Pragmatism Essay

3605 words - 15 pages

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2 Pragmatism as a philosophical movement began in the United States in the 1870s. Its direction
was determined by The Metaphysical Club members Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and
Chauncey Wright, as well as John Dewey and George Herbert Mead. The first use in print of the name
pragmatism was in 1898 by James, who credited Peirce with coining the term during the early 1870s.
James regarded Peirce's 1877–8 "Illustrations of the Logic of Science" series (including "The Fixation of
Belief", 1877 and especially "How to Make Our Ideas Clear", 1878) as the foundation of pragmatism .
Peirce in turn wrote in 1906 that Nicholas St. John Green had been instrumental by emphasizing the
importance of applying Alexander Bain's definition of belief, which was "that upon which a man is
prepared to act." Peirce wrote that "from this definition, pragmatism is scarce more than a corollary; so
that I am disposed to think of him as the grandfather of pragmatism." John Shook has said, "Chauncey
Wright also deserves considerable credit, for as both Peirce and James recall, it was Wright who
demanded a phenomenalist and fallibilist empiricism as an alternative to rationalistic speculation."
3 The pragmatist maxim is a distinctive rule or method for becoming reflectively clear about the

contents of concepts and hypotheses: we clarify a hypothesis by identifying its practical consequences.

This raises some questions. First: what, exactly is the content of this maxim? What sort of thing does it

recognize as a practical consequence of some theory or claim? Second, what use does such a maxim

have? Why do we need it? And third, what reason is there for thinking that the pragmatist maxim is

correct? Let’s explore some of the ideas of this maxim as given by James and Pierce.

The central idea of the pragmatists’ maxim revolves around the concept of intellectual

theory, we will use hard as our model for explaining Pierces’ maxim as it relates to truth. By identifying

how there can be conceivable circumstances in which we have desires that would call for different

patterns of action if some object were hard to from those it would call for if the object were not hard. If I

want to break a window by throwing something through it, then I need an object which is hard, not one

which is soft. It is important that, as Peirce hints here, the consequences we are concerned with are

general ones: we are to look for the laws that govern the behavior of hard things and for laws that show

how such modes of behavior on the part of things can make a difference to what it is rational for us to

do.

James never worked out his understanding of ‘practical consequences’ as fully as Peirce did, and

he does not share Peirce's restriction of these consequences to those that affect intellectual meaning or to

general patterns of behavior. He writes as if the practical consequences of a proposition can simply be

effects upon...

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