In defense against the identification of pragmatism with relativism, the following is a pragmatic critique of the problematic in which Putnam's pragmatic realism is embroiled. Indeed, Rorty finds Putnam an interesting thinker, and probably has more in common with him, than not. There is yet wide divergence in their viewpoints, particularly, at least in my mind, in terms of Putnam's concern with the problem of relativism in the first place.

"Nobody wants to be a relativist." This is, at least, true of pragmatists. The question for a thinker like Rorty (or his forefathers William James and John Dewey) is not so much whether or not there could be a world independent of an individual human being, which is the form of the problem posed in the node above, but whether or not there actually exists a world independent of any practical and social human activity. The answer to the latter question, for the pragmatist, is "no". As for the former question, the pragmatist feels that it is all caught up in the metaphysical and epistemological rhetoric that took philosophy down the wrong path (of Kant and analytic philosophy - see the pragmatic critique of analytic philosophy) in the first place.

Unfortuantely, for the pragmatists, Putnam's argument addresses the wrong question. The issue, for a pragmatist, is not so much whether or not there is a mind-independent universe, but whether or not there is a human-independent universe. And, since we are human beings, the pragmatist thinks that it is somewhat useless to think about a universe in which we don't exist. We might say that pragmatists want to reinvest philosophy with the obvious truths of anthropology and sociology that everybody already believes (i.e., humans are social creatures, humans have two eyes, an enlarged frontal lobe).

The above node is interesting insofar as a particularly salient issue for the pragmatic critique of epistemology and metaphysics is the identification of pragmatism with relativism. Pragmatists are not relativists, because freeing the universe from the constraints of an individual human mind (that may or may not be instantiated universally) certainly does not free it from the severe social constraints of the human community. Stanley Fish makes the point that, although an individual is epistemically free to conceive of the world in various ways, the individual is certainly not so free in any pragmatic, social, or moral sense.

The above node author summed up the objectivist critique of relativism, which is often wrongly used as an argument against an ethics pragmatism: "Murder might be wrong for most people, but if it's ok for some, there's no objective fact of the matter we can appeal to." According to the pragmatist this is exactly right, and there is nothing to lament. Whereas the objectivist laments the so-called 'loss' of an objective fact that demonstrably proves the ethical wrongness of murder, the pragmatist sees this as our (our human) particular state of affairs, and nothing obviates this more than the phenomenon of Auschwitz, in which there was so obviously not a logic or reason that could be called upon to demonstrate the wrongness of Hitler's vicious treatment of the European Jews, Russian POWs, Gypsies, Homeosexuals, terminally ill, elderly, etc..

The pragmatist is perfectly aware of a fact that the objectivist seems to be in constant denial of. Sometimes, you just can't convince another person that murder is wrong. Likewise, sometimes you can't convince them that 2 and 2 is 4. When things break down like this, there obviously aren't any objective facts we can appeal to. Usually we wind up appealing to some force, be it violent or capitalistic. The pragmatist sees the ethical task being one not so much of proof of ethical truths, but remedy of ethical aporia, and development of non-violent forms of theories, solutions, and remedies.

The pragmatist position might end up looking like the relativist's, but the important difference is that the pragmatist doesn't enter into the debate with the relavist and objectivist. The relativist starts from the absence of objectivity and argues towards a relativistic ethics and epistemology. The pragmatist, on the other hand, starts from the presence of practical human action and argues towards an ethics of praxis, an ethics of aporia, an ethics of remedy, a practical ethics in which all salient claims are of concern. The motivation, it might be claimed (as elevator music noted to me) is different, but the conclusion is the same. However, to call the pragmatist a relativist is to attribute to them an argument that occurs in a debate that they were never interested in in the first place. This would be like a Christian claiming that a primitive tribal religion is Satanic. The primitive religion might end up at the same point (i.e., hell, disbelief, nonacceptance of Christ), from the point of view of the Christian, yet to somebody on the outside of the theological debate, we can see the problem with this sort of blame.

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