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13 1 A Pragmatic Account of Practical Knowledge This chapter offers a pragmatist account of how practical knowledge functions in value deliberation and rational conduct . My theory is meant to account for aesthetic, practical, and cognitive values—as well as those values narrowly defined as “moral.” The pragmatist denies a radical difference between moral and nonmoral practical considerations, especially with respect to the kinds of practical knowledge found in each. Thus it is crucial to clarify the pragmatist view of practical knowledge before elucidating what pragmatism has to say about ethical knowledge. The notion that practical reason is concerned with fixed ends crops up in a variety of accounts of moral and nonmoral rationality . Even though many philosophers have abandoned the notion of fixed ends in nature, they have retained the assumption of fixed ends in other forms, more or less unwittingly. In fact, this assumption is so taken for granted that we find surprisingly few arguments pertaining to it. Pragmatism—especially Dewey’s variety—sets out to thoroughly purge fixed ends from our philosophical accounts of rationality. Our views of practical reason ought to do justice to the evolutionary standpoint of the world around us. We live in a moving world, and we are continuously learning about this world and our conduct in it. We must be mindful that our models of practical reason do not distort the very practical life that gives birth to them. Models of practical reasoning are like maps. We don’t confuse the map with the land 14 Making Morality that it represents—a land rich in detail, and always in a process of change. The first section of this chapter sets out the fixed-end account of practical knowledge, including some arguments for the view. The second section begins to develop the pragmatist alternative by exploring the functions of practical knowledge in arts and practices like cooking, hunting, baseball, or house building. Focusing on such practices vividly illustrates the pragmatist view that practical knowledge is located in learned, socially shared habits. The third section uses the pragmatist view of practical knowledge to explain basic structural features of practical justification. Finally, the fourth section shows how the pragmatist view of practical knowledge is further supported by the light it sheds on motivation . Many accounts of practical reason separate the cognitive and evaluative elements of practical reason. Practical considerations have two components: (1) values and (2) beliefs based on relevant information about how best to achieve those values. The pragmatist view that I defend throws this sort of separation into question. This chapter explores the structure of practical knowledge , and Chapter 2 deals with values. Essentially, I start with the very distinction between practical knowledge and value that is so central to the fixed-end account of rationality. A perspicuous rendering of practical knowledge will motivate a view that cannot sustain the division between the evaluative and the cognitive . F I X E D-E N D A C C O U N T S O F P R A CT I CA L K N OW L E D G E : B A S I C A S S U M P T I O N S It may be misleading to refer to the fixed-end account as a “view,” since it is not really a complete theory of rational conduct, but rather a pervasive assumption behind a variety of theories. The fixed-end view gets some of its plausibility from some noncontroversial assumptions about rational conduct. Let’s explore these assumptions. Rational conduct, as I understand it, includes the class of human actions based on practical knowledge used to pur- A Pragmatic Account of Practical Knowledge 15 sue practical purposes. These purposes typically represent values or goods. Practical knowledge and some value taken as a goal are the two major constituents of rational conduct. I take this conceptual point to be noncontroversial. At the most basic level, we distinguish rational from nonrational or irrational action on the basis of the idea that rational action is informed by practical considerations used in the pursuit of one or more goals. I am using the term “rational” in a minimal sense, not in the sense of “ideally” rational. “Rational” is a normative predicate. We need a full-blown philosophical theory of rationality to offer an account of what it is to be ideally rational. The minimal sense that I have in mind here is more like “candidate for the ideally rational.”1 A second noncontroversial...


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