Derek Sivers
Pragmatism an Introduction - by Michael Bacon

Pragmatism an Introduction - by Michael Bacon

ISBN: 9780745646657
Date read: 2022-11-06
How strongly I recommend it: 6/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Semi-academic introduction to philosophers in the pragmatism tradition. Not a light read, but some great insights and ideas in the quotes.

my notes

Important to connect philosophical concepts to the practices of everyday life.

If pragmatism is tied to practical success, how does it relate to philosophy, which is characterized as the attempt to rise above everyday concerns?

The rigid certainties and inflexibility that led to the war reflected a particular mindset, one attached to certainties and unwillingness to compromise.
That tragedy gave rise in the minds of men a distrust of absolutes.

An approach to philosophy which is suspicious of certainty and open to the alternatives suggested by encounters with new interests and ideas.

Ideas should never become ideologies – either justifying the status quo, or dictating some transcendent imperative for renouncing it.

If a question cannot be answered in such a way that leads to some tangible difference in behaviour, then it is unworthy of our attention.

No scientific inquirer can keep what he finds to himself or turn it to merely private account without losing his scientific standing.
Everything discovered belongs to the community of workers.
Every new idea and theory has to be submitted to this community for confirmation and test.

An objection levelled at pragmatism is that it allows for nothing over and above that which serves particular interests and answers particular problems in human practice, denying the availability of a transcendental standpoint from which we might judge the worth of those practices.
Pragmatism is a philosophy suited for those unable to set their eyes beyond the here and now.

For every man his own sense of value is ultimate and final.
And, since there is no court of appeal, it is idle even to inquire if this sense is fallible.

Unwarranted assumption: that our practices are insufficient for the task of enabling us to understand and cope with the world.

In current philosophy, everything of a practical nature is regarded as ‘merely’ personal, and the ‘merely’ has the force of denying legitimate standing in the court of cosmic jurisdiction.

Practices are mutable and revisable, sufficient for the tasks required of them until need to revise them.

One can be both fallibilistic and antisceptical.

The whole function of philosophy ought to be to find out what definite difference it would make to you and me, at definite instants of our life, if this world-formula or that world-formula works.
Practical success in helping us cope with the world.

Pragmatism views science as one genre of literature – or, put the other way round, literature and the arts as inquiries, on the same footing as scientific inquiries.

There is no such thing as non-relational thought; there is no intuitive, or immediate, knowledge. Rather, knowledge is inferential.
All cognitions are the result of previous cognitions.

The individual is the final judge of truth.

Belief is that which one would be prepared to act upon.

Doubt must be real, the kind one genuinely feels, rather than the hypothetical doubt that animated Descartes.

It may be caused by nothing human, but by some external permanency – by something upon which our thinking has no effect.
Real things, whose characters are entirely independent of our opinions about them.

A belief is a habit of action. To establish the meaning of a belief, then, we must examine what habits it produces.

The meaning of a belief can legitimately include the psychological consequences of holding that belief.

What we believe is often not something we have consciously considered but is rather an inheritance.

Intellectual reflection is but one part in deciding belief.
Also important are considerations such as one’s hopes and fears, loyalties and passions.

Religious belief offers rewards, such as comfort and consolation, which are lost by non-belief.

The notion of a truth that one has played a role in creating may sound strange.

Something is true if it provides value for concrete life.

Experience provides a check upon how useful we might find a belief: I might find it useful to believe that astrology provides a guide to the future, but experience will confound this.

Pluralism: different people, societies and cultures think different things true and important.

Lack of awareness of the needs and interests of others is the source of much misunderstanding and strife.

The ways in which we grasp and evaluate the world are peculiar to us.

Extend our sympathies and respect alternative perspectives.

Embracing pluralism means that we come to recognize that none of us is entitled to regard ourselves as in possession of the whole truth.

In an essay entitled ‘The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life’ (1891), he criticizes those who have sought to identify a single formula for deciding moral questions.

Different thinkers take it that their beliefs are justified by an independent moral realm.
They imagine an abstract moral order in which the objective truth resides.
Each tries to prove that this pre-existing order is more accurately reflected in his own ideas than in those of his adversary.

Terms such as ‘good’ and ‘right’ do not represent items in such an order but express the attitudes of particular people and societies.

