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4.3: Pragmatism and Post-Modernism

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    Pragmatism is a philosophical tradition that began in the United States around 1870.[1] Its origins are often attributed to the philosophers William James, John Dewey, and Charles Sanders Pierce. Pierce later described it in his pragmatic maxim: "Consider the practical effects of the objects of your conception. Then, your conception of those effects is the whole of your conception of the object."

    Who Founded Pragmatism?

    Pragmatism considers thought an instrument or tool for prediction, problem solving and action, and rejects the idea that the function of thought is to describe, represent, or mirror reality. Pragmatists contend that most philosophical topics—such as the nature of knowledge, language, concepts, meaning, belief, and science—are all best viewed in terms of their practical uses and successes. The philosophy of pragmatism "emphasizes the practical application of ideas by acting on them to actually test them in human experiences". Pragmatism focuses on a "changing universe rather than an unchanging one as the Idealists, Realists and Thomists had claimed".

    The pragmatists applied their theory of meaning and truth to language about reality to find that such language does not necessarily describe reality as it is or may be but that the word itself has whatever meaning is assigned to it by the group of speakers. Thus different groups can have different realities and that are equally accurate and truthful if the language satisfies the expectations of the group concerning the use of that language. The idea of reality is seen as a construct, which performs certain functions. There is not an external something to which the language refers and against which the language can be evaluated for its accuracy. Talk about reality is performing social functions.

    There is no one thing that is reality!


    Post Modernism

    The pragmatists applied their theory of meaning and truth to language about reality to find that such language does not necessarily describe reality as it is or may be but that the word itself has whatever meaning is assigned to it by the group of speakers. Thus different groups can have different realities and that are equally accurate and truthful if the language satisfies the expectations of the group concerning the use of that language. The idea of reality is seen as a construct, which performs certain functions. There is not an external something to which the language refers and against which the language can be evaluated for its accuracy. Talk about reality is performing social functions.

    This idea served the postmodern movement to declare that there is no one reality and that there can be multiple simultaneous realities.The distinguishing characteristic of postmodernist theorizing is its rejection of traditional philosophy and metaphysics. The western philosophical tradition itself is, of course, a record of debate rather than consensus. The postmodernists, however, claim to have rejected not one thesis or another but rather the entire philosophical tradition from Plato through George Santayana. Deconstructionists, pragmatists and new historians certainly make assertions and criticize opposing views, just as traditional thinkers did. Unlike traditional philosophers, however, postmodernists make no attempt to tell the truth about reality. They realize, what in their view their predecessors failed to grasp, that human reason is an inadequate instrument for achieving truth. They have therefore renounced metaphysics and philosophy in favor of what Carl Rapp calls "post-rational criticism."

    Critique of Postmodern Philosophy

    For the post modernists there can be no single reality or privileged view of reality or even concept of what reality is for there is no single objective or truthful way in which to verify any claims about a singular phenomenon to be called “reality.” Thus in postmodernism there is a reality for each group of speakers that chooses to use the word and accept that usage of it.

    In post-modernist thinking, there being multiple groups of speakers and multiple ideas about what constitutes the real, the result is multiple realities existing at the same time. Could this be the case? Is there one reality and different views of it or are there multiple realities coexisting with one another? Is there one reality with multiple views of it, some being correct and some being incorrect? Or, are all views of what is real equally correct?

    Is the earth flat or is it spherical, an oblate spheroid? There are those who claim it is flat. They claim that the reality is quite different from those who claim that the earth has a spherical shape. For more information on the flat earth see this website: The Flat Earth Wiki or the FEW

    Is the earth both flat and spherical at the same time? Are there multiple simultaneous realities?


