundations for debates over values and ethics and so forth. -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽ 04:51, 23 Jun 2004 (UTC)

The W. V. Quine page lists him as an analytical philosopher, which makes sense in view of his citations: Frege, Russell, Ramsey, and his central concern with language and logic. If Quine is a pragmatist, then pragmatism is, at least in part, a subdiscipline of analytical philosophy. We need a decision: either delete Quine from this page, or link the Quine page back to this. ---- Charles Stewart 13:29, 24 Aug 2004 (UTC)

I think the situation is unclear. On the one hand, pragmatists and neo-pragmatists have sort of adopted Quine, and he clearly shares a few doctrines in common with pragmatism. On the other hand, Quine has little to no historical continuity with pragmatism, and his one essay on pragmatism ("The Pragmatists' Place in Empiricism") shows that he really doesn't understand the classical pragmatists. Probably he should be left there, given the common association of Quine with pragmatism, but perhaps some kind of note is in order (on one page or the other)? --The hanged man 22:31, 17 Jun 2005 (UTC)


But what is that foundation, anyways? I'm certain its the difficulty in reaching concensus on value which caused him to prefer an idiosyncratic measure. Sam [Spade] 04:56, 23 Jun 2004 (UTC)

Well sure, and I'm pretty anti-foundationalist myself. I'm inclined to agree with Quine at least functionally (i.e., I think Quine's relativistic account accurately reflects the course of human knowledge); I'm not sure that there aren't any common standards (or standards which should be held in common), though; I think I tend to side with James, who uses the concept of gambling to merge idiosyncratic and communal standards. -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽ 06:16, 23 Jun 2004 (UTC)

Well for me, I'm an absolutist, with a focus on spirituality, theology, karma, etc,, as my basis for morality. I do however see a subjective aspect in any human interpretation, or attempt at presentation of morality. Sam [Spade] 17:43, 24 Jun 2004 (UTC)


The formalism link doesn't go to a philosophical article on formalism - perhaps we could briefly explain formalism in this article? Zensufi 02:29, 24 Apr 2005 (UTC)

Recent Addition

Removed most of the recent addition. Some of what it says is interesting and perhaps useful, but it is far too disorganized, and it certainly doesn't belong in the opening paragraph. It should be looked over and selectively added to the article. --The Hanged Man 07:04, 22 Jun 2005 (UTC)

Removed text:

The focus of Pragmatism was to find an objectively verifiable technique to test the "truth" of our "knowledge". This was a reaction to the foundational alternatives of 1) deduction from absolute truths/rationalism or 2) induction from observable phenomena/empiricism. This approach is often confused with the latter form of foundationalism, but is differentiated by the active process of postulation/theorizing and subsequent testing through attempts at application of the theory and verification of the theory's ability to predict and control the environment, rather than merely relabeling patterns of phenomena with generalizations as attempted by the inductive method. Pragmatism, through Charles Sanders Peirce, was the first attempt to put forth what we now recognize as the scientific method as a philosophical theory of epistemology. A theory that proves itself more successful in predicting and controlling our world than its predecessor is said to be nearer the "truth." Truth in this theory is a matter of degree, constantly open to improvement. The objectivity provided by having our knowledge directly connected through a chain of logic, which was traditionally thought to be provided by the foundationalist theories of rationalism and empiricism, is recognized as an illusion by this approach. True objectivity can never be deduced from immutable truths or perceived directly in the environment, but it can be postulated to exist, and to be used as the objective measure of the accuracy of our "knowledge" in the form of theories. In this sense, "Truth" and "Reality" are akin to the Platonic Forms, with our knowledge being merely our mental shadows, which are attempting to depict the unreachable reality, and it is through the scientific method of postulation and verification that allows us to touch reality and be steered and comforted by its guidance.


Important figure, yes. Student and friend of James, yes. Pragmatist? no. --Christofurio 12:28, July 18, 2005 (UTC)

American philosophy?