Psychological states of belief.

Philosophy should address the problems that men and women confront in their everyday lives.

Philosophy finds its origins not in an idealized love of wisdom but in the context of the concrete struggle for survival.

Uncertainties such as disease, flood and famine, we interpreted as the work of unseen supernatural forces.
We adopted a deferential attitude towards these forces in an effort to placate them.
This accounts for the rise of myth and ritual, and of early religious belief.
That became central to the culture of early societies, providing meaning and a structure, and gave rise to moral codes, collected together in religious texts.
This deferential approach met with only limited success in helping those societies deal with the problems.
Thus arose a second, more confrontational, approach: to alter their environment in an effort to make it more hospitable.
Whereas the first approach attempted to adapt human attitudes to the environment, this second sought to mitigate that environment by transforming it.
Science led thinkers to seek out alternative means to defend beliefs previously justified by reference to the authority of the past.
Custom had to be answerable to reason rather than tradition.
Yet philosophy carries over much of the content of these earlier beliefs.
It has a low view of the mutable and contingent, because change is assumed to indicate imperfection, and that only the eternal can be perfect.

From the ancients onwards, philosophy has taken its task to be contemplation of eternal truth, truth which exists above the contingencies and concerns of everyday life.
The office of knowledge is to uncover the antecedently real, rather than gain the kind of understanding which is necessary to deal with problems as they arise.

Philosophy reflects not timeless questions but rather the need to provide a rational justification for beliefs which had in earlier times been taken to stem from custom and tradition.

Philosophy has nothing to say about the need to solve particular problems.

Pragmatism will show that many philosophical problems can safely be set aside.

It is clinging to problems.

Beliefs are what Peirce called ‘habits’, robust and stable enough to rely upon but always open to revision.
Beliefs have to adapt themselves to other changes in the environment.
Conceptions, theories and systems of thought are tools.
As in the case of all tools, their value resides not in themselves but in their capacity to work shown in the consequences of their use.

Whatever the question might be, the way to address it is to propose hypotheses and attempt to test them with a view to determining the utility of adopting them.

Definition of truth: the opinion which is fated to be ultimately agreed to by all who investigate.

Morality should be viewed in terms of practical activity.
We find ourselves needing to act but being uncertain about which course of action.
Morality should thus be the experimental testing of hypotheses.

Moral principles should be treated pragmatically, as tools to help by resolving problematic situations.
Instead of being rigidly fixed, they would be treated as intellectual instruments to be tested and confirmed – and altered – through consequences effected by acting upon them.
A moral law, like a law in physics, is not something to swear by and stick to at all hazards. It is a formula of the way to respond when specified conditions present themselves.

Natural science describes facts in the physical world, whereas morality concerns what ought to be the case.

Growth itself is the only moral “end”.
By ‘growth’ he means the capacity to develop as a human being.
This requires reflection.
One should not rest content with the social role that circumstances and history dictated, but re-weave the resources of one’s circumstances, to develop as a person.

Objective truth: what is the case independently of what he or she thinks.

The source of the concept of objective truth is interpersonal communication.

The ‘folly’ of trying to define truth, the folly of trying to reduce the concept of truth (along with other philosophical concepts, such as ‘belief’ and ‘knowledge’) to something more basic.
This is a folly because the concept of truth is one of the most basic we possess and cannot be analysed in some other terms.

Truth is pointless as a goal of inquiry.
We are unable to distinguish it from justified belief.

A belief may meet all of our standards of evidence, and have persuaded all who have inquired into the matter, and yet not be true.

We know many things, and will learn more.
What we will never know for certain is which of the things we believe are true.

Our ‘inner’ representations of the world are less like a mirror and more like a painting.

We can tell when we have justified our beliefs, but we have no further way of establishing whether or not such beliefs are true.

That something is taken to be true is in no way indicative of whether it is in fact true.

Emphasize the role of the imagination.
Prioritize the attempt to make the future different from the past.
Focus on that which one has created rather than upon that which one has inherited.

Polytheism: the view that there are different but legitimate ways of life.

Inventing our purposes rather than living out an antecedent plan.

These different purposes cannot be combined on a single scale, or ranked according to a single standard.

