Wednesday, April 29, 2015

This weeks's philosophy session - more Pragmatism

A  moving landmark
There's much talk of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)   and there are great resources on the internet for learning lectures e-books and the like but for me with  Philosophy it really is the case that learning takes place in  group sessions and by a good teacher come facilitator keeping us en-route.

Having listened to Melvyn Bragg's In Our Time on the subject of the 'Philosophy of Pragmatism' watched a couple of YouTube items and read a handout  I still did not feel fully connected with the topic.

It was slightly comforting to find speaking with classmates that they too had not felt connected to the School but of course this is not an end to it and we continued the investigation in class.

I have also become more intrigued by other influences on 'thought' be it the times and places that 'schools of thought'  were established  (Pragmatism came after the US Civil War and is considered an American phenomenon) and the traits and backgrounds of those who are influential in the 'school' (The founder of Pragmatism was something of an outcast in the academic world he sought to inhabit).

C S Pierce is this figure and is  considered the 'Father' of the school of Pragmatism, which can be considered as being about what is 'real and tangible' and looking at the 'Experiential consequences of a concept'.

Pragmatism sought to ignore some of the questions that Philosophy has  traditionally grappled with
while recognising what practical concerns are what is important.
To help with this a tool is available known as Pierce's Maxim- this is (from various sources)

Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object. 

But this perhaps because of the writing style might not be too clear either and Pierce sought to clarify it many times later statement being:


This employment five times over of derivates of concipere must then have had a purpose. In point of fact it had two. One was to show that I was speaking of meaning in no other sense than that of intellec
.tual purport. The other was to avoid all danger of being understood as attempting to explain a concept by percepts, images, schemata, or by anything but concepts. I did not, therefore, mean to say that acts, which are more strictly singular than anything, could constitute the purport, or adequate proper interpretation, of any symbol. I compared action to the finale of the symphony of thought, belief being a demicadence. Nobody conceives that the few bars at the end of a musical movement are the purpose of the movement. They may be called its upshot. But the figure obviously would not bear detailed application. I only mention it to show that the suspicion I myself expressed after a too hasty rereading of the forgotten magazine paper, that it expressed a stoic, that is, a nominalistic, materialistic, and utterly philistine state of thought, was quite mistaken

Which to me is even less illuminating!

Other Philosophers came after Pierce and his contemporary colleague William James  (brother of famed author Henry James) a Psychologist and Philosopher  he acted as something of a St Paul figure  in evangelising the idea and also absorbed some of the Darwinian theory of the time in his take on Pragmatism.

A little while after these two figures came John Dewey who was another Philosopher/Psychologist he lived a long and celebrated liberal life and he preferred to label his take on Pragmatism as Instrumentalism.

Modern Philosophers who are connected to the Pragmatic tradition include  Richard Rorty, another  one being  Robert Brandom (who seems to have quite a beard) and Dennett, it might be too much to say that the  living Daniel Dennett is a Pragmatist but he has certainly been influenced by this approach.

I might need the other Dewey here

[ During the class I was thrown into a minor panic when I felt the need to state (unequivocally but moving to self-doubt) that the Dewey of Philosophy (John)  fame was not the same as the one who created the Dewey Decimal cataloguing system  despite our course leader being under the shared misapprehension - it was something of a relief to find that they were different people (Melvil was the library man) - odd that even as 'mature' adults we should still anticipate that  teachers will know things beyond that which we should reasonably expect.]
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