Doubt essay

doubt essay

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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 purport or to general patterns of behaviour. Sometimes he writes as if the practical consequences of a proposition can simply be effects upon the believer: if religious belief makes me feel better, then that can contribute to the pragmatic clarification of God exists. It is connected to these differences that James looks upon peirce's principle as a method for metaphysics : he hopes that the attempt to clarify metaphysical hypotheses will reveal that some propositions are empty or, more important, that, as in the squirrel example, some apparent. Peirce sees uses for his maxim which extend beyond those that James had in mind. He insisted that it was a logical principle and it was defended as an important component of the method of science, his favoured method for carrying out inquiries. This is reflected in the applications of the maxim that we find in his writings. First, he used it to clarify hard concepts that had a role in scientific reasoning: concepts like probability, truth, and reality. We shall discuss his view of truth below.

Doubt Essay

For all his loyalty to it, peirce acknowledged that this formulation was vague: it does not explain how we should understand practical consequences. We shall seek clarity by looking at one of peirce's illustrative applications of his maxim, by noting some of his later reformulations, and by identifying the uses to which it was put in his writings. Peirce's first illustrative example (the simplest one possible (EP1: 132) urges that what we mean by calling something hard is that it will not be scratched by many other substances. I can use the concept hard in contexts when i am wondering what. Unless there are cases where something's being hard makes a difference to what we experience and what it is rational for us to do, the concept is empty. The principle has a verificationist character: our idea of anything is our idea of its sensible effects (EP1: 132) but the use of the phrase practical consequences suggests that these are to be understood as having implications for what we will or should. This is clear from his later formulations, for example: The entire intellectual purport of any symbol consists in the total of all general modes of rational conduct which, conditionally upon all the possible different circumstances and desires, would ensue upon the acceptance of the symbol. We become clearer about the concept hard, for example, 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 from those it would call for if the object were. 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: business we are to look for the laws that govern the behaviour of hard things and for laws that show how such modes of behaviour on the part.

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? In this section, i shall examine peirce's answers to some of these questions but, as we proceed, we shall also compare peirce's answers to these questions with those offered by james. (see hookway: 2012 passim) we can begin with peirce's canonical statement of his maxim in How to make our Ideas Clear. Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive presentation the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of those effects is the whole of our conception of the object. (EP1: 132) William James cited this passage when introducing pragmatism in his 1906 lectures, and peirce repeated it in his writings from after 1900.

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Certainty And, doubt Essay, free

Inquiry is an activity, and this sort of approach, in Dewey's hands, led to a rejection of there being a sharp dichotomy between theoretical judgments and practical judgments. Thus while peirce and James used pragmatism in a narrow sense, as referring to peirce's principle, others may have used it in a wide sense as standing for a particular approach to understanding inquiry and the normative standards that govern. Sections 2 and 3 will be concerned, primarily, with pragmatism in the narrow sense. Then, in section 4, we shall explore some of the views that are associated with pragmatism in the wider sense. As we have seen, 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?


Both James and peirce used pragmatism as the name of a method, principle, or maxim for clarifying concepts and hypotheses and for identifying empty disputes. As we shall see there were differences in how they understood the method and in their views of how it was to be applied. Later thinkers, for example john Dewey and. I.Lewis, developed pragmatism further. Although they continued to refer back to peirce's 1878 paper as the source of pragmatism, and they continued to regard concepts and hypotheses as functioning as instruments, they did not always think of pragmatism as denoting the principle of peirce. Dewey once described pragmatism as the systematic exploration of what he called the logic and ethics of scientific inquiry. (LW:.24) Both peirce and James combined their pragmatism with a distinctive epistemological outlook, one which rejected the cartesian focus upon the importance of defeating skepticism while endorsing the fallibilist view that any of our beliefs and methods could, in principle, turn out. This was tied to the study of the normative standards we should adopt when carrying out inquiries, when trying to find things out.

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doubt essay

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He did very little to explain exactly what practical consequences are. He made no claim to originality: Pragmatism represents a perfectly familiar attitude in philosophy, the empiricist attitude, although he acknowledged that it did so in a more radical and in a less objectionable form than it has ever yet assumed (1907: 31). It shared with other forms of empiricism an anti-intellectualist tendency (ibid and it recognized that theories (and presumably concepts) should be viewed as instruments, not answers to enigmas. We identify the practical consequences of a theory, concept or hypothesis by describing its role as an instrument in thought, in inquiry and in practical deliberation. James also admitted that he was not the first to defend the principle of pragmatism. The principle of pragmatism was the principle of peirce his friend and colleague of many years.

