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CONCLUSION Belief and Meaning So what have we accomplished, and what’s next? Numerous issues remain open. Based almost entirely on some key writings of its two originators, the discussion in chapters 1–4 above yielded a characterization of pragmatism not as a doctrine but as a philosophical attitude or stance. This philosophical stance is marked, namely, by a certain conception of belief that is bound up with a notion of habits as rules of action. This is in turn coupled with a corollary conception of meaning as formulated by the pragmatic maxim—a maxim concerning how best to clarify one’s concepts and define one’s terms. More specifically, chapter 4 yielded an operationalist -plus-inferentialist conception of meaning based on two readings of the pragmatic maxim, that is, as calling for both inferential coherence and operational concreteness. An inferentialist reading of the pragmatic maxim is not news, whereas an operationalist reading has not been given that much attention over the passing years. This is largely the result of a lack of appreciation of the difference between pragmatism and empiricism, beginning with James himself. Later chapters above have thus focused on the contrast between pragmatism and empiricism, looking from several angles at the implications of an operationalist characterization of the “sensible effects” and their “practical bearings” that were emphasized in Peirce’s earliest presentation of the maxim. Chapter 5 showed that neither Carnap’s atomistic empiricism nor Quine’s holistic empiricism captures the active nature of observation that is proposed by operationalist pragmatism. Chapters 6 and 7 looked in turn at the (inter)active nature of measurement and perception, respectively, which should not be unexpected given an operationalist reading of the pragmatic maxim. In more detail, chapter 8 looked at an example from the social sciences where the difference between empiricism and pragmatism matters significantly when it comes to trying to understand the nature of science at work. Chapter 9, in turn, showed how to apply a schematic version of Peirce’s method for defining ‘reality’ and ‘truth’ (and ‘knowledge’, for that matter) to the words ‘democracy’ and ‘justice ’—the point being not to engage in political philosophy so much as to simply illustrate Peirce’s method. Chapter 10 put a cap on this discussion by showing how a dozen different more or less common misconceptions of pragmatism can be set aside as such if one adopts the view of pragmatism developed here. 161 162 / WHAT PRAGMATISM WAS What all of this accomplishes is to say what pragmatism is, or at least was, so far as Peirce and James were concerned. What might be gained by adopting this view of pragmatism? The two-part summary of what pragmatism is that was provided at the beginning of chapter 10 is by some standards too loose to accomplish much, yet it will seem arcane, obscure, obtuse, and otherwise nitpicky relative to other standards, e.g., those set by the political press and political discourse at large. Pulled in these different directions, can we be any simpler about what pragmatism is and isn’t? Can we say something philosophically substantial that mass media can digest and assimilate without destroying its content? Realistically, that is doubtful. Partisan spin is an unavoidable aspect of political journalism. At the same time, philosophers, like politicians, are on the whole a contentious lot, always looking for weak spots in an opponent’s arguments. This compels one to be careful about how one formulates a philosophical position. Such care—just as in the sciences and other professions—engenders manners of discourse that are, well, arcane, obscure, obtuse, and otherwise nitpicky relative to common everyday discourse. Such concerns have influenced the present discussion to the point that some kind of spin will perhaps be needed just to make it suitable for public consumption. Nevertheless, the view of pragmatism that has been promoted here is for the most part relatively simple and not entirely unfamiliar , at least initially. It entails, for instance, that our discernment of observable facts is essentially theory-laden (that is one thing that inferentialism says) and that getting at the facts in any case involves active engagement in the world (that is what operationalism says). The present view of pragmatism goes a bit further, though, to say that, when it comes to operationally grounding our conceptions of the facts, what we have is activity all the way down. And when it comes to fathoming the significance and thus the facticity of any given fact, what we...


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