Re: Science and Philosophy

Dan Fabulich (
Wed, 8 Sep 1999 15:14:33 -0400 (EDT)

On Wed, 8 Sep 1999, Brian Manning Delaney wrote:

> I think this is the main open question, yes. I have not seen an argument that
> validity (or truth) should be understood as utility that isn't circular. This is
> the problem with pragmatism (especially the American variety). -->
> ---------------------------------------------------
> -How do you know utility is what should count as validity (or truth)?
> "It works."
> -How do you know "It works" is a valid criterion?
> "It works."
> ---------------------------------------------------

Speaking as an American pragmatist, ;), I feel that I have to step forward and defend the theory. I think you're either misunderstanding a given pragmatist's argument or else you're approaching it from a very funny angle.

Asking "what is valid/true" doesn't ask the really important question, the pragmatist argues; instead of asking "what is true," we should ask "what should we believe?" Of course, one simple answer to that might be "all and only true things," which leads us to try to figure out what things may or may not be true.

However, this answer may not be the best answer we can give; if you happen to be a utilitarian/pragmatist, your answer will be "you should believe x iff believing in x will maximize utility." As many pragmatists and many critics of pragmatism are fond of pointing out, despite the fact that the utilitarian answer and the simple answer will probably overlap a great deal, they probably don't overlap 100%.

It seems to me that you've interpreted pragmatism to be a theory of necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be valid/true, which, I'd argue, no sane pragmatist would actually claim to do. Indeed, any theory of truth which establishes necessary and sufficient criteria for something to be true is inherently circular. Pragmatism isn't a theory of truth. It is a theory about what we should believe, which grounds itself in the philosophy of ethics.


-unless you love someone-
-nothing else makes any sense-

e.e. cummings