Wednesday, January 9, 2008


Pragmatism refers specifically the philosophy espoused by early American philosophers like William James and C. S. Peirce, and generally to later philosophies which are derived from those earlier efforts. As Peirce, who coined the term, wrote:

Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.

William James wrote:

Ideas become true just so far as they help us to get into satisfactory relations with other parts of our experience.

According to Pragmatism, the truth or meaning of an idea or a proposition lies in its observable practical consequences rather than in anything more metaphysical. Basically, it can be summarized by the phrase "whatever works, is likely true." Because reality changes, "whatever works" will also change - thus, "truth" must also change over time. This means that no one can claim to possess any final or ultimate truth.

Pragmatism became popular with American philosophers and even the American public because of its close association with modern natural and social sciences. The scientific worldview was growing in both influence and authority; pragmatism, in turn, was regarded as a philosophical sibling or cousin which was believed to be capable of producing the same progress with inquiry into subjects like morals and the meaning of life.