Sunday, October 9, 2011

Pragmatism is a Realism and Leads to a Realist Phenomenology


I would highlight some important tenets of pragmatism that do not appear to be not widely known.

Recently, it was argued that William James argued that the truth was what was expedient to believe.      The next thought that James would have is, "what about the situation makes this an expediency?"  He would then transfer the issue from one about facile truth-wishing to one about a scientific study of the conditions for belief and knowledge.  He was particularly interested in those cases for which insufficient evidence is given to believe on thing or another, but we still find ourselves forced to make a decision.  One does not usually find existentialism so closely accompanied by experimental science.    Let me point out some other perhaps unexpected points about pragmatism.

Pragmatism is a realism.  It is not the common contemporary realism that argues that only things that exist are real, and therefore science is the proper study of the real.  It argues for the reality of universals, e.g., of qualities, and thus argues against those who would say that phenomenal experience either only partially or not real.  It is opposed to nominalism, whether open or crypto, the view that leads to the thought that universals are arbitrary.  E.g., whiteness is just a name, and thus "whiteness" or any quality is just an occurence due to arbitrary events none of which can be said univocally to give rise to "whiteness."  In consequence, "whiteness" might have an intension (description) but certainly has no extension.  But that means that "whiteness" is an arbitrary description.  This nominalist view has monumental consequences for phenomenology if one adopts it.

Pragmatism argues for a derivative of scholastic realism about universals, following Peirce, that culminated in the Peircean triad.  Reality can be described in terms of the generative categories of firstness, secondness, and thirdness, which have many denotations since they are generative, but include possibility/quality, existence/activity/force, and determinate existence/habit/law, respectively. Pure quality has reality, but does not exist.  Aside, one consequence of this view, popularized by William James, is the thesis that relations are real.

Pragmatism is, in contemporary parlance, a mixed constructivist view.  That means that we take everything that exists, whether love, rocks, fancy handshakes, etc., to be a combination of what exists in nature and semiotics (the science of relations)--and it all is real.  Many contemporary "naturalists," whether of the hard or soft (scientific) naturalist variety would not agree with this and call phenomenal qualities a "non-natural kind."

When I speak of a pragmatic phenomenology as a realist phenomenology, I am insisting that the phenomenon is a real sign of that which gave rise to it.  I am insisting that we not fall into the trap of the contemporary Cartesian dualist--still well practiced by so many who disavow it--and look only for the (efficient) "cause" of the phenomenon for only that is reputedly real.  A pragmatist, following the theory of continuity (synechism), would say that there must have been causes that gave rise to that real phenomenon.  Though there may be various existential conditions that give rise to "whiteness," we should not assume a nominalism about whiteness, but investigate the semiotic conditions, e.g., what are the relations in the situation and which were taken by the human organism as significant relations.  This includes, as researchers like Mark Bickhard note, the notion that hierarchy and structure is causal, and thus an effect can point to a structure rather than singular existents.

As a researcher, I am interested in the embodied cultural (semiotic) structures that are also embodied hermeneutics.  Specifically, I am not interested in the actual structures per se, e.g., what Johnson would call metaphors and a metaphor logic, but the habitual structures that limit concrete habituated or learned structures.  E.g., why we take this or that to be meaningful.

1 comment:

  1. Apologies, but my restrictive schedule does not permit better editing than this if I am to write much at all.

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