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seven pragmatism, constructivism, and the philosophy of technology Larry A. Hickman  Despite the overall attractiveness and the many benefits of the Cologne program of interactive constructivism, I suggest that its practitioners may have shifted too far in the direction of a neoPragmatist postmodernism. I take the Cologne program to advance a variety of cognitive relativism and argue that Dewey’s classical Pragmatism undercuts the claims of cognitive relativism. In Dewey’s view, certain judgments within the techno-sciences and the social sciences are universalizable: they are globally reliable regardless of individual and cultural variability. My general aim is to suggest that there remains a good bit more life left in the program of classical American Pragmatism than has been attributed to it by the program of interactive constructivism as I understand it. More specifically, I have the impression that if we were to draw a line between two points, with the neo-Pragmatism of Rorty at one pole and the classical Pragmatism of Dewey at the other, the Cologne program may have positioned itself just a bit too far in PAGE 143 { 143 } ................. 17147$ $CH7 01-07-09 14:26:11 PS 144 pragmatism, constructivism, and technology the direction of Rorty’s postmodernism. So let me see if I can make a convincing case for what I regard as a salutary shift toward the pole of classical Pragmatism. As a point of departure, I will examine some of the claims advanced in Professor Neubert’s excellent essay ‘‘Pragmatism and Constructivism in Contemporary Philosophical Discourse.’’ One of the things that I find most interesting about this essay is its assertion that ‘‘there is no claim to true knowledge that per se warrants the consent of all observers and thus evades the possibility of relativization’’ (page 3 in paper as originally presented). This claim, we are told, turns on certain postmodernist insights regarding the ‘‘inherent paradoxes of the absolute and the relative in the field of truth claims’’ (Neubert 2001, 3).1 As I read this assertion, I find that it falls within the category of claims generally known as ‘‘cognitive relativism.’’ For purposes of triangulation , I’ll cite a similar statement of that position from a 1996 essay published in the journal Philosophical Forum that seems to make more or less the same claim in slightly different terms. ‘‘The kind of relativism I wish to defend here,’’ writes this author, ‘‘is a very general form of cognitive relativism which takes as its object judgments in general. . . . It is based on two theses: (1) The truth value of all judgments is relative to some particular standpoint (otherwise variously referred to as a theoretical framework, conceptual scheme, perspective, or point of view). (2) No standpoint is uniquely or supremely privileged over all others’’ (Westacott 1996, 131).2 In order to keep matters as simple as possible in what follows, I will just refer to Professor Neubert’s view as ‘‘cognitive relativism,’’ with the full understanding that he may wish to object to this label. Of course his text can be read in a number of ways, depending on what is meant by ‘‘per se,’’ what is meant by ‘‘consent,’’ what is meant by ‘‘relativization,’’ and, perhaps most importantly, what is meant by ‘‘warrant.’’ If it is intended to assert that human knowing, including the type of knowing that has been termed ‘‘techno-scientific,’’ is contextsensitive in some sense or other, then any observer not prepared to consent to its truth would probably be dismissed as impertinent at PAGE 144 ................. 17147$ $CH7 01-07-09 14:26:12 PS larry a. hickman 145 best, or irrational at worst.3 The speed of light, for example, is relative to the medium through which it travels. (I will leave aside the issue of whether it refers to waves, particles, or ‘‘wavicles.’’) The melting point of pure tin at 232 degrees Celsius, like the amount of time it takes to bake a cake, is clearly relative to the altitude above sea level at which the performance takes place. Moreover, if the text means to claim that knowing tends to be fallible and corrigible, then it also warrants our consent, even though that warrant requires some qualification. William James’s expression of fallibilism is clear enough on this point: ‘‘there can be no final truth in ethics any more than in physics, until the last man has had his experience and said his say’’ (McDermott 1967, 611). This is, of course, just a general restatement of what C...


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