Critics accuse pragmatists of “encouraging us to see things as we would have them and not as they are” (Velasquez 2011, p. 396). Is there truth in their criticism?
What Is Pragmatism?
A pragmatic statement is directly categorized according to its usefulness. As Velasquez states, “A statement is true if people can use that statement to achieve results that satisfy their interests” (p. 389). Upon first glance, this statement feeds into critics’ view of pragmatism as a selfish and possibly deluded act.
If a person was to act strictly in accordance with their own beliefs and within the borders of their own cultural and lifestyle biases, they could be said to be living pragmatically, based on how well these principles work for them. This would, in turn, give critics leverage when they argue that a pragmatist could live within the confines of their own reality and fail to find any truth outside of themselves.
What Is Truth?
This particular view of pragmatism has been taken to the extreme, as most people have some sort of innate gauge of truth that lies outside of their own beliefs. However, even the concept of what occurs outside oneself is debatable, thus circling back to the intended nature of the original question.
Each person who views a specific situation will do so with the use of their own unique perceptions. This does not mean that two or more people cannot arrive at the same conclusion, but the paths they take will undoubtedly be different. Taking the pragmatic model into consideration, it seems that initial theorists were focused more on the individual’s notion of truth for the path, or statement, than on that of the final destination. Therefore, several different people could arrive at the same conclusion while having taken several unique paths.
Example of Pragmatism
To put this example in concrete terms, begin with a fact that two people believe to be undeniably true: grass is green. One person may suggest that grass is green because someone with a box of green crayons and a lot of time on their hands made it that way. Another person may say that grass contains the pigment known as chlorophyll. In both cases, the resulting fact is the same: the grass is green. Considering the view of pragmatism, one could argue that either description is correct, assuming that each person is satisfied by the truth of their statement.
Is Pragmatism Unrealistic?
Applying this example to the criticism at hand, it is easy to see how critics may find fault with pragmatism. Yet, given that each situation a person encounters is colored by their own perception, it is difficult to see how anyone can identify a reality in which things exist as they are rather than how each person views them. Even taking the extreme nature of the earlier example into account, there is not a blatant problem with the pragmatic allowance of people locating their own avenue if the final destination is the same–particularly if the noted avenue is hidden to all but the individual.
Velasquez, Manuel. Philosophy: A Text with Readings, 11th Ed. Boston: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning, 2011. Print.