Saturday, January 30, 2016

Principles or Pragmatics?

Pragmatism vs. Principle. Which one should win? This comes up in many areas of life, including politics, religion, finances, etc. In either case, the popular idea seems to be that if you want to get the result you truly desire, pragmatism is king. And there is a certain sense in which that is technically correct: there are times where our principles will not yield us the results we want.

However, I think there is a fundamental issue often overlooked in the popular discussions on pragmatics: the issue that pragmatism is itself a principle. Just as one cannot avoid having a worldview or particular philosophy (on pain of self-refutation), so one cannot avoid the snare of principled thinking, even in pragmatic considerations.

For consider this: one thinks one should be pragmatic in a particular situation, in order to gain x. After all, the only reason this is even a debate is because people do what works. The “principle of pragmatism” is applied any time pragmatic considerations are invoked precisely because the very definition of pragmatism entails doing what works.

Why is this important? What affect can this have on discussions? It seems there is only one contribution I have with this idea: one must admit that principles govern his life, and he must be aware of them. Being aware of our principles allows us to evaluate them and the way we see the world. This is important because we want to have an accurate picture of the world, instead of a distorted one.

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