* = inserted since the original writeup.
If 'pragmatism' implies the equation of truth and expediency then it is false or incoherent. Adopting pragmatism in the way expounded above (by jderrida) is not an expedient system of belief.
To explain myself, imagine that Rorty-style pragmatism is literally true. (Not just an interesting story.)* Then according to pragmatism, this just means that it is expedient to hold that truth == expediency. But the latter is patently false by any sensible measure of expediency. Therefore pragmatism is not true.
Thinking a little more: if it was not expedient for anyone to treat Plato's, Newton's or even Wittgenstein's assertions as candidates for TRUTH (i.e. non-expedient truth) then whence would come the development of analytic methods that give the pragmatist a target for their attack? The assumption of nonrelativity in truth is an outstandingly important device in dialectic. It is strange to think that communities which had no preference for truth as TRUTH rather than as expediency would be able to come to largely expedient conclusions about the world on this basis. Although it looks like science says, "P works for us... so (definitionally) it is true", the scientific method is important just because it construes truth as something 'outer'. It would be vacuous for Einstein to say, "It's expedient to believe in relativity... hence it is expedient to believe in relativity". Similarly, I claim, there is real content in philosophy.
Expedient views can be lies or delusions. Possibly*, it's expedient not to think of beggars as human (though it's not particularly cohesive with our overall picture). Is there a calculus of expediency by which we can judge the truth of statements? What could justify such a calculus? How could we judge the expediency of our calculus? And so on. My position seems to amount to, "look, Wittgenstein, when we run out of justifying rules we don't say 'this is just what we do'. We say, these principles are our best guess at the TRUTH".
This is tendentious without a proper argument... of course e2 is a difficult place to argue.
In response to some of MacDonaldLarry
It's clear that what I have written above, though it shall stand for reference, misunderstands the issue somewhat. Can pragmatism can defend its viewpoint on truth as something that is not a theory of truth in, say, Davidson's sense, but remains conspicuously relevant to our understanding of truth?. Russell and I presupposed that one must aim at somewhat essentialist/nonrelativist analyses, or systems of logical necessities. This is at variance with what must be the case, says pragmatism, because the standard of truth is necessarily responsive to our practical criteria: our criteria of utility.
While MacDonaldLarry certainly writes much better than I do, our intuitions seem to be merely different. He says:
A community that only relies on a rhetoric of 'practical success' would yield just as much, if not more, working beliefs as a community that relies on a rhetoric of 'objective and impartial truth'.
But think about such a community
. As their (moral, intellectual...) values shifted internally, so the value denoted by 'truth' would shift. But in a case of an internal schism
of values (as between political classes
, perhaps), it seems that that not only would the people often end up talking at cross-purposes over 'duty
' or 'beauty
' (as is so often the case) but could be taking truth itself hostage. Weaned on practical-success (again, whose
success?) rhetoric, they are relativists. They enter a paradoxical position when it comes to understanding those across the schism, because they do not necessarily grant that those people have any understanding of truth themselves. The fact that human communities rarely face such catastrophic breakdowns in communication is (I intuit) due to their entertaining a more essentialist theory of truth than pragmatism thinks is defensible. This claim is what I'm still trying to justify.
By the by, the rather histrionic defence of pragmatism which picks on purported epistemological failures of analytic philosophy -- its inability to shore up its own methodology -- is probably a little misplaced (or at least OT.) Analytic philosophy can talk well of itself, and can conceive of truth and meaning as responsive to practice. But it does this in a different way to pragmatism, a way which (in my view) better respects the mechanisms of language. (This is Davidson again.)
The analytic view is different because it says the most important mechanisms regulating the use of the word 'true' are external to, rather than internal to, any given language. So analysts can embrace the sensitivity of truth to utility, in a sense of 'utility' that appeals not to human values per se but to natural constraints on the practice of language and community.
The pragmatist seems to divorce (analytic) philosophy from other areas of discourse in an arbitrary way. Now while '... is true' is certainly an odd locution and it is plausible that our understanding of truth will not permit free substitution between 'universes' of discourse, there is no particular reason to think that (word-)meanings vary as much between contexts as the relativist would have you believe. For the analyst, philosophy stands apart from other discourse without dissolving into empty rhetoric. Why is it that philosophy "must take into account" features of discourse from everyday life, and what does this mean? It is important to notice that there are certain practical and linguistic constraints on our theories. But it is also quite possible for our philosophical theories to have their own impact on our practices and values. I sympathize with Nagel: not to say that philosophy has special objectivity, just that it certainly has practical significance. The pragmatists vandalize that significance.
Now my writeup used to say:
The analytic tradition says, "it's not impractical for it to be the case that many of my beliefs are false: it's just unlucky".
This is foolish. Analysis does not establish this, but it does ask us to set better bounds than 'practical utility' on the use of the word 'true': bounds that take their form from outside any given set of practices.
As a final rejoinder, how about this:
If pragmatism is true then the analytic/essentialist view of truth must have been false. But if the analytic view is true then it might have been the case that pragmatism was true.
Disclaimer: even though I quite obviously disparage 'postmodern' criticism, I don't want to say that there is no value in the pragmatic viewpoint, or that any given argument is a knock-down one. I am still very much flailing around.