A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Trick Question

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on January 24, 2007

Do those who believe that ‘the world is such and such’ for pragmatic reasons, believe that ‘the world is such and such for pragmatic reasons’?

Houses being in color for some reason (pragmatic or otherwise)
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9 Responses to “Trick Question”

  1. Clark said

    What do you mean by “for pragmatic reasons”?

  2. Hi Clark,

    By “pragmatic” I mean something like… reasons which aren’t based in the understanding of the phenomenon.

    Here are few examples:
    We believe that “the quantum system collapses so and so” for pragmatic reasons (it makes most sense that it does given all the experiments, theories we have, etc…), but surely we don’t believe that “the quantum system collapses so and so because of those reasons”.

    We believe that “mathematics is effective way of describing physical phenomena in the universe” for pragmatic reasons (we have succeeded to give descriptions of the relations between different variables of a system that give us great power of prediction, and partly on base of which our engineers built rockets, computers and everything), but surely we don’t believe that “the mathematics is effective in describing physical phenomena in the universe for pragmatic reasons”.

  3. stephen said

    Whose pragmatic reasons would the world be such and such for? God’s?

    If so, and God is good, then this is the best of all possible worlds.

    Is that the answer? What’s the trick?

  4. Hi Stephen,

    Interesting answer!

    I posted the question because I started reading some lectures on pragmatism by William James (there is link to his works in my bookmarks to the right), and he says there:

    The reasons why we call things true, is the reason why they are true.

    I guess at least, he would be inclined to answer “yes” to the question.

    But, even outside of this, that connection between reasons for holding the belief that something is such and such, and the reason for that thing being such and such seems interesting to me, so I thought it is worth posting.

    (Sorry for the misleading title – It is not much of a trick question, except being named as a trick question, and not being one, it becomes one. Just kidding.)

  5. Clark said

    I’m still trying to grasp your use of pragmatic. It seems like it means “most probable given our evidence” but that the evidence isn’t strong enough to justify the belief partially due to our level of ignorance. Sort of like taking two jellybeans from a bag of 1000 and deciding they all are black because the two drawn were black. Is that roughly what you mean?

    Not to be a semantic stickler, but I always try to use pragmatic in the Kantian and Peircean senses roughly in terms of the etymology – in terms of purposes or uses of humans. But perhaps that’s what you may mean too? Some of your reasons do seem grounded in human aims and behaviors. i.e. success at prediction or technology as utility.

    The distinction you make between believing pragmatically and having the phenomena caused or grounded by those reasons is a good one, of course. (Does anyone outside of certain extreme idealists disagree?) Of course mathematics is a trickier situation since so many folks are anti-realist and thus may, in fact, that math is grounded by what you term pragmatic reasons. (This is the basis of Putnam’s adoption of a kind of quasi-empirical methods for mathematics, I believe)

    The question of the relation of the universe being so mathematical and these anti-realist conceptions is an interesting one. Not what you brought up but perhaps entailed by that last example you gave. It is partially the reason why there are still skeptics of mathematical anti-realism. The relation between physics and mathematics is a hard one to satisfactorily explain via anti-realism. But then mathematical platonism seems even more disturbing. I suspect many taking a middle ground do think that mathematics is effective for describing the universe for what you term pragmatic reasons.

  6. Clark said

    BTW – your quote by James in #4 probably can’t be separated from Peirce’s pragmatic maxim. That is the meaning of any term (and thus related to truth) is wrapped up in our ability to measure or potentially measure in some possible world the predicate in question. Thus we call grass green, for instance, because of the reasons we believe it is green. Those reasons are our potential to measure that it is, in fact, green. That ability to measure. James sometimes goes a little too cavalierly in his use of this. Although that might be tied to Peirce being an experimentalist, logicist and physicist and James being a psychologist but relatively inexperienced in lab work.

    One could perhaps call this connection between reasons for belief and reasons for being as due to the interactionist view of truth that most of the pragmatists held. (Despite their differences) In Peirce at least, this goes back to his critique of medieval philosophy and can be found in his discussion of Berkeley and his errors. Probably more than anyone wanted me to comment on. But Peirce’s “Fraser’s The Works of George Berkeley” really is worth reading in the context even if one rejects Peirce’s form of pragmatism. This commentary is helpful as well.

  7. Hi Clark,

    As I mentioned in another comment, the motivation for the question partly came from my reading James, and as far as I can see (I have went just through first 3 lectures), your explanation of the term is what it is intended to mean by him too.

    As for the question of who would disagree with the distinction between believing something for a reason vs. it being grounded in that reason, that’s what I was wonder after reading that quote from James: “The reasons why we call things true, is the reason why they are true.”. Here is why:

    Let’s say that the we have proposition P – “The world is such and such”.
    (1)Claiming that P is true, would mean claiming P.

    If we use the quote from James, we now can have:
    (2)”The reason why we say that P is true, is the reason why P is true”

    From (1) and (2) we have the conclusion:
    The reason why we say that P, is the reason why P.

    So, it seems that we get to the question in the post.

    But, as I said, I haven’t gone through all the lectures, so I wonder if James would agree that the argument is valid according to his philosophical view.

  8. Clark said

    Yeah, I wasn’t disagreeing as such. More just being the annoying guy who takes a tangent to discuss something he’s interested in. BTW – I put up a second post right after that appears to have dissipated into the aether.

    To your point, one has to keep in mind that truth for Peirce and (at least at times) James is some deferred “in the long run” when sufficient inquery has taken place. So P isn’t true by correspondence to reality but because of the reasons this future body of inquirers believes it to be true. The issue is more of obtaining a fixation of belief due to inquiry.

    So that does clarify why the pragmatists wouldn’t see a distinction. Which is also why I asked about your use of “pragmatic” as I wasn’t sure if you intended this pragmatic point or not.

  9. Found the comment. Sorry for that, WordPress swallows good comments together with bad ones sometimes.
    Thanks for the helpful comment and the pointers!

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