THE INCONVENIENT TRUTH ABOUT PRAGMATISM – and why it matters:
Following his ascent to notoriety when confronted by “gender warriors” at the University of Toronto late last year, Dr Jordan Peterson found himself entangled in a debate with Sam Harris (Waking Up with Sam Harris, January 21/17) that offered a truly rare insight into a fundamental philosophical dilemma. What is the nature of truth?
Having begun their discussion in general agreement on the broader issues, their talk ground to a halt when it became clear that there was an incredible chasm between how each viewed “truth.” For over an hour, their attempt to reconcile the two very different views of truth merely widened the chasm between them. The discussion was halted and a call was put out to their listeners for insight to their dilemma.
Today’s Just Right guest Paul McKeever offered exactly that, and his assessment of “what went wrong” in the Peterson-Harris exchange drew the attention of Peterson himself. At the root of their dilemma, and indeed at the root of Professor Peterson’s problems with “gender warriors,” suggests Paul, was a deep and long held misunderstanding about the nature of pragmatism.
As a philosophy, pragmatism is an “action oriented” way of thinking about reality and truth. Is “truth” strictly a “moral” concept, or is it possible to say that something can be true without any moral judgement attached? To the first proposition, pragmatism says yes; to the second, no.
Jordan Peterson’s very correct view of pragmatism, when that pragmatism was so clearly described by one who practices it, is shocking and difficult for most people to accept. Yet all pragmatists operate on the same unspoken premise, and therein lies the danger to those unaware. In the end, “pragmatism” doesn’t really “work” as a means of acquiring knowledge.
Pragmatically speaking, today’s discussion about pragmatism is an “experience” that is not merely “sufficiently right,” but Just Right.