In 1986, Robert Almeder published his article, “A Definition of Pragmatism” where, in eight codified points, he used the name ‘Theses,’ he delineated the building blocks of Pragmatism, utilizing the writings of Peirce, James, Dewey and Lewis, all notable, late 19th-century Philosophers who permanently transformed American Psychology and its related disciplines. Charles Peirce is regarded the ‘Father of pragmatism,’ William James, the ‘Father of American psychology,’ John Dewey, among the founders of American Pragmatism and writer of notable works like, “The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology,” an article published in 1896 which reinterpreted the “'psychologist's fallacy,” constituted by William James, from the perspective of ‘stimulus’ and ‘response,’ the former producing the latter, insinuating that neither could be intrinsically separated from each other. Finally, there was Clarence Irving Lewis, purported father of analytical psychology in the United States, and ‘father of modern modal logic,’ in 1912 creating some of the first axiomatic models displaying modal logic, and ruminations such as, “...a false proposition implies any proposition, and a true proposition is implied by any proposition,” being among some of the more simple conjectural notions put forth.
I am not suggesting, by my simple elucidations made here, that I comprehend fully the intricacies of American Pragmatism and its multifarious layers of ‘what is truth’ and teleological thought. Rather, I hope by briefly working through each of the eight fundamentals of Pragmatism laid out by Almeder, a reader can gain a working understanding of the logical complexities that comprise the practical ‘Theory of Knowledge,’ whose ‘aim’ is to properly clarify the effects of one’s theories and ideological ruminations, although what one considers ‘truth’ is highly contested, and leads to no confirmed answer. In efforts to truncate the length of my rationalizations, I refer interested parties to The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy for a full explanation of the principle of Pragmatism, as I will only cover the observations gathered by Almeder, due to length and fear of self-digressions, which only will confound one who is searching for an easily ascertainable definition of Pragmatic thought.
Firstly, Almeder says that ‘human knowing’ is charged with the goal of maintaining homeostasis with the natural world, where we seek to generate beliefs and systems of beliefs that allow us to successfully ingrain ourselves in the world with a high probability of beneficiality towards those acting in the world itself. ‘Human inquiry,’ by the Pragmatic standard, then is where man attempts to leave the state of disillusionment, and enter into the functional world of profitable, intellectual methodology. Secondly, those beliefs and system of beliefs that we have now adopted are to be assessed for their applicability factor by the way that they are able to yield results that actually benefit the human’s attainment of ‘deeper biological needs,’ namely the necessity to formulate a coherent understanding of the world insofar as we are able to properly carry ourselves, thereby keeping ourselves alive and out of harm's way. Here, Almeder mentions that B. and S. of B. [Beliefs and Systems of Beliefs] are held only until they become no longer functionally useful, leading to the epistemologically mundane question of ‘how can one truly define helpful,’ here defined as producing results leading to a higher quality of life. Thirdly, in quite a straightforward terminological delivery, Almeder states that B. and S. of B. are established by a set of functions [truths] to which we have assigned certain characteristics to. Thus, if we redefine what those functions equate to, in other words, we restructure the truth-value of our beliefs, we are then forced into an ideological corner with only two options. Either destroy the previously held belief entirely or radically revise the patterning to corroborate the newly identified truth factors. The parallel to mathematics is made here, namely if x is 4 and y is 5, then together they make 9. But, that doesn’t mean that x+y is only 9, as the belief that 9 is the conglomerated result of x and y only came about because of their attributed numerical amounts, otherwise known as their truth values. He references the Aristotelian concept that eternal truths are non-existent, as nothing is exempt from alteration on the observation of newly derived evidence which challenges the belief previously held as ‘law.’
Fourth, on the list of principles, Almeder directs our cognition to the test of ‘sensible/sensory’ outcome as the definer of the ‘true,’ the belief system’s ability to aid or hinder man’s existence, and the role of the natural sciences in the creation of positive belief systems. Here, Soviet Musicological methodology starts to weave itself into the debate of Pragmatism, as a central principle to their goal of finding the Universal laws that govern man and his creations were the usage of the natural sciences in the hopeful curation of a valid and ‘real’ field of Musicology. Returning to Almeder’s words, the ‘scientific method’ and its ability to confirm or render insufficient belief systems is a necessary step in determining the effectiveness of certain belief systems in protecting from the ‘vicissitudes and forces of the physical universe.’ In a fairly cut and paste process, the debated belief system is generated by determining the successfulness of such belief, aligning with the Nietzschean Correspondence Theory of Truth, “Truth’ is thus not something there that must be found out, discovered, but something that must be made and that provides the name for a process—.” True beliefs are those that produce successful results, and the way that those are formed is conveniently through the scientific method. Fifthly, the truth, or acceptability, of a B. or S. of B. is based not on if that belief is true, but on the outcome that it generates. Simply put, if one expects a certain outcome because of a held belief, whether or not that belief is true, if it ‘obtains,’ that is to say does it generate the believed outcome, and if so, then the belief is to be believed and affirmed by the scientific method stated earlier. Almeder points to William James’s analysis that it is not if that belief is fundamentally authentic, but in the outcome that it creates for the believer, the world he inhabits, and the fuller world in which he resides. Not in the ‘roots’ of the belief, but in the ‘fruits’ of the outcome of such belief is where the factor for truth resides, this type of argumentation could be used to bolster such beliefs that are inherently flawed, but produce an outcome that both parties wanted, regardless of the methodology used to ascertain the desired result. Almeder further clarifies, stating that beliefs are knitted together ‘predictions’ about personal experience, and thus disregarding if one’s belief is inherently obtuse, flawed, or simply illogical, the only factor worth pondering over is the result of the belief, not the belief itself. If I think by drinking water four times a day, this action alone can stop world hunger, and world hunger stops, then my belief is true, regardless of how actually functional the belief really turned out to be.
