On Pragmatism

A pragmatist theory of truth (broadly defined as a theory of truth based on the value of the utility of any given set of procedures in terms of their ability to produce their intended effects) may be more adequate to experience than either a naive realism that considers truth to be a simple, absolute correspondence between an idea and its basic referent or a sophisticated anti-realism that confines truth purely to the domain of social convention. It provides a solution to the problem that objective existence cannot itself be validated objectively without circularity of reasoning, since it recognizes that there is always a mind that forms a part of the formation of any given truth. It also steers clear of the nihilistic consequences of anti-realism by justifying the validity of upholding the truth/false binary in terms of pragmatic or proximal value, in terms of what generally works to produce general intended effects.

The problem with a pragmatist theory taken on its own however (when a theory of pragmatism is not itself used pragmatically) is that it cannot assign the value for what constitutes something as “working,” which paradoxically reveals that the variable upon which the entire theory would rest is empty of any intrinsic value, making it neither true nor false, which directly contradicts its intended use as a theory for ascertaining truth. For a pragmatist theory to practically function, this void must necessarily be occupied and since it is empty of any determinate value it must be determined by what I am calling an “axiological orientation,” or an orientation towards something of apparent value.

Having an axiological orientation is a dispositional feature of being in the world, where we are always-already engaging in the world in terms of what we value. A pragmatist theory taken on its own cannot account for the values it will ultimately be in the service of delivering, it merely receives them from outside. This makes a pragmatist theory equally applicable to situations that would otherwise be in diametrical opposition to one another, making it not so much as an agnostic position between two extremes but rather a contradictory confusing of each. To the extent that the problem of truth persists, this pragmatist agnosticism may actually be counter-productive rather than more productive than the naive realism and sophisticated anti-realism it aimed to discredit. In political practice it would amount to nothing less than a form of bipartisan centrism that only presupposes the necessary existence of the polarized extremes that it aims to differentiate itself from, and hence presupposes the politico-economic conditions that made the problem of polarized extremes possible in the first place. In ultimate function this characterizes pragmatism as actually conservative in nature, because it keeps intact the very way in which the problem was presented in the first place, ensuring a limited range of applicability from the very outset.

The only way to vindicate a pragmatic theory of truth is by also determining its own truth value on the basis of continual pragmatic feedback program, rather than by strictly operating in terms of a fixed and readily formalized framework. This puts thought into a circuit with what is real, and to the extent that what is real is true, a pragmatist theory will always be in accordance with what is definitely true, without feeling the need to pretend that this truth is an absolute truth and without feeling the need to assert that this truth is just as true (and hence just as false) as any other. It would be a theory that is in true dialogue with its intended object, never pretending to be able to stand above it and describe it in its full totality. This would be a theory that over time no longer accounts for the difference between itself and its intended object, allowing it to functionally cease its operation, having genuinely fulfilled its function as being a merely pragmatic vehicle towards the ascertainment of genuine truth.

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