    There is a large object or entity in the american museum of natural history in New York city. It is very large indeed. It has been there for some time and a very large and very expensive new building has been built around it rather than attempt to move it again. It was brought to the museum from the northwest of the United States. It has been labeled as a meteorite, the Willamette meteorite, from the Williamette Valley of Oregon. It weighs 15 tons and scientists claim that it fell to earth about 10,000 years ago. There is a group of native people from a tribe (Clackamas) in the state of Oregon. They are part of the confederated tribes of the Grand Ronde of Oregon. The native peoples claim that it is not a rock but a messenger, the sky person, Tomanowos, from the Sky God who came to earth as a messenger and guide and who speaks to their people. The want the messenger returned to their people. The museum acquired it from a woman, Mrs. William Dodge, who donated it to the museum. She bought it from a iron mining company that had it on land owned by the company. Both parties went to court. A settlement was reached out of court. The original peoples will get to visit the rock-messenger each year and perform rituals there in the museum. Now is the object an inanimate rock or an animated messenger? Is it both or neither? What is the reality? For the postmodernists it is both at once.They would allow that it really is a messenger and it really is a rock at the same time, because there is no one objective reality or truth.

    Most, if not all of you, will probably refer to the entity in the American Museum of Natural History as a meteorite. This might indicate that because you were brought up in a culture that accepts scientific method and materialism that is how you look at it. You think of it as a meteorite that some people think contains a spirit. But this may not be correct. The original peoples see it as a spirit not a meteorite. They think of it as a spirit that some people choose to think of as a rock. But to them it is a spirit and not a rock. It is alive and not dead.

    Now which is it?

    1. Rock/meteorite and dead
    2. Spirit and alive

    You cannot choose to think of it as a rock that people think of a as a spirit because when you do all you are claiming is:

    That it is a rock that some people may perceive differently. Is that what you think or is it a spirit that some people choose to think of or perceive as a rock? Or is it both or neither? Which is correct and why?

    There is a body of a human that died over 9,000 years ago that was found in a riverbed in Oregon. The scientists who uncovered it think that it can teach us a great deal concerning how humans crossed over the land bridge that once existed across the bearing straits. Now the original peoples have sued to recover the bones of one of their ancestors so that they can have a proper ritualistic burial. They claim it is one of them. The anthropologists claim that these peoples have only existed as a distinguishable group for 800 years and that the bones are thousands of years older. The original peoples claim that they have always been in North America. Their belief is that they sprung from the land as plants do. They did not emigrate from any other place. The bones are of the ancestor. Which is he reality? Which claims are true? For the post modernists all claims can be true at once within the group by and for which they are given a meaning.

    For the postmodernists the only manner in which conflicting claims are to be settled is through the use of power. The federal government, Secretary of the Interior, has determined that the bones are to be turned over to the tribe that has claimed them (2000). Is this because their claims are true, their reality is reality? Or, is it because it is politically correct or popular to do so?

    Further Reading

    CH4 Metaphysics Notes

    Critical Race Theory and Feminism

    Women, feminists, claim that their reality is different from that of males. So, there is a developing feminist metaphysics. Thus we come to have multiple realities.

    There is in literature of the law and legal studies something known as “critical race theory” through which it is argued that members of a minority who serve on a jury should vote in a manner to remove a member of their minority group who is the defendant from the operation of the judicial system which is a source of oppression and injustice for minorities. The question of whether or not the evidence supports the charge against the defendant is not the matter of importance and whether or not it is true that the defendant did the acts alleged is not a matter that can be determined objectively (which is always impossible). Thus the correct action is to acquit the defendant. What is the reality? Did the accused do the deed? For one group the reality could be the accused did the action. For another group the accused did not do it. Which is the reality? For the postmodernist, both at once! How to resolve the conflicts in views of reality between groups? Power! Power!

    The idea of reality is seen by postmodernists as a tool for social organization and preservation wherein those who do not agree with the criteria by which reality is determined or realized by the group are regarded as threatening to the political and economic order and are to be by one means or another removed as a threat. This means that those who have the power to run the educational systems and the governmental structures are in a position to further support the criteria by which the members of society come to understand the reality of the group. They are also in a position to ridicule, criticize and dismiss all those who are critical of their view of what is "real". The scientists of European cultures will label the shamans of the original peoples of the Americas as being quacks, fools, misdirected, uneducated and use other terms meant to discredit their views and the very fundamental ideas the original peoples have concerning what makes something real.

    Those who are acculturated within a group will have the criteria for what makes the "real" as part of their heritage and will think accordingly. So, whoever has the most power will declare what reality is and impose that view upon those with less power who might otherwise disagree.

