Applied and Pragmatic Philosophy

Presentation to the Philosophy Forum October 14, 2007

4.1 A common, and naïve, criticism of philosophy is that it has no practical application. This is usually a claim from those who do not know what philosophy is!1

4.2 This course of study has defined philosophy as the investigation into claims that are universal in scope and rationalist (i.e., require verification). It further defined the primary concerns of modern philosophy as ontology (what exists), epistemology (how we know) and the principles of reasoning (logic).

4.3 Ontology provides a strong grounding in the categories of physics, knowing what exists and what is speculation. It also provides an inner awareness through the study of Being; learning what is worthwhile, what is trivial, how to differentiate between those who are authentic and who live in bad faith.

4.4 Epistemology provides one the tools to distinguish between theoretical and practical knowledge, what is true knowledge, how beliefs can be justified, and the relationship between language and consciousness.

4.5 Logic provides the means to verify compound statements of the same orientation through propositional and predicate calculus. It also provides, through informal logic, knowledge of rhetorical devices by which false arguments are presented (e.g., argumentum ad hominem etc)

4.6 A rationalisation complex posits ontological worlds with epistemological orientations. Some statements from these complexes can be verified against the appropriate orientation and world e.g., Thus it is quite possible to use logic to evaluate propositions of scientific facts (true, false), social facts (accurate, inaccurate), legal norms (legal, illegal), moral norms (right, wrong), sensual expressions (pleasurable, painful), and aesthetic expressions (beautiful, ugly). 2

Orientations/Worlds 1. Physical World 2. Social World 3. Personal World
1. Statements of Truth (objective) Scientific facts Social facts Unverifiable
2. Statements of Justice (intersubjective) Unverifiable Legal Norms Moral Norms
3. Statements of Beauty (subjective) Aesthetic Expressions Unverifiable Sensual Expressions

4.7 Pragmatism3 is an approach in philosophy that places practise as a primary activity informed by theory (John Dewey was described the difference as being between intelligent versus stupid practise).

4.8 Pragmatism rejects raising nominal, abstract concepts to levels of certainty (e.g., the physical and mental realm). Pragmatism is very much a philosophy of grounded and natural experience, which rejects intuitive and introspective approaches to knowledge. In the 20th century, pragmatism made some excellent contributions especially to logic, education, and ethics. Recent developments in pragmatism seeks to reconcile antiskepticism and fallibilism.

4.9 Neopragmatism is a broad philosophical label that includes those contemporary philosophers who have been influenced by 20th century pragmaticism but retain some adherence to continental or analytic traditions. One can include Willard Van Orman Quine, Richard Rorty and Jurgen Habermas in this category. Politically they are very diverse!

[1] Consider Plato's discussion of the education of Philosopher Kings The Republic, who do not engage in gymnastics (VII:521d), music (VII:522a-522b), or art (VII:522b), which have “nothing which tended to that good which [the philosopher seeks]” (VII: 522a-522b). Instead they are taught “number and calculation…compelling the soul to reason about abstract number, and rebelling against the introduction of visible or tangible objects into the argument” (522c, 525d) but not for artisan purposes, condemning those “[use geometry for] practice only, and are always speaking, in a narrow and ridiculous manner, of squaring and extending and applying and the like--they confuse the necessities of geometry with those of daily life; whereas knowledge is the real object of the whole science” (VII: 527a-527b)
[2] This table is derived from Jurgen Habermas' "rationalisation complexes" from volume I of The Theory of Communicative Action (1984)
[3] Chief advocates of pragmatic philosophy in the Charles Sanders Peirce in the 19th century, John Dewey, William James, Clarence Irving Lewis and Hilary Putnam in the 20th century.