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The pragmatist conception of truth

The pragmatist conception requires more detailed consideration, for itís the ground for one of the most widespread in the 20th century philosophical trends, such as pragmatism. The key moment of this trend concerns the interpretation of truth in terms of effectiveness. Or in other words truth is defined as a means of attaining aims. This is the common definition of truth according to the pragmatist conception.

Namely from here the founder of pragmatism the American philosopher Ch. S. Pierce started his reasoning. Pierce criticized the Cartesian ďCogito ergo sumĒ (ďI think, therefore I amĒ). Itís useless to pretend doubting, ─ he wrote ─ when in fact you do not doubt. This doubting can concern only some abstract symbols systems, the acceptance or rejecting of which is determined by the same effectiveness. If something is effective and useful, itís accepted; if it isnít, itís rejected.

Such attitude to the problem of truth admits two variants. According to the first the pragmatist approach can be treated as a criterion of correspondence (in the classical conception); according to the second it expressed the very essence of truth and needs no other determination of it (being itself an independent conception). Here, if we proceed from the first variant (the pragmatist approach as a criterion of correspondence), we encounter the next problem. To the attaining of the selfsame aims different means may lead. Thus, the aim of scientific theory is predicting and explaining new facts. It happens, selfsame facts may be explained from the views of different incompatible with each other theories. Ch. Pierce, being a convinced adherent of the classical comprehension of truth, proposed the following means of solving the problem. All the truths, we deal, are particular and non-absolute. They work in some cases and donít in others. The absolute truth unlike the non-absolute-ones works in every situation but it can be attained only in result of an infinite research process executed by the competent specialists. I.e. the absolute universal truth is some sort of asymptote towards eventually all our truths aspire.

Let us imagine, for example, there are two contradicting each other theories T1 and T2. And F1, F2, F3, F4 are facts, we need to explain. Let theory T1 permits to explain facts F1, F2, F3 and the theory T2 ─ F3 and F4. Itís evident that the preference will be given out to T1 (for itís more effective). But the fact F4 remains unexplained and we need to look for another theory T3, which would allow to explain all the four facts. Let us imagine, we have found such a theory. Itíll replace both T1 and T2 and no question arises. But, letís imagine further, a new fact F5, unexplainable from T1 and T2, has appeared. The appearance of it means the necessity of a new theory T4 ... Thus we go until all facts will have been taken into consideration. The facts are innumerable, that means our process will be infinite.


T1 T2 T3



F1 F2 F3 F4 F5


Not all followers of pragmatism were adherents of the classical approach, the most of them on the contrary prefer to regard the pragmatist approach as the independent conception. It became the cause of Pierceís dissociation from pragmatism. He refused the honor to be called the founder of it, suggested to him by another American philosopher-pragmatist W. James. His own philosophy he called Ďpragmaticismí, saying that this name was too ugly for the kidnappers would encroach on. And therefore the founders of pragmatism not only he but also W. James have been recognized [6, p.230 Ė 269].

James introduced some novelties in pragmatist philosophy of Pierce. Beforehand he identified truth with belief. The belief is the readiness to act in the according way. Not all beliefs are accepted but only those leading to success. Thus truth is the belief leading to attaining aims. The objective reality, which would exist by itself, independently on the subject of cognition, according James, is an abstraction and doesnít exist in real life. It exists only as an object from the viewpoint of a subject. There are many subjects, that means there are many realities as themselves. Or, as James wrote, our Universe is pluralistic by its nature. James was also famous with his arguments for the usefulness of belief in God. This belief justifies itself on its own, wrote James. It does it independently on, whether God exists really. If God doesnít exist, a believer loses nothing in comparison with an unbeliever. Even more, he gains a lot, because, wrote James, the faith gives him a moral vacation, which the unbeliever has no. If God exists, than the more it would be silly to waste the according opportunities because of oneís own obstinacy [1, p. 211 Ė 213].

Pierce and James were representatives of the so-called first wave of pragmatism. The second one, the so-called instrumentalism was created also by the American philosopher Dewey. The instrumentalism asserts that our concepts, conceptions, theories, hypotheses are the only instruments of cognitive mastering of the reality [6, p. 381 Ė 400]. In some cases some instruments are useful, in others other ones are and itís meaningless to argue, which of them are truer than others. Thatís the same as for digging the mild soil we use a shovel and for breaking the stony domain we take a pickaxe without saying that the pickaxe is truer than the shovel.

The third wave of pragmatism the conceptual pragmatism (elaborated by Lewis, the American philosopher as well) coincides with instrumentalism in main features. The difference is that it doesnít apply the instrumentalist criterion to concepts and ideas (they reflect sensual data and having emerged historically, are not invented by scientists on purpose) but only to conceptions, theories and hypotheses.

Date: 2014-12-21; view: 1669

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