    Is it really the case that there is more than one reality? Is it the case that there are many realities? Or is it the case that there is but one reality, not known by humans with great certainty, but viewed differently by humans? Are there multiple realities or are there multiple belief systems or multiple perspectives on and experiences of the one reality?

    Perhaps this may assist you in understanding the issue here. Consider this scenario.

    Souls or no Souls

    Suppose you are on a boat in the ocean with someone you love most dearly. Suppose your loved one become extremely ill and is about to die during the trip and the captain gives you a choice as to which country or island the boat would stop at and place the body there for care or perhaps to die. There are two countries nearby: A and B.

    In country A the people believe that there are souls that survive the death of the body and go on in some form living in another place or dimension forever. In country B the people there do not believe in an afterlife. There is no survival of death for human beings.

    Now do you believe that bringing your loved one to country A or B would make any difference as to whether or not there are souls and your loved one would survive the death of the body?Do you think that whether or not anyone has a soul depends on what people around them believe? Do you think that people in one country have souls but people in another country do not have souls?

    If you accept multiple realities it would make a difference where a person was when they die as to whether or not they have a soul. If you do not think that it makes a difference you do not really accept multiple realities as being possible. Further, you should reflect on your thinking and drop the idea of there being multiple realities and instead think that there is but one reality that we may not know all about with clarity and certainty, but only one. There are different perceptions of and experiences of and views of the one reality but there is only one reality. We may not know what the reality is but it cannot be both that there are souls and that there are no souls at the same time.


    For now perhaps thinking about this matter can be simplified a bit by considering that what we are thinking and talking about are claims about what is real and the basic claim about reality itself. How do we know of the claims we make about what is true are correct or not? Consider the different types of claim that people make.

    Claims about the shape of the earth or any other physical claim can be determined in theory and most in practice to be true or not by using scientific method. There is but one physical universe. More about this in the chapter on epistemology.

    Claims in mathematics and its branches (e.g., arithmetic, geometry, algebra, topology). Can also be determined to be true or false by using the rules of the mathematical systems. Most, not all, claims about logical propositions can also be determined to be true or false by using the rules or laws of logic. Claims about the meaning of words can also be determined to be true or false by using a dictionary.

    Claims about what is beautiful or what is morally correct cannot be determined to be true or false using any absolute and universal or objective schema or set of criteria because such ideas are social constructs and vary from one society and culture to another. But these claims are not claims about what exists and is real but rather they are claims about what people think about their own experiences and behaviors. More about this in the chapter on epistemology and claims about truth and in the chapters on ethics and aesthetics for claims about what is morally good or beautiful.

    So claims about what is real fall under claims that are called cognitive claims and persons making those claims are asserting that what they claim is true. Claims about what is real can be resolved using a method for falsifying or verifying claims about physical reality. How can we know if the claims are true? That is the subject of the next chapter.

    Philosophical Applications

    Is it possible that there is no such thing as reality and that word is just a device for the group in power to suppress minorities?

    Answer the following using your research, class readings, class notes and your own reflections.

    1. Describe at least four issues that are fundamental to metaphysics, e.g., reality, being, space, time, god, soul, causation, values, truth...

    This means you must describe what the metaphysical issues are related to the ideas you selected. These issues relate to the question of the reality of or the existence of those beings or entities you select to describe. E.g., is time real? How is time real? Are souls real? From what traditions of thought? What are the problems related to establishing the existence of souls?

    You do NOT need to solve problems or discuss the issues in detail, you only need to describe them.


    1. Which theory of reality do you hold? For you, what is real and why do you think so?
    2. What do you think of the theory that there can be simultaneous multiple realities?
    3. Do you believe that what one person believes may not agree with another person’s belief and so what may be real to one person may not be real to the second person?
    4. Do you think that each group and each person is entitled to their own reality?
    5. What is to be done when there is a conflict between two different “realities”?

    Provide some coherent reasoning to support each of your answers establishing at least that your position is plausible.

    NOTE: This means what is real and not a person's view of what is real. This question is asking if there can be more than one total reality. It is not asking about whether or not people can have different experiences or views of the same reality. This question is asking whether there can be more than one entire reality (universe) at the same time. Granted that people have different experiences and different.


    Vocabulary Quizlet 4.3

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