The sixth belief, as reflected by Almeder, is the relatively simple observation that ‘some’ human knowledge corresponds to the rumination upon physical objects, defined as objects which have a corporal existence outside the human cognition. That is to say that if there were no real, human presence to meditate upon its existence, it would still have a place in the physical world and still retain all its related physical properties. An example would be a man meditating upon the existence of an apple, and when the man dies, the apple is still in existence, despite the now faded presence of the cognition of the man. Conversely, the seventh principle develops the term ‘physical object’ and its relationship to the human mind. The penultimate principle states that some human knowledge, ostensibly the same knowledge that is being alluded to in the sixth principle, correlates to physical objects, although now two reasons are given that justify this reasoning. The first being that no matter how ‘creative’ the mind may be informing coherency from among the multifariousness of the tangible world, the human intellect still cannot act on its own volition, and remains under the dominion of the natural world. One could demonstrate the natural world’s dominance over human cognition by reflecting on an apple, and no matter how imaginative one might be in conjuring up interpretations of the apple’s various embodiments, at the conclusion of the rumination, one is still left with the form of an apple as Nature had created.
The second caveat to the title of ‘physical objects’ is that if we disregarded the assertion that the universal practicality of certain belief systems and their ability to illustrate the world in a fairly ‘correct’ way is actually beneficial and successful in producing authentic belief systems, then we, as a human race, would physical lack any functional methodology to determine the effectiveness of belief systems as they are codified into existence. Simply put, if we cancel out the effectivity of the ‘scientific method,’ that is to say the Correspondence Theory of Truth and the attainment of truth through results, then certain qualities found in the material world would simply have no legitimate reason to exist, in the words of Almeder, “saying in some epistemologically privileged way how the world is.” The final thesis relayed by Almeder touches upon how one is to regard the truthfulness of a statement about physical objects, the given solution being if the belief of that object is ‘warrantedly assertible or authorizable’ under the rules of both the ‘canon of induction,’ referencing Mill’s Method created by John Stuart Mills in his 1853 book, “A System of Logic,” and the rules of deductive inference, referencing ‘The Rules of Inference,’ an eight-part system which is used to build logically sound argumentations, then it has ample evidence to justifiably exist in the material world as a codified belief system. Due to its structural complexity and linguistic prolixity, it will not be covered in detail here, although if one is so inclined, I suggest clicking on the link and studying from Greg Baker’s 2013 Collegiate course notes for further illumination upon the list.
Almeder concludes the eighth thesis by stating that if one uses these two sets of rules, the stipulation must be enforced that belief systems are to be generated using these two sets only to the extent that they allow the generation of beliefs that facilitate the human endeavor towards equilibrium with his natural surroundings. He mentions the ‘shifting environment,’ against suggesting that equilibrium is not simple ‘reached,’ but maintained and that the continuous goal of achieving unification with the natural world requires slight changes to the codified beliefs systems which produce truths to which the human race adheres itself to. As I have shown and, hopefully adequately, described is the first venture towards the comprehension of Pragmatism as the founders had envisioned the philosophical doctrine to be, although even from the onset, what each founder considered to be the ‘true’ definition of Pragmatism radically varied. The first generation of Pragmatic thinkers dubbed the ‘classical pragmatists,’ were names like Peirce, James, and Dewey, who believed in the power of the scientific method to produce set beliefs, teleological concerns, and moral-ethical constructs which ultimately augmented with the passing of time, birthing Instrumentalism beginning with Dewey, who purportedly much preferred the term ‘cultural naturalism,’ referencing the bifurcated modes of logic, “In the logical process the datum is not just external existence and the idea mere psychical existence. Both are modes of existence—one of given existence, the other of possible, of inferred existence.”
If nothing else was cognizable for the reader, I hope they leave with this; Pragmatism is the creation of beliefs that help justify the natural world, and whether or not those beliefs happen to be true is insignificant. If they render a positive result that aids in the achievement of natural, mortal homeostasis, then those beliefs are to be considered true. Obviously, this line of rationalism had tremendous flaws and egregious errors, but this wouldn’t be a philosophical blog-post if you left satisfied, now would it? Searching for the Universal laws that govern man’s mortal existence is continuous and provides no solid ,conclusively satisfying answer, so I wish you good luck!
Pragmatism [Cambridge Dictionary]
1. an approach to problems and situations that is based on practical solutions