Monday, August 13, 2012


So I've been reading Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar one of the topics in the current chapter was pragmatism. Of course I'm reading while on a trans-Pacific flight so I have no access to my usual sources for study but the book gives a nice concise introduction to pragmatism.

To sum it up "According to [philosopher William] James, we choose our truth by what difference it will make in practice." The reason this caught my eye is I'm a huge fan of denying all types of moral relativism, which is what pragmatism is... moral relativism masquerading as something deeper. As opposed to divine law, pragmatism (and other moral systems) always boil down to something that is mutable. In pragmatism the key words, as far as relativism is concerned, are "we choose". Pragmatism, even though focused on the practical application of moral choices, still hinges ones' choice.

One of the concepts the History of Philosophy podcast mentioned about the innovations brought about by Plato/Socrates was how he made philosophy about finding out how one ought to live. It seems to me that while Socrates was real and in many ways accurately portrayed by Plato, it's really Plato's genius that gave Socrates to the world, and thereby, really it was Plato that changed philosophy for the whole western world. Philosophy has become so generalized it has lost much of its meaning. Don't get me wrong there are all sorts of people seeking practical application in today's world, but if you're following relativistic thinking (any kind) you have to constantly be rethinking your ethics because they change.

That's not to say that divine moralists don't have to consider new issues as they arise; as science changes what we can do (especially medically) we have new things to consider. Notice I didn't say "progress" I've always thought that just because something is new doesn't mean it's better. Don't get me wrong, I don't think we should go back to the middle ages, there are tons of great advances brought about by science; life is much easier now, maybe too easy, we are a very overweight culture.

Interestingly, now that I have access to the Internet and I can look at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  That entry talks about pragmatism as a bridging philosophy between metaphysical/religious morality and scientific/empiricist moralities.  I don't really see it that way with how I understand the concept of pragmatism, because it still relies on a non-deity for a source of morality.  The only way I could see pragmatism as an equalizer is if there were (which I don't believe there really is) an issue that is not dealt with in the Bible it would help one make a decision.  I know that may sound naive but if you study the Bible thoroughly, though it may not make a direct reference to all possible moral circumstances, through broad instruction it includes everything.  (For example: 1 Corinthians 10:23, 24  All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify. Let no one seek his own  good,  but that of his neighbor. (NASB) and 6:12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. (NASB))