I would also say that Ayn Rand's Objectivism is another uniquely American philosophy. It is known outside of America, but has only been influential in the USA. It was, of course, born here as well and seems to be more relevant to American culture and values than to other countries.

Ayn Rand is not generally considered a philosopher, perhaps she is better characterized as a "popularizer of philosophy" or a "public intellectual" in the vain Carl Sagan was a popularizer of science. The problem is that Ayn Rand is absent from the discussions, journal disputes, conferences, etc. which are the lifeblood of the institution of philosophy for the last 100 years. Far as I know she never published a work in the top philosophy journals, "Mind", "The Journal of Philosophy", etc. Not to say that is the definition of a philosopher, but it should make us suspicious. The next strike against her is that her books are largely ignored by philosophers today, and when I read them they seem outdated (even for the 1950's when she wrote).

Most of Ayn Rand's exclusion from the philosophic world is of her own doing. She choose to ignore the philosophy of her day, and instead argue against outdated works (against "Locke") at a level of development more fitting the 1800's rather than the 1900's.

Listen I enjoyed Ayn Rand a great deal, both her fiction and non-fiction. She is really one of the reasons I went into philosophy. However, once I got into the field I realized she really isn't a philosopher in the "strict" sense of the word. But don't take my word on it, ask your university professors if they consider Ayn Rand a full-fledged philosopher.

Ayn Rand is more in line with Emerson and Thoreau, two intellectuals whose “philosophy” was both American and priori to pragmatism. However, these two are not generally considered to be philosophers in the strict sense of the word, and their “philosophy” not a philosophy in the “strict” sense of the term. This is why pragmatism is often referred to as America’s first contribution to philosophy, or America’s first philosophic school. Because Emerson and Thoreau don’t count. They function more as public intellectuals, which is how I think Ayn Rand is considered.

I believe the article stated that pragmatism was the only uniquely American "school of thought" not the only uniquly American "philosophy". Whether or not one considers american trancendentalism of objectivism "philosophies" in the strict sense of the word, they could justly be considered "schools of thought". 01:46, 13 October 2005 (UTC)mightyafrowhitey

- atfyfe


The two references to war here I think are misplaced. Not everything in the world is about war, more specificly, not everything in philosophy is about war. To date the recent resurgance of pragmatism by its following the Cold War, and to connect the orignination of pragmatism to the Civil War are both bad claims. Pragmatism arose from the non-sense uber-Absolutism of philosophers like McTaggart at the end of the 19th century. It was a responce to the same absurd claims G.E. Moore was responding to with his common sense philosophy and Russell with his logical analysis. Both references to war should be removed from this post. I'll go re-check my copy of "The Metaphysical Club" to see why that author tries to connect pragmatism to the Civil War, but the claim sounds absurd (oddly enough, a book I orignially read while fighting in the Iraq war). - atfyfe

I think the claim about the Civil War is more credible than the other. Menand's claim is a serious scholarly opinion and at least deserves mention. Is the Cold War claim also Menand's? I'll dig around for the book and see. Perhaps the references only seem so prominent because the entry is pretty short? --The Hanged Man 21:52, 30 July 2005 (UTC)
I do not agree with Menand's claim, but it is the result of serious scholarly work and Menand's opinion trumps mine. If I come across any notable scholar attacking this claim of Menand's I will remove it, but I am happy to leave it for now. I don't know where the Cold War claim comes from, and therefore I will remove it for the reasons I gave. - atfyfe

Neo-classical pragmatism vs. neo-pragmatism

I'm suspicious of this distinction. Putnam and Rorty are usually lumped together in the "neo-pragmatist" category. Is neo-classical pragmatist have anything to do with paleo-pragmatist, the label Rorty uses for the scholars of classical pragmatism that are constantly bugging him about his interpretations of the tradition? Should it contain names like David Hildebrand, William T. Myers, Douglas Browning, etc.? --The Hanged Man 22:00, 30 July 2005 (UTC)

Putnam and Rorty are two very different philosophers. The reason people tend to lump them together is because they are both contemporary (neo) and both claim heritage from the classical pragmatists (pragmatist). However, they do so in a very different way and to try fitting them under the same label of thought would be wrong. This difference is most prominent between Susan Haack and Richard Rorty, who are very vocal about how the other's philosophy is not really pragmatism.

