A Question on Pragmaticism Dec 30, 2018 | 3 minutes

I was recently reading about Pragmaticism (for an article I wrote here: Why Christians Must be Wary of Pragmaticism), and found the following definition in the Century Dictionary from 1909:

pragmaticism (prag-mat′ i-sizm), n. [pragmatic + ism.] A special and limited form of pragmatism, in which the pragmatism is restricted to the determining of the meaning of concepts (particularly of philosophic concepts) by consideration of the experimental differences in the conduct of life which would conceivably result from the affirmation or denial of the meaning in question.1

What I find interesting about this definition is the two uses of the word “meaning”. Take a look again at the definition again and focus on the use of the word “meaning”:

pragmaticism (prag-mat′ i-sizm), n. [pragmatic + ism.] A special and limited form of pragmatism, in which the pragmatism is restricted to the determining of the meaning of concepts (particularly of philosophic concepts) by consideration of the experimental differences in the conduct of life which would conceivably result from the affirmation or denial of the meaning in question.

This definition seems to presuppose that there are two, distinct meanings for every concept. The first time the word “meaning” is used in the definition above, it describes a meaning which is determined using pragmatism. The second use of the word “meaning” appears to be referring to a meaning essential to the concept which, by affirmation or denial, will produce “experimental differences” from which the first meaning can be derived.

I find this confusing. In my reading about Pragmaticism, I never (or at least don’t recall having) ran into this concept of two, distinct meanings. In fact, this concept seems to fly in the face of what C. S. Peirce said in Illustrations of the Logic of Science:

“Our idea of anything is our idea of its sensible effects; and if we fancy that we have any other we deceive ourselves, and mistake a mere sensation accompanying the thought for a part of the thought itself."2

If “our idea of anything is our idea of its sensible effects” and the definition previously presented is correct, how can we even ascertain either of the two meanings presented in the definition (the one determined by pragmatism and the essential one)? If our concepts are only based on its “sensible effects”, then we would not be able to understand the essential meaning whose acceptance or denial would allow us to arrive at the meaning prescribed by Pragmaticism (and there may not even be an essential meaning).

Granted, I could be misunderstanding Pragmaticism and/or the definition presented in the dictionary; it is also possible that the definition is not accurate. If you think I am wrong or have misunderstood something, I would love to hear from you to help me better understand Pragmaticism.

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About me

Welcome! I’m Floyd Hightower.

I am a programmer who is passionate about making the world a better place using technology.

Principles

Life Principles

Here are some of the principles I try apply to every area of my life:

  • Let your ideas see the light of day
  • Always be willing to accept feedback and criticism (even when it is poorly delivered)
  • Rome ne s’est pas faite en un jour (Rome wasn’t built in a day)
  • Don’t be too proud to follow a good example
  • Loose ends always unravel
  • Unanswered questions never go away
  • The Tisroc won’t live forever whether you want him to or not
  • Talk less; listen more
  • Use more semi-colons
  • Use oxford commas
  • Learn how to politely say “No”
  • Don’t let the possibility of failure scare you away from starting something
  • To do something, you have to do something
  • A whiteboard is worth a thousand laptops
  • Ideas have consequences