The Romantics mistakenly focused exclusively on individual self-creation, ignoring the responsibilities that we owe to each other.

The aim of leaving people’s private lives alone is ‘negative liberty’, the absence of obstacles which interfere with one’s actions.

Nietzsche is said to be a philosopher of self-creation, one who identified the importance of appropriating and re-describing experiences rather than accepting inherited descriptions.

To create one’s mind is to create one’s own language, rather than to let the length of one’s mind be set by the language other human beings have left behind.

The ironist places self-creation at the heart of her identity.

Imagination rather than argumentation is the chief source of moral improvement.

There are many different descriptions of the world, to be evaluated by how far they are useful in achieving specific ends, there being no description of the world available apart from that from some particular standpoint.

If we must take a certain point of view, then we must not simultaneously advance the claim that it is not really the way things are in themselves.
The question of ‘the way things are in themselves’ drops out as being one which is not so much false as unintelligible.
Questions only make sense within a particular theory.

‘The Earth revolves around the Sun’ is straightforwardly a statement of fact.
‘Would do practically anything for money’ might be either factual or evaluative.

Factual statements presuppose values.

When we use a thick ethical term such as cruel, we are both describing a person’s behaviour as a matter of fact and passing judgement upon them.

In our own lives, we think morality more than an expression of subjective preference.

We tend to be too realistic about physics and too subjectivistic about ethics.
We are too realistic about physics, because we see physics as the One True Theory, and not simply as a rationally acceptable description suited for certain problems and purposes.
We tend to be subjectivistic about descriptions we cannot ‘reduce’ to physics.
Becoming less realistic about physics and becoming less subjectivistic about ethics are likewise connected.

Physics has had spectacular success in explaining the world around us but be clear that it is a tool.

Scientism: the view that science, and only science, describes the world as it is in itself, independent of perspective.
According to scientism, ethical discourse must be reducible to the language of the natural sciences or else can be dismissed as merely emotive or rhetorical.

Relativists mistakenly hold that humans are not answerable to the world at all.

Arguments for ‘moral realism’ can sound like arguments against the open society.

Critical of the idea of the disinterested inquirer, arguing that reason always incorporates interests and presuppositions.

A performative self-contradiction arises when one makes a statement which contradicts the assumptions that make that statement possible.
For instance, the statement ‘everything is relative’ is a performative self-contradiction, because a universal claim is made which contradicts the assertion that there is no such thing.
One’s assertions, even those which purport to be quite parochial in character, necessarily lay claim to universality.

Three types of validity: truth, normative rightness and sincerity.
They are in different ‘worlds’: the objective world, the intersubjective (or social) world, and the subjective (internal) world respectively.
In the objective world individuals make claims to the truth.
In the intersubjective world they make claims for rightness.
In the subjective world they are committed to expressing themselves with sincerity.

Contextualists see truth as no more than that in which it is good for us to believe.

Distinguish between ‘theoretical philosophy’, which aims to explicate truth, and ‘practical philosophy’, which concerns morality.

Truth is tied in to the idea of an objective world existing independent of our descriptions.
There is no such world in the case of morality; morality seeks intersubjective validity, with moral norms a matter of securing agreement.

Modern societies are not structured around shared traditions but are multifaceted and peopled by citizens with a wide diversity of values.
Members of modern societies no longer see themselves as defined primarily by their social roles.
These claims find their philosophical expression in classical liberalism, in which individuals (as distinct from people defined by their social roles) are seen as the bearers of natural rights.

Distinguishing between ‘moral’ and ‘ethical’ discourses:
Ethics is personal, concerning what is good and bad for individuals and the communities to which they belong.
Morality is held to be universal.

A norm is invalid if it is reasonably rejectable by those people adversely affected by it.

In more traditional societies, laws reflected the particular (for Europeans, typically Christian) values held by the large majority of the members of society.
Today, however, there is no such shared source of common value.
The law is required to address the important task of helping citizens to get along without presupposing such values.
Democracy provides the means for citizens to participate in making laws which they can see as reflecting their own wills.

Citizens should hold their views open through a process of deliberation, with the result that their views might be revised in the light of exposure to other citizens.

Freudian sense: a common characteristic of many contemporary philosophers is that they have sought to overthrow and dethrone the father’.

The fear that, without a foundation for knowledge outside of any particular human perspective, we are left adrift in a morass of relativism and nihilism.
Either there is some support for our being, a fixed foundation for our knowledge, or we cannot escape the forces of darkness that envelop us with madness, with intellectual and moral chaos.

‘Fragmenting pluralism’ is the pluralism in which different groups are pushed apart and no communication takes place between them.
‘Flabby pluralism’ is the superficial acceptance of other ideas without any serious attempt to understand them.
‘Polemical pluralism’: a matter of affecting to respect diversity until one is in a position to set it aside in order to install one’s own perspective as the single truth.
‘Defensive pluralism’ demands the freedom to act as one desires without being held responsible or accountable to others.
Each of these understandings of pluralism fails to be open to alternatives.
They all confine one’s interest to a specific group out of the belief that there is nothing of value to be learnt from others.
‘Engaged fallibilistic pluralism’ is to seek to understand each other and, in the process of so doing, criticize our own views as well as those we encounter.
It demands that we make a serious effort to really understand what is other and different from us.
It requires that we engage in the critique of our own views as well as those of the people we encounter.
It requires openness and fairness and a willingness to change our minds, and those of imagination.

We should not see ourselves as bound by tradition but be encouraged to be open to new alternatives.

By the cultivation of these two habits, one can advance our knowledge and reconstruct human experience so that it becomes funded with meaning, freer, and esthetically coherent.

Place a strong emphasis on local forms of understanding.
Rather than dismissing these as unimportant or thinking them a poor second to universal standards, embrace them as being vital if we are to have any understanding of ourselves and our world at all.

Traditions do not commit us to a relativism in which we are trapped like prisoners within a particular worldview.

Our understandings are enlarged and enriched through encounter with others.

See traditions as storehouses of knowledge to be drawn upon.

Identify critical standards by which traditions can be robustly examined.

Philosophers today seem more obsessed than ever with the problems of philosophers rather than the problems of men.

Mentalities divide according to one’s attachment to certainty.
Those who are attracted to absolutes, and those who are open to fallibilism.

We can quite legitimately be convinced that our moral or religious beliefs are absolutely true.
The danger lies in moving from one’s personal certitude to objective certainty, to the thought that the strength of one’s convictions justifies seeking to impose them on those who do not share them.

Those attracted to absolutist thinking maintain that the only alternative to their position is a relativism which removes the capacity for one to be committed to one’s beliefs.
Present a different alternative, engaged fallibilistic pluralism, as a suitable response to absolutism.

Fallibilism serves as a counter to the unwarranted certainty that we find in the world, bringing with it nuance, an awareness of different sides of an issue, and a preparedness to engage with other people.

No one has the last word on questions of public importance.
The solutions to those problems are always temporary and open to revision.

Coherence can be achieved fairly easily: it can mean nothing more secure than two drunken soldiers supporting one another by leaning back to back.

When we justify a belief we think that belief true, asserting its truth and willing to defend it as true against challenge.

The attitude which is central to science: a preparedness to give up beliefs in the face of inadequate or conflicting evidence.

Fake reasoning - to not care about the truth of the proposition - could only be undertaken cynically.

Focus upon the consequences of holding a true belief.
Formulate hypotheses the truth or falsity of which would have experimental effects.

‘Truth’ is just a catch-all for empirical adequacy, predictive power, coherence with other beliefs, simplicity, elegance, explanatory power, getting a reliable guide to action, fruitfulness for other research, greater understanding of others, increased maturity, and the like.
There is nothing over and above the fulfilment of those ends, nothing metaphysical, to which we aspire.
Truth is an important concept, but it must be understood in the context of our lives and not as something metaphysical which stands apart from them.

Our beliefs might turn out to be false.
But, if we genuinely attend to the evidence and reasons that are presented to us, there is no reason not to confidently claim that they are true.

What more could we aim for? What is added by wondering whether the hypothesis is really true?

Evaluate beliefs by their tendency to promote success at the satisfaction of wants.

A movement centered on the primacy of the practical.

To be responsible is to be prepared to give reasons for one’s actions.

Idealism: in speaking a particular language, we thereby bring facts into being.