Let me quote one of the philosophers you yourself listed, David Hildebrand:

“There is a general consensus that pragmatism’s twenty-year renaissance produced two readily identifiable versions. One is typically called "classic" pragmatism, while the other goes by several names: "neopragmatism," "postmodern pragmatism," and "linguistic pragmatism."

I would suspect David Hildebrand would find himself at home on the neo-classical list. I am not aware of Myers and Browning's work.

- atfyfe

I think the difference between Rorty and Putnam is important, but they both diverge from classical pragmatism, and, if Hildebrand is right, in opposite directions. Would you agree that Putnam probably belongs under neo-pragmatism, while someone like Haack or Hildebrand falls more squarely in the neo-classical realm? --The Hanged Man 21:31, 24 August 2005 (UTC)

Pragmatic philosophy in buddhism?

The pragmatic philosophy seems to me to be quite clear in the basics of buddhism, a philosophy based in action, not materialism or rationalism. The kalama sutta ( being a clear example of this, where Buddha clearly states that the actual consequences directly tell you what things are good and bad respectively.

Well, maybe...

AF: Yes but pragmatism at its core is not "actual consequences directly tell you what things are good and bad", that sounds like consequencalism (e.g. utilitarianism). Pragmatism is the following two doctrines: (1) 'actual (in the case of James and Schiller) / possible (in the case of Peirce) consequences tell you what things are true and false', and (2) actual (in the case of Schiller) / possible (in the case of James and Peirce) actions are the meanings of beliefs, sentences and propositions'

- atfyfe

I read through about half and skimmed about half of: which I assume is what you're referring to. First of all let me say: phew, that guy is way way more longwinded than he needs to be :P

But setting that aside, his explanation of the non-division of the many and the one is prevalent in buddhism and has been for thousands of years. I don't see which claims buddhism is supposed to make that this guy has a problem with. In its core buddhism makes four claims: 1. that everything is impermanent 2. that there is no self-abiding soul/personality/ego 3. that denial of the two previous facts causes a deep feeling of unsatisfaction (dukha) 4. that the way to accept 1 and 2 is to do some kind of meditative practice.

Now, dogmatically (if such a thing can be said of buddhism) this is quite akin to putting Occam's Razor to human belief structures: "you believe in permanance? show me something that is permanent! you believe in a soul? show it to me!". If one cannot show it, then it is ignored (just like Gods in buddhism, same thing as a soul really). In any case, buddhism is fundamentally based in action, not belief or faith. By acting right and practicing yourself can something be achieved, not by praying or believing in some supernatural being.

- boxed

James admitted his own ignorance of Buddhism, but said (in Varieties of Religious Experience) "as I apprehend the Buddhistic doctrine of Karma, I agree in principle with that." [Postscript) Here's a fuller discussion.

As to long-windedness, that's a matter of social context. In the text you've linked us to, James is replying in part to positions that were "live options" in his own day, but that likely seem dead to you, so his replies are more elaborate than (in the early 21st century) they 'need to be.' Which is hardly a defect of his. Social/academic contexts, too, are impermanent! --Christofurio 13:37, August 13, 2005 (UTC)

That's a very interesting document that does seem to argue my point quite clearly. At the very least this link should be supplied, maybe with a writeup with some kind of preamble in the form of "compare to buddhist philosophy", being vague but yet suggest the link to a reader?

- boxed

I've made some changes along these lines. --Christofurio 15:57, August 16, 2005 (UTC)

AF:I don't find the comparison between James and Buddhism all that compelling, but that doesn't really matter. What does matter is that such a comparison is not the widespread opinion of the academic community. For example, the very long and detailed examination of James' work by Gerald E. Myers "William James: His Life and Thought" has no mention of Buddhism in the index. Susan Haack, in her intro to Pragmatism class, never mentions such similarities (and what better standard do we have for what should be included in the "pragmatism" entry then what the modern pragmatist philosophers teach in their intro classes on the subject). Furthermore, not every doctrine held by James and Peirce is a part of their pragmatism. For example, James himself specifically argued that his Will to Believe doctrine and his radical empiricism were not a part of his pragmatism. Any similarities between buddhism and those doctrines has nothing to do with pragmatism. Even if James did accept karma, he would be the first to tell you it isn't part of pragmatism! Lastly, finding an article that "does seem to argue my point quite clearly" does not mean it should be included in the entry on 'pragmatism'. You may see simliarities between pragmatism, but the place to argue this point is in academic journals. - atfyfe
wikipedia isn't paper, and it isn't a college course, either. We can do more than present the outline of a textbook for undergrads. I don't think a pragmatism/Buddhism link should be central to the presentation, but it has respectable authority behind it, including some of those other works cited in the one to which I've linked you, and it should be cited here as one possible line of thought about pragmatism. --Christofurio 14:11, August 22, 2005 (UTC)
Call me crazy, but I think James accepts cause and effect, the sanskrit word for which is "karma". That the widespread opinion (specifically of americans) on the matter is that pragmatism was an american invention and a "unique american philosophy" (as the wikipedia article states) does seem to make the point that these people wish to distance themselves from buddhism. I can understand this because buddhism is the target of much New Age pseudoscientific and pseudoreligious armwaving. Local cultural aspects like spirits, personal reincarnation (as opposed to karmic reinkarnation, which is just "things I do today have consequences for tomorrow"), belief in various gods etc, are often confused with the actual buddhist philosophy. This shouldn't distract from the fact that the Kalama Sutra from the Pali Canon (which is recognized as canon by all buddhists) is arguing pragmatism as good as any pragmatic text I have seen. --boxed 2005-09-01
AF:It has been a while, so I just want to re-voice my objection to the Buddhism stuff being spoken about in this entry. The link between pragmatism and Buddhism is not "one possible line of thought about pragmatism" it is false. There is no link between the two, except for the infinite number irrelevant ways that all things in the universe are linked (pragmatism and Buddhism both exist on the Earth, they both had adherents that sneezed, they both used the phrase 'cause and effect', etc.). Secondly, the outside sources linked to are extremely weak. One essay make no connection to pragmatism but only to works of William James that James himself explicitly states are not connected to his pragmatism. No to mention the fact the entry explicitly states James was ignorant of Buddhism. The other article does try to make a connection between Buddhism and pramgatism, but is wildly off-base. I know that Christofurio has been able to cite one academic papers published supporting his claim of the connection (only one, because one of the papers has to do with James but not pragmatism); but it strikes me as obvious that this is just someone trying to draw a connection that is just not there. I don't think this is an academicly debated topic, I think one professor wrote one paper which will be forgotten and ignored forever by pragmatist scholars. Lastly, I will "call [you] crazy" boxed, just because James "accepts cause and effect" does not make him a Buddhist. Under that logic we ought to go add "is a Buddhist" to just about every philosopher in history. The concepts of "cause and effect" are accepted by everyone, and furthermore do not amount to the same thing as the concept of Karma but is instead very, very different. Oh, and the claim that "pragmatism was an american invention and a unique american philosophy" is because that is how pragmatism was recieved when it was invented. In the late 1800's american philosophy was not respected, and had yet to contribute any great movement to philosophy. Pragmatism was that movement. This has nothing to do with distancing pragmatism from Buddhism. I am not disrespecting Buddhism here, I am just saying that the connection stated in this article is false. Since no one has agreed with me, I have left the section untouched since my initial attempt to delete it. But I would hope some other philosopy students on Wikipedia will come to my aid in voting to delete this falsehood from the entry on "pragmatism".(Atfyfe 20:59, 3 March 2006 (UTC))

For what it's worth, it seems to me that while there might be a few interesting points of contact between pragmatism and Buddhism, there are no historical relationships, nor are there deep relationships between the views. In any case, what relationships there might be don't seem sufficiently encyclopedic for inclusion in this article. I'm in favor of deleting this bit. --The Hanged Man 00:13, 5 March 2006 (UTC)

Verification or falsification?

