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NINE Truth, Justice, and the American Pragmatist Way Pragmatism is a methodological stance concerning how best to define one’s terms, or, as Peirce put it, how best to clarify one’s ideas. It has been argued in previous chapters that, by pragmatist lights, there are two kinds of clarity—third and fourth grades of clearness—above and beyond the first and second Cartesian standards of “clarity and distinctness” characteristic of axiomatic mathematics. That is, (third) to ground ideas concretely, they must be operationalized; and (fourth) to be made reasonable, they must be inferentialized (if it may be put that way). James’s inferentialism has been the dominant identifying feature of pragmatism for the past century or so. Peirce’s operationalism, on the other hand, has been largely ignored. Both are essential. To better understand this double-aspect conception of pragmatism, examples are especially helpful. We will want to recall a number of examples that have already been discussed or at least mentioned. As already noted, one of the more remarkable examples is Peirce’s definition of the word ‘reality’ with a corollary definition of the word ‘truth’ (Peirce 1877; 1878a). It will be shown below that this definition also supplies for free another corollary definition, namely, an operational definition of the word ‘knowledge’. Moreover, the same type of definition (involving a long-run perfectionist ideal of some sort) can be given for the words ‘democracy’ and ‘justice’. Lithium, Diamonds, etc. Applications of the pragmatic maxim that have been discussed so far include James’s example of going around the squirrel (in the opening pages of James 1907c; see page 13 above). This example is particularly instructive as an everyday illustration of the need to get clear about what words might mean in order to resolve conceptual disputes. The important point here is that the notion of going around something is easily operationalized in two distinct ways which, if not understood, could lead to interminable debate. James essentially ended the debate not by casting a deciding vote but by disposing of the debate altogether, having revealed the misunderstanding and thus miscommunication that was involved. The aim of pragmatism, of course, is not to dispose of debates as such but rather to clarify the ideas employed in a debate so that some kind of resolution is more 131 132 / WHAT PRAGMATISM WAS likely to be achieved. In that particular case, the debate was confused from start to finish. But that perhaps is as much as one can find in James’s writings in support of an operationalist interpretation of the pragmatic maxim in spite of his emphasizing the importance of empirically grounding one’s concepts. He does provide many examples of pragmatism at work, though what is uniquely pragmatist in these examples as rendered by James is inferentialist in nature. It would be fairly straightforward to amend some of them (as with the ‘going around’ example) to accommodate Peirce’s operationalism, but that is not the point. Peirce’s and James’s respective discussions of transubstantiation of the sacrament (chapter 4, pages 45ff. above) showed in fact how Peirce’s treatment could just as well be amended to accommodate James’s inferentialism. The point rather is to better understand what operationalism is in the first place. Peirce provided several examples. After presenting the first formulation of the pragmatic maxim (1878a), Peirce looked in turn at the three words ‘hard’, ‘weight’, and ‘force’ (see page 22 above for a brief overview). Also, in 1897, he illustrated in great detail each of the three grades of clarity as applied to the term ‘relation’. Later, in 1905b, Peirce criticized the anti-realist flavor of his own earlier accounts of ‘hard’ and ‘force’, harking back to earlier discussions of realism versus nominalism (1872) that were glossed over in the 1877–78 Popular Science articles (see also Peirce 1905d; 1911). The later assessment is probably correct, but as interesting as that issue may be, we need not pursue it here. In his later discussion of the meaning of the word ‘hard’ in 1905b (EP2:356), in order to make his point about the reality of possibilities, he also defined the word ‘diamond’ in a way that might stand with the lithium example (1903g, EP2:286; page 30 above) as paradigmatic of what an operational definition is, assuming one reads these definitions with an eye on distinguishing expected results of executing actions characteristic of identifying such materials: Being a diamond, it was a mass of pure carbon...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780253009623
Related ISBN
9780253009548
MARC Record
OCLC
1080549827
Pages
256
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Language
English
Open Access
No
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