Pragmatic Philosophy

“Pragmatic” is often seen as a complimentary term. But, says New York Times’ commentator Stanley Fish, it is also related to the philosophy of “pragmatism,” which is an unhopeful ideal.

"’Pragmatic’ is a compliment sometimes paid to politicians (Barack Obama’s supporters describe him that way), and it is often used as an honorific indicating a person of common sense who knows how to get things done. ‘Pragmatic’ is also related (at least etymologically) to pragmatism, the name of a distinctively American philosophy that emerged in the early decades of the 20th century in the work of William James, John Dewey and C.S. Peirce. Pragmatism may or may not be an ethical program depending on whose version you are reading, but it always emphasize the resources of historically given institutions and practices and de-emphasizes the role played in our lives by supra-historical essentialisms (God, faith, truth, reason, brute fact, overarching theory) even to the extent sometimes of denying their existence. Like any philosophy pragmatism offers answers to the questions the tradition of philosophical inquiry has been asking since its beginning. What is truth? What is real? How are we to act? What is the source of moral and/or epistemological authority? Pragmatism’s basic move is to declare that the answers to these questions will not be found by identifying some transcendental universal and then conforming ourselves to its normative demands (like ‘Be ye perfect’)."

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