The definition given at the top of the article says: "theoretical claims should be tied to verification practices." I am wondering if verification is used here in the technical sense of a verification theory of meaning a la logical positivism or whether it is used in a more general sense that would encompass Popper's notion of falsification too. There seems to be nothing in the pragmatist imperative that would rule out the latter, and as the article notes that pragmatists reject other tenets of logical positivism. Furthermore the belief that "what should be taken as true is that which most contributes to the most human good over the longest course" resonates perhaps more with a falsificationist logic than a verificationist one.

  • JA: With respect to classical pragmatism, both of the terms "verificationism" and "falsificationism", along with "consequentialism", "utilitarianism", and numerous others, are reductive misnomers applied by other schools of thought. Jon Awbrey 18:14, 22 February 2006 (UTC)
  • ATF: The classical pragmatists do use the word "verificationism" occcasionally, but I think they provide a very different form of verifcationism than the positivists. It is correct to call the pragmatists "verificationist" in the broad sense (Peirce himself says he is a positivist in the broad sense), but the character and details of their verificationism are very different. For example, both James and Peirce accept a large number of abstract metaphysical doctrines that would make a logical positivists head spin. They can do this because the character, content, and justification of their pragmatism is very different that the logical positivists. (Atfyfe 23:11, 22 February 2006 (UTC))
  • JA: When in doubt about what Peirce means, it is best to refer to the pragmatic maxim. As for "positivism", Peirce is alluding to Auguste Comte's original meaning, which refers merely to the "positive" virtues of science as knowledge, as opposed to excessive skepticism as to whether science works as it seems to. A far cry from what it became in latter eras/errors. Jon Awbrey 00:42, 23 February 2006 (UTC)
  • ATF: I understand Peirce to be refering to Comte, but when Peirce refers to Comte he doing two things: (1) Peirce is praising Comte for trying to get rid of any proposition that are not verifiable, (2) Attacking Comte for having a overly restrictive account of what counts as verifiable. Peirce, for example, did not believe Comte could admit that propositions about the past were verifiable. I am no Comte expert, but I have read the attacks Peirce leveled on Comte and it strikes me that Peirce saw his pragmatism as a looser (and more correct) verificationism than Comte. The passage I am thinking of is in volume 1 or 2 of Peirce's Writings, but I am away from home now and cannot give and exact citation.
  • JA: The fact that a person uses words like "verification", "fallibilism", "consequence", and so on, does not make them adherents of the corresponding "ism" as defined by another school of thought. One has to be extremely careful in attributing "isms" in the doctrinal sense to Peirce, who treated them more as instrumental angles, much like a prism, even pragmatism and realism. Again, the main maxim here is the pragmatic one. Jon Awbrey 03:44, 23 February 2006 (UTC)
  • This is an interesting discussion but I'm not sure I detect in it an answer to the original query. Let us stipulate that pragmatism is not equal to positivism or any other -ism. Let us further agree that these are all mere labels that reify and condense what are really very complex perspectives. These facts notwithstanding, we can ask whether the perspectives signified by them make similar "moves." Logical (not classical/Comtean) positivism asserts that "a statement is meaningful if and only if it is empirically verifiable" (quoting this entry). Clearly pragmatism is supportive of the idea of empirical varification of claims. The question is whether this is sufficient for the pragmatist program, or whether empirically verified claims must also be subject to attempts at falsification, in a critical system of "conjectures and refutations" as advocated by Popper.
  • ATF: To clear up any confusion, I intend to prove here what the relationship between Peirce's pragmatism and verificationism is (I am not talking about James or Dewey, etc.). I agree with Jon Awbrey that it wouldn't be correct to simply call Peirce a simple verificationalist (as many people do), but it would be too much to completely ignore the fact Peirce is a verificationalist in a broad sense (in the same broad sense that a falsificationist is a verificationalist).

Let me start off with a quote from Peirce that connects his maxim to Comte's:

"[…]we now see that the true doctrine concerning Pragmatism whatever it may be is nothing else than the true Logic of Abduction. It is now generally admitted, and it is the result of my own logical analysis, that the true maxim of abduction is that which Auguste Comte endeavored to formulate when he said that any hypothesis might be admissible if and only if it was verifiable." (EP2:225)

In saying this, however, Peirce is not exactly accepting Comte’s verificationism. That is why Peirce qualifies that “the true maxim of abduction” is what Comte “endeavored to formulate” (italics mine). It is also why in this next passage, Peirce label’s Comte’s maxim as only approximately the doctrine of pragmatism:

"Any hypothesis, therefore, may be admissible, in the absence of any special reasons to the contrary, provided it be capable of experimental verification, and only in so far as it is capable of experimental verification. This is approximately the doctrine of pragmatism. But just here a broad question opens out before us. What are we to understand by experimental verification?" (EP2:235)

Peirce agrees that Comte’s maxim that a “hypothesis might be admissible if and only if it was verifiable” is broadly correct, but objects that Comte went wrong in elaborating the details of his maxim. The difference between Peirce and Comte consists in what Peirce thought was Comte’s excessive standards for what qualifies as verification. In the sixth Harvard Lecture on Pragmatism (1903), Peirce tells us that the maxim of Comte stated that “no hypothesis ought to be admitted, even as a hypothesis, any further than its truth or falsity is capable of being directly perceived.” (EP2:236) To this Peirce objects:

"Of course, this maxim of abduction supposes that, as people say, we ‘are to believe only what we actually see’; and there are well-known writers of no little intellectual force who maintain [on this maxim] that it is unscientific to make predictions,--unscientific, therefore, to expect anything. One ought to restrict one’s opinions to what one actually perceives. I need hardly say that that position cannot be consistently maintained. It refutes itself; for it is itself an opinion relating to more than is actually in the field of momentary perception." (EP2:236)

Peirce is rejecting that for a hypothesis to be admissible its truth must be “directly” perceivable. Instead, Peirce will assert that for a hypothesis to be allowable it must be possible to deduce from it some perceptible consequences (to include those to be explained). This looser standard of verification does not require one to actually perceive the law of gravity to verify its reality. One may hypothesizes laws as aspects of reality, and verify them through the sensible consequences they deductively entail; we do not need direct perception of the laws. Indeed, such indirectly verifiable aspects of reality are the only means for explaining falling objects without simply restating the fact to be explained.

It is often ignored that Peirce did not only expect his pragmatism to cut away metaphysical rubbish, but also to correct positvists like Comte in their overzealous verificationism. In fact, after 1903 Peirce sees that the primary need for pragmatism in philosophy today was not to attack unclear metaphysicians, but for pragmatism to play its role in attacking verificationalists like Comte.

"There are two functions which we may properly require that pragmatism should perform; or if not pragmatism, whatever the true doctrine of the Logic of Abduction may ought to do these two services. Namely, it ought, in the first place, to give us an expeditious riddance of all ideas essentially unclear. In the second place, it ought to lend support [to], and help to render distinct, ideas essentially clear but more or less difficult of apprehension; and in particular, it ought to take a satisfactory attitude toward the element of Thirdness [i.e. the element of lawfulness, e.g. discovering the law of gravity]." (EP2:239)

In accomplishing these twin tasks, pragmatism, for example, both condemns (1) those unclear metaphysicians who say “yes we know what gravity does, but we do not know what it is,” as well as (2) the nominalists and verificationalists who wish to make gravity amount to nothing more than a description of how things behave. In response to the metaphysician, Peirce’s pragmatism shows that all that gravity consists in, is what it does. Furthermore, pragmatism shows the nominalist that gravity actually does what it claims to do. The concept of gravity is not just a description but is a real law that actually causes what it describes. Peirce makes the same point about the concept of energy:

