§ Beard to Beard with William James: Truth as a Practical Notion

images4From Pragmatism: A New Name for some Old Ways of Thinking, William James on the practical nature of truth:

“[T]here can be no difference anywhere that doesn’t make a difference elsewhere – no difference in abstract truth that doesn’t express itself in a difference in concrete fact and in conduct consequent upon that fact, imposed on somebody, somehow, somewhere and somewhen.”

What we hold to be true works for us–somehow–up to the most abstract and seemingly inconsequential products of the imagination. Or it doesn’t work for us anymore but remains as an obdurate sedimentation of some past mode of conduct that did once work. That is, truth (remember, lowercase “t”) is subordinated to the contingencies of broader life. These comprise some of the more acceptable and basic pragmatist notions which James vigorously helped shape.

Now, we can only presume that these notions themselves become validated because “truth-as-what-works-for-us” is a notion that at this juncture itself works for us. Can we know this given that life is not and cannot be structured like an experiment with an observer behind it? Even more so if we are asked to perform a meta-experiment!

If we pursue this line, what are we left with but an arch-contingency where truth annihilates itself? What lies beyond? Is it release? Or further entanglement? Is it just chaos? Or is it some kind of fluid structure of reality itself? Bah, how unbearably abstract!

I’m not sure how such a notion might work for anybody, though. Oh, wait. It could be lingering as a shadow of metaphysics, which seems to always inform philosophy. In this case, a shadow of pragmatism: nothing but a question about the contingency of the notion of contingent truth.

Some quietism, implied in much pragmatist thought, would certainly work this morning. Instead, this.

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