Published in 1878 in a paper called How to make our Ideas Clear (EP2: minimal 124141 it lay entirely unnoticed by anyone for twenty years until James defended it before the Philosophical Union in the University of California in 1898. If we want a detailed formulation of pragmatism, we must go back to peirce's original formulation, although we must also be mindful that the differences between the pragmatisms of peirce and James may be greater than James acknowledged. And although the principle of peirce was published in 1878, it didn't introduce the word pragmatism; it was only after James's 1898 address that pragmatism was used publicly in philosophy; and it was only after James's defence of pragmatism that it became famous. Pragmatism had fresher been born in the discussions at a metaphysical club in Harvard around 1870 (see menand 1998). Peirce and James participated in these discussions along with some other philosophers and philosophically inclined lawyers. As we have already noted, peirce developed these ideas in his publications from the 1870s. And James's lectures in 1898 and later represented the next stages in the development of pragmatism.

To attain perfect clearness in our thoughts of an object, then, we need only consider what conceivable effects of a practical kind the object may involve—what sensations we are to expect from it, and what reactions we must prepare. (1907: 29) The lectures explained this with a memorable illustration of pragmatism in action.  This shows how the maxim enables us to defuse an apparently insoluble (albeit trivial) dispute. On a visit to the mountains, his friends engage in a ferocious metaphysical dispute about a squirrel that was hanging on to one side of a tree trunk while a human observer was standing on the other side: This human witness tries to get sight. The resultant metaphysical problem now is this: does the man go round the squirrel or not?

(1907: 27f) James proposed to solve the problem by pointing out that which answer is correct depends on what you practically mean by going round. If you mean passing from north of him to east, then south, then west, then the answer to the question is yes. If, on the other hand, you mean first in front of him, then to his right, then behind him, and then to his left, before returning to being in front of him again, then the answer. Pragmatic clarification disambiguates the question, and once that is done, all dispute comes to an end. The pragmatic method promises to eliminate all apparently irresoluble metaphysical disputes. So james offers his pragmatism as a technique for clarifying concepts and hypotheses. He proposed that if we do this, metaphysical disputes that appear to be irresoluble will be dissolved. When philosophers suppose that free will and determinism are in conflict, james responds that once we compare the practical consequences of determinism being true with the practical consequences of our possessing freedom of the will, we find that there is no conflict. As James admitted, he explained the pragmatic method through examples rather than by giving a detailed analysis of what it involves.

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But all that is on offer is an empirical philosophy that is not religious enough and a religious philosophy that is not empirical enough for your purpose (1907: 15f). The challenge is to show how to reconcile the scientific loyalty to facts with the old confidence in human values and the resultant spontaneity, whether of the religious or of the romantic type. We must reconcile empiricist epistemic responsibility with moral and religious optimism. Pragmatism is presented as for the mediating philosophy that enables us to overcome the distinction between the tender-minded and the tough-minded: we need to show how adherence to tough-minded epistemic standards does not prevent our adopting the kind of worldview to which the tender-minded aspire. Once we use what he introduced as the pragmatic method reviews to clarify our understanding of truth, of free will, or of religious belief the disputes—which we despaired of settling intellectually—begin to dissolve. For James, then, Pragmatism is important because it offers a way of overcoming the dilemma, a way of seeing that, for example, science, morality and religion are not in competition. William James thus presented pragmatism as a method for settling metaphysical disputes that might otherwise be interminable. (1907: 28) Unless some practical difference would follow from one or the other side's being correct, the dispute is idle. The tangible fact at the root of all our thought-distinctions, however subtle, is that there is no one of them so fine as to consist in anything but a possible difference of practice.

doubt essay

He promised that pragmatism would show us the way to overcome this dilemma and, having thus shown us its importance, he proceeded, in the second lecture, to explain What Pragmatism means. James's dilemma is a familiar one: it is a form of the question of how we can reconcile the claims of science, on the one hand, with those of religion and morality on the other. James introduces it by observing that the history of philosophy is to a great extent that of a certain clash of human temperaments, between the tough minded and the tender minded. The tough minded have an empiricist commitment to experience and going by the facts, while the tender-minded have more of a taste for a priori principles which appeal to the mind. The tender minded tend to be idealistic, optimistic and religious, essays while the tough minded are normally materialist, pessimistic and irreligious. The tender-minded are free-willist and dogmatic; the tough minded are fatalistic and sceptical. By the early twentieth century, never were so many men of a decidedly empiricist proclivity: our children are almost born scientific (1907: 14f). But this has not weakened religious belief. People need a philosophy that is both empiricist in its adherence to facts yet finds room for religious belief.

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