Monday, August 03, 2015

Monday Philosophy: Preludes to Pragmatism

1. I have entered an interesting phase of my career as a thinker. There are of course endless details to learn, but I have more or less figured out what I think on many subjects. In philosophy in particular, I am sympathetic to Richard Rorty's sense that philosophy has run its course.

There is of course much to learn about the details of what many individual philosophers thought. There are discussions in progress, articles being published. One could no doubt participate in these. New issues arise in history that beg for the philosopher's keen eye (e.g., artificial intelligence). Old issues arise again that beg for reminders.

But it seems to me that all the basic options are there already to choose from. My articulations of a philosophy are crude, but I view them as mature. I do not see philosophy as an area that will ever blow my mind again. I feel that, with some work, I could enter any stream of contemporary philosophical discussion with a defensible position.

I am a pragmatist. I see pragmatism as the telos of philosophy. Pragmatism is the only form of philosophy that can encompass all the others and do so in a way that makes optimal sense of the world.

2. Accordingly, I'm excited that the Monday reading group this Fall has chosen to read Philip Kitcher's Preludes to Pragmatism: Toward a Reconstruction of Philosophy. I'm excited about the book because it promises to get me up to speed with the discussion and fill me in on the particulars of its precedents.

For today's post, I read the introduction (by the way, I discovered that subtracting Roman numerals often can be as simple as crossing out the individual figures in common and seeing what's left). The introduction mostly sets out Kitcher's agenda for the book. He sees the book as a prelude to a more mature presentation of pragmatism, which leads us to think some sort of magnum opus may follow.

Kitcher already in the introduction engages heavily with John Dewey and William James, but he clearly has no plans to follow them slavishly. The term he uses to describe his program is "pragmatic naturalism." Since the introduction is getting us ready for chapters to come, I did not worry too much about getting the finer points of his thought at this stage. But I think these two words capture his agenda well.

On the one hand, he will present an approach that fits with pragmatism. Pragmatism focuses on what "works" for us to function in the world, and thus on ideas being useful. From this perspective, philosophy focuses on what matters to people (xii).

The second word is "naturalism." Here Kitcher does not mean logical positivism or a "stronger, scientistic position" (xvi). He also does not like Rorty's language of "nature's own language." He does, as we find out later in the chapter, mean an approach that brackets out supernaturalism (although he believes philosophy can carve a space for religion).

If he had a crisp definition of this naturalism, I missed it, but I think he largely means a pragmatism that stays close to the "real world," that doesn't posit ideas that are not grounded in what we observe and how we live. He wants, if I apprehend him correctly, to save some form of correspondence principle (that truth is what corresponds to the world), although not in a naive way.

3. The bulk of the introduction overviews the essays in the rest of the book. We can see that he aims in the long term to accomplish his subtitle: reconstructing all of philosophy. He is interested in knowledge as something that promotes the common good (xix). He will address ethics, and social/economic philosophy. He will address religion. He even addresses science and mathematics in the book.

He endorses a sort of pragmatic pluralism. There usually is not one unique right answer. There are multiple true ways to "explain" the world.

It promises to be a stimulating read, and I hope to blog my way through it while we read it in group.

No comments: