“The point, for Hilary Putnam (HP), is that neither James, nor pragmatism generally speaking, is committed to anti-realism, if that means a rejection of a reality that is external to agents, or committed to truth as subjective or mere expediency (or “whatever works”). Rather, for HP (and James), truth is not a dyadic relation between facts and beliefs; instead it is a triadic relation, among facts, beliefs, and situated agents. He remarks repeatedly that what is at issue in the relation between thought and object is “ways something can be,” but the ways something can be are not merely given and are always open for further interpretation. There is no single way that something is or can be, but there are ways that something cannot be. For HP, knowledge of facts presupposes knowledge of categorizations and values, but, conversely, knowledge of categorizations and values presuppose knowledge of facts. Truth is normative as well as descriptive. Simple correspondence between word and object (or sentence and states of affairs) provides no, or very little, explanatory force or value. The pragmatist in HP contends that, since inquiry is never disinterested, questions of what is the case, how we know it, and why we care, are intimately intertwined. The realist in HP contends that, however inquiry is to be addressed, there are objective and reasonable standards, independent of any agent’s interests, but not independent of all interests. Expediency, both HP and James insist, is not a sufficient criterion for truth or a commitment to what is real. The beans are “out there,” but what even counts as being a bean involves categorizations, and truths about beans are, in part, dependent upon those categorizations and (cognitive) interests. There is no view from nowhere, but there is something viewed! HP insists over and over that, while there might not be a single correct description of the world, there certainly are many incorrect descriptions. (How many stars are there in the Milky Way galaxy? There might not be a single correct answer to this question, but “Twelve” is definitely incorrect.)”

The passage above come from a great review, written by David Boersema, of what sounds like a fascinating book titled, Hilary Putnam and Ruth Anna Putnam, Pragmatism as a Way of Life: The Lasting Legacy of William James and John Dewey, by David Macarthur. (Hat tip to Leon from AfterNature for this one.)

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *