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Some Thoughts about Pragmatism

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All evidence and logic must suggest that the universe is pragmatic.  That which works must be true, because it works.  As example, the system of evolution that has led to the state of life upon this planet has always been pragmatic; if a method of survival does not work for a particular being, then that being simply does not survive.  While this may be sound harsh, it is clear that it must be true.

The challenge is that this may lead to what appears to be contradictory knowledge and multiple theories that are accurate.  Further, there are still the epistemological challenges that often that which appears to work, may not be actually that which is working, so one must be careful to not confuse surface level heuristics for more thought out heuristics.

To illustrate what I mean about “contradictory knowledge”, again looking at evolution, it is clear that in the changing environment that our planet has had through its existence, different methods of survival have worked better and worse over time, so it cannot be proclaimed that only one true method is “correct”, but it can be generally be proclaimed that a method was correct (or correct enough) in an individual situation.

And to understand that multiple theories may be accurate, one must look no further than gravity.  For the child, knowing that gravity makes you fall, is sufficient for most needs.   For the aerospace engineer, knowing how to help a human land on the moon or mars, knowing Newton’s understanding of gravity will likely be all that is needed.  But to potentially predict the future of our universe, the astrophysicist needs to understand Einstein’s ideas of bending the fourth dimension along with more contemporary views such a gravitons.   But the knowledge of bends in the space-time will not stop a child from running and scraping their knee, and thus is not appropriate to that situation.

And last, simple heuristics of seeing correlations and patterns is a challenge for all philosophies.  A child sees the sun rise in the east and just as the humans of history did, may deduce that the sun is small, and circles around the earth.  Although, I believe it is often easier to help others find different patterns in that situation, than it is when they were told something is true by someone they respect and trust.   A child who is told that there is a hell below them, may struggle to later understand tectonic plates. (Although they may always just have a duality of thought, unless cognitive dissonance is sufficient to try and rectify the two contradictory beliefs.)

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Written by Jacob Walker

July 21st, 2013 at 8:58 am

Posted in Philosophy

2 Responses to 'Some Thoughts about Pragmatism'

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  1. Jacob, thanks for your sharing your thoughts. I like the idea/notion of “contradictory knowledge(s)” – I would just make it plural 🙂

    Your thoughts reminded me of an article by Gert Biesta (2007) in which he poses the challenge to our current obsession with ‘effectiveness’ and ‘what works.’ Basically Biesta (2007) state that not everything that is effective, may be appropriate. John Gray (2004) also makes the point that knowledge is not an unqualified good but can be used to perpetuate oppression or create a compassionate society.

    Paul

    References

    Biesta, G. (2007). Why ‘what works’ won’t work: Evidence-based practice and the democratic deficit in educational research. Educational Theory, 57(1), 1-22. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1741-5446.2006.00241.x/full

    Gray, J. (2004). Heresies. Against progress and other illusions, Granta Books, London.

    Paul Prinsloo

    21 Jul 13 at 10:54 pm

  2. Jacob, thanks for the thoughts. It is great to have some insight into your thought processes. This is really strong reflexivity which will enrich your thesis. I was wondering how this relates to methodological pragmatism if at all. If you look at methodological pragmatism, it is very much a reaction to paradigmatic loyalty, if you like, the fanaticism which lead to many academics ignoring how best to address a particular research question. What Tashakkori and Teddlie (1998) referred to as the “Paradigm Wars”. Will your study focus on foregrounding issues of utility above those of method and propagating the use of the most appropriate tools to investigate a phenomenon? (Onwuegbuzie & Johnson, 2004, 2006; Onwuegbuzie & Leech, 2005; Tashakkori & Teddlie, 1998)Possibly it provides a framework which is comfortable with and indeed embraces, prularity and “contradictory knowledges”.

    Some food for thought:
    http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=6377928
    http://mmr.sagepub.com/content/1/1/48.short
    http://mmr.sagepub.com/content/4/1/6.short

    Elizabeth Archer

    23 Jul 13 at 12:18 am

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