maandag 23 juli 2007

Chris on Metaphysical Pragmatism

Chris at Mixing Memory has a worthwhile post criticizing what he calls "metaphysical pragmatism", the idea that, because of the successes of science, philosophical knowledge can be based on scientific knowledge in a way which obviates metaphysics. A commenter makes the point that the pragmatism involved was not the pragmatism of Peirce. Based on my (limited) knowledge of Peirce, I agree - and in one passage he minces no words in criticizing the metaphysical pragmatists of his day:

"The psychical sciences, especially psychology, are, if possible, even more necessitated to assume general principles that cannot be proved or disproved by their ordinary methods of work. The philosopher alone is equipped with the facilities for examining such "axioms" and for determining the degree to which confidence may safely be reposed in them. Find a scientific man who proposed to get along without any metaphysics - not by any means every man who holds the ordinary reasonings of metaphysicians in scorn - and you have found one whose doctrines are thoroughly vitiated by the crude and uncriticized metaphysics with which they are packed. We must philosophize, said the great naturalist Aristotle, if only to avoid philosophizing. Every man of us has a metaphysics, and has to have one; and it will influence his life greatly. Far better, then, that that metaphysics should be criticized and not allowed to run loose. A man may say "I will content myself with common sense." I, for one, am with him there, in the main. (...) But the difficulty is to determine what really is and what is not the authoritative decision of common sense and what is merely obiter dictum. In short, there is no escape from the need of a critical examination of "first principles"." (CP 1.129)

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