Re: Science and Philosophy

Brian Manning Delaney (
Thu, 09 Sep 1999 12:14:42 -0700

Dan Fabulich wrote:
> 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.

Probably that latter (though I can't be certain -- I did read a lot of pragmatists and utilitarians for a long time; but I'm not up on contemporary pragmatism), where "funny" means unusual (in this group of people).

> 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?"


> Pragmatism isn't a theory of truth. It is a
> theory about what we should believe, which
> grounds itself in the philosophy of ethics.

Appreciate your comments, though I don't see how the same, or a similar problem wouldn't arise again. But tell me what your answer to the below would be (and/or change the questions and answers, if I've missed what you're driving at).

-How do you know what to believe?
"Believe what works."

-What do you mean by "what works"?
"What's ethical."

-What's ethical?
- [Your answer here.]

Actually, I imagine your answer would be very long, and don't expect you to give it. But I've found that most answers to that question come back to utility. So there's still a circle, but just a slightly more complicated one.


Brian Manning Delaney