Friday, January 07, 2005
Mr. Goldberg, the honor is all mine. Thanks for the link and the kind words.
Small follow-up to the post, though: I note that I say up top that Pragmatism is appealing because it appears to me to describe my own - and many other people's - real way of thinking. I appear to contradict myself mid-piece by saying that it may be "impossible" to think like a pragmatist. Let me clarify.
Pragmatism does indeed sound like a good description of how I think I think, and how I think many other people think. But it may not be possible to be a good, honest Pragmatist about one's own beliefs and actually hold those beliefs in the manner that you pragmatically ought. If you actually believe something, it's true for you. If you will yourself to believe something, or conduct yourself as if you believe something, do you really believe it? Is it pragmatically true for you?
One (to me unappealing) way out of this bind is to take a kind of Straussian reverse-Plato turn, as follows. The elect know that much of what we believe is true (our souls are immortal, we are individuals with rights) is only true pragmatically, not Platonically - that is to say, it's true because it works, not because it's True in some absolute sense unrelated to human psychology. But most people can't follow this logic; to them, if something isn't True then it's, like, not true. So, being pragmatists, the elect behave as if what is true is True, and thereby preserve morality, order, etc. Why this is Straussian is obvious; noble lie and all that. It's reverse-Platonism because, contra Plato, the pragmatic elect knows that there are no Forms, there is no Truth from which we can deduce anything. Outside of the cave it's dark, not sunny.
I find this line of thinking profoundly unappealing, as I said. But I don't think it's an uncommon way of thinking among smart people.