Tuesday 20 July 2010

QUOTE[S] OF THE DAY: Pragmatism

Since “pragmatism” is John Key’s word of the week, a triumph of spinelessness over any principle whatever, it’s appropriate then that “pragmatism” also be the subject of the Quote of the Day.

So then, pragmatists--what the hell are they about?

_Quote [The Pragmatists] declared that philosophy must be practical and that practicality consists of dispensing with all absolute principles and standards—that there is no such thing as objective reality or permanent truth—that truth is that which works, and its validity can be judged only by its consequences…”
                             - Ayn Rand, For the New Intellectual

Which means…

_QuotePragmatism … is a rationalization for the concrete-bound, range-of-the-moment, anti-conceptual mentalities that long for liberation from principles and future.”
        - Ayn Rand, “Philosophic Detection”

Sounds destructive. So what are  the implications of that …
… for politics:

_QuoteThe two points central to the pragmatist ethics are: a formal rejection of all fixed standards—and an unquestioning absorption of the prevailing standards. The same two points constitute the pragmatist approach to politics, which, developed most influentially by Dewey, became the philosophy of the Progressive movement in this country (and of most of its liberal descendants down to the present day).”
                              - Leonard Peikoff, “Pragmatism Versus America”

… for education:

_QuoteRarely, if ever, has a free nation capitulated to [a destructive new philosophy] as rapidly, as extensively, as abjectly, as America did [to pragmatism] . When the country surrendered its educational institutions—in countless forms, direct and indirect, public and private, from nursery school on up—to the legion of Progressive educators spawned, above all, by Dewey, it formally delivered its youth into the hands of the philosophy of pragmatism, to be ‘reconstructed’ according to the pragmatist image of man. It was a development which, in a few decades, created a new intellectual establishment in America…
    The goal of the Progressive indoctrinators was not, however, to impose a specific system of ideas on the student, but to destroy his capacity to hold any firm ideas, on any subject…”
                            - Leonard Peikoff, “Pragmatism Versus America”

_QuotePsychologically, Pragmatism lobotomized the country's intellectuals: John Dewey's theory of ‘Progressive’ education (which has dominated the schools for close to half a century), established a method of crippling a child's conceptual faculty and replacing cognition with ‘social adjustment.’ It was and is a systematic attempt to manufacture tribal mentalities.”
        - Ayn Rand, “The Missing Link”

… for actual problem-solving?

_QuoteWhat, then, is left to man? The sensation, the wish, the whim, the range and the concrete of the moment. Since no solution to any problem is possible, anyone's suggestion, guess or edict is as valid as anyone else's—provided it is narrow enough.
     To give you an example: if a building were threatened with collapse and you declared that the crumbling foundation has to be rebuilt, a pragmatist would answer that your solution is too abstract, extreme, unprovable, and that immediate priority must be given to the need of putting ornaments on the balcony railings, because it would make the tenants feel better.
     There was a time when a man would not utter arguments of this sort, for fear of being rightly considered a fool. Today, Pragmatism has not merely given him permission to do it and liberated him from the necessity of thought, but has elevated his mental default into an intellectual virtue, has given him the right to dismiss thinkers (or construction engineers) as naive, and has endowed him with that typically modern quality: the arrogance of the concrete-bound, who takes pride in not seeing the  forest fire, or the forest, or the trees, while he is studying one inch of bark on a rotted tree stump…”
        - Ayn Rand, “How To Read (And Not To Write)”

… and for morality:

_QuoteBy itself, as a distinctive theory, the pragmatist ethics is contentless. It urges men to pursue “practicality,” but refrains from specifying any “rigid” set of values that could serve to define the concept. As a result, pragmatists—despite their repudiation of all systems of morality—are compelled, if they are to implement their ethical approach at all, to rely on value codes formulated by other, non-pragmatist moralists. As a rule the pragmatist appropriates these codes without acknowledging them; he accepts them by a process of osmosis, eclectically absorbing the cultural deposits left by the moral theories of his predecessors—and protesting all the while the futility of these theories.
        - Leonard Peikoff, The Ominous Parallels

_QuotePragmatism wedded to "right and wrong" (i.e., to morality) is a philosophical contradiction in terms, as bad a contradiction as, for instance, an attempt to preach an atheism wedded to God. Morality is a code of principles; Pragmatism denies the validity of any principles, moral or epistemological. Pragmatism holds expediency as the only criterion of human values and actions. Truth or falsehood, it claims, cannot be known in advance of action: truth is "that which works" in a particular situation. According to this standard, the only way [a politician would] know that they were doing wrong in their particular situation, was by getting caught.”
        - Leonard Peikoff, “Pragmatism Versus America”

(Come in Len Brown, Shane Jones, Chris Carter, Uncle Tom Cobley and all.)

…and so, to the partial explanation for today’s political culture:

_QuoteAs a rule, it is an accident whether the smart young intellectual wheeler-dealers emitted by the colleges turn to the Left or to the Right. More often than not, those who turn to the Right do so because the Left is overcrowded and they see less competition for opportunities to climb, on the intellectually arid rocks of the Right. It is not a matter of political principles. What principles? Pragmatism has taught them that there are no such things.
But the big dilemma for all the pragmatists of the Right, is: what are they to fight and by what means, if principles are inoperative? Politics is a field in which one deals with ideas and it requires the ability to argue, to discuss, to persuade. What does one do in politics if one has discarded the whole realm of ideas? One fights men.
        - Ayn Rand, “Brother, You Asked For It”

(Welcome to the politics of the blogosphere.  And of the parliament.)

…and finally, what’s the actual “cash value” of a philosophy that itself boasts of ifs practicality?  It’s that “truth” is what’s asserted by public polls.

_QuoteIf you doubt the power of philosophy to set the course and shape the destiny of human societies, observe that our mixed economy is the literal, faithfully carried-out product of Pragmatism—and of the generation brought up under its influence. Pragmatism is the philosophy which holds that there is no objective reality or permanent truth, that there are no absolute principles, no valid abstractions, no firm concepts, that anything may be tried by rule-of-thumb, that objectivity consists of collective subjectivism, that whatever people wish to be true, is true, whatever people wish to exist, does exist—provided a consensus says so.
        - Ayn Rand, “The New Fascism: Rule By Consensus”

---and so, in summary:

_QuoteAbove all, the pragmatists stress ‘practicality’—which, according to their teachings, consists in action divorced from thought and reality.
     The pragmatists stress the "cash value" of ideas. But the Americans did not know the "cash value" of the pragmatist ideas they were buying. They did not know that pragmatism could not deliver on its promise of this-worldly success because, at root, it is a philosophy which does not believe in this—or any—world.”
                            - Leonard Peikoff, “Pragmatism Versus America”

Which is what the most famous modern practitioner of pragmatism once demonstrated for all the world to see.

On that, more tomorrow.

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