"We should hardly find today a man of Kirchhoff’s rank in science saying that we know exactly what energy does but what energy is we do not know in the least. For the answer would be that energy being a term in a dynamical equation, if we know how to apply that equation, we thereby know what energy is" (EP2:239)

Pragmatism reveals Kirchhoff’s question as confused by translating the statements like “energy exists” into an infinite conjunction of all the experiential conditionals the concept of energy predicts. For example, this would be one of the infinite conditionals in the proper translation of the concept of energy: If a billiards ball with 5 units velocity in the north direction strikes another billiards ball dead-center with 3 units velocity in the north direction, then the second billiards ball will accelerate to 8 units velocity.

The conditionals of this type that make up the concept of energy amount to nothing more than exactly what energy “does”, and so it makes little sense to say we do not know what energy is even when we know what energy does. Energy is precisely the conjunction of all these laws (what energy does).

(Atfyfe 20:11, 2 March 2006 (UTC))

Formalist, Apriorist, Positivist and Rationalist Schools

I am not sure what it means to say pragmatism is opposed to "formalist", "apriorist", "positivist" and "rationalist" schools of philosophy? Certainly, some pragmatists allow for a priori knowledge (Peirce, for example). I think all pragmatisms are positivist in a very broad use of the word "positivist". Pragmatism is definiately empiricist, which makes them anti-rationalist, but I don't understand why the article points out that they are anti-rationalist right after the article says pragmatism doesn't hold that beliefs represent reality? The fact that pragmatism claims beliefs do not represent reality puts it in opposition to everyone else, not just rationalism and formalism. Not many empiricists would accept that claim either.

What makes pragmatism anti-rationalist is their focus on experience, what makes them anti-formalist is the fact that meaning stems from a belief's function in life rather than its formal place in the language. What makes them anti-apriorist is... we'll I don't know if that is true. What makes them anti-positivist is their inclusion of human purposes and goals in their accounts of verificationism. But the fact pragmatists are verificationists make them (roughly) positivists.

To conclude my rant, I think the unhelpful peppering of other "-ism"'s throughout the introduction of the article should be removed. The preceding unsigned comment was added by Atfyfe (talk • contribs) 2006-02-25 23:44:22 (UTC)

Truth In Labeling

  • JA: I have of late found it needful to give express attention to some principles of attribution that I used to think were tacitly understood. Here is my current formulation:
Truth In Labeling

1.  When we say "P states a Q-theory of R",
    then Q should be a term that P uses
    in stating said theory of R.

2.  When we say "P maintains a Q-theory of R",
    then Q should be a term that P actually uses,
    characteristically and as a matter of principle,
    in maintaining P's theory of R.

3.  When we want to report the fact that source S describes
    P's theory of R as a T-theory of R, then we should say
    "S describes P's theory of R as a T-theory of R".

TIL Jon Awbrey 16:00, 3 March 2006 (UTC)

Peirce as a Verificationist

  • JA: I try to keep article-related discussions on the article talk pages, as it's hard to remember what a demi-discussion on a user talk page was all about a few weeks later. It's too late to answer in full tonight, but I'll copy this query here and pick it up again tomorrow. One thing that might help in the meantime is a more precise definition of what the querent means by "verificationism". I know how the term has been used by some analytic philosophers in the past, and how it has been used more rhetorically against pragmatism, but when I looked at the article on Verificationist earlier today I found it very vague. Jon Awbrey 05:16, 4 March 2006 (UTC)
  • I am confused by your opposition to calling Peirce a verificationist. It is obvious that many people misunderstand Peirce and pragmatism to be just another form of Ayer-style verificationism, but we shouldn't respond to this confusion by refusing to call Peirce a verificationist. He clearly links meaning to verification, so he is clearly a verificationist. He calls himself so (meeting your criteria for calling himself a verificationist). I think the right answer to the question "Is Peirce a verificationist?" is "Yes, but..." (Atfyfe 04:16, 4 March 2006 (UTC))