Platonism and Pragmatism

From Rorty’s essay, “Heidegger, Contingency, and Pragmatism”

I side with Rorty here but it does seem there are a lot of anti-humanists on these boards so I though I’d post this here.

I guess I’m really asking two questions:

  1. Do you think that Pragmatism is a dialectical descendant of Platonism (both are defined in the quote) or something that might be better described as coming from a different trajectory?

  2. Is pragmatism a good place to be?

Interesting you put this on the Phil. forum, and not the Polecon.

Your question interests me simply because I’ve never considered Pragmatism in dialectical terms. I have to ask, by pragmatism, are you referring to a state of social organisation which places expediency over principle? or are you referring to it as the function of inquiry as Bacon described?

This being in the Philosophy forum, I assume your question is concerning the ‘function’ of philosophy, or any inquiry for that matter. The dominant Anglo-Saxon tradition of analytic philosophy, is something I consider to be distinctly anti-humanist, far from the continental or Popperian tradition of philosophy ‘as applied to scientific, political and social life’. Its study is for its own sake (excluding artifical intelligence), and was quite fittingly described by Wittgenstein as ‘the solving of puzzles’.

Can you clarify the meaning, or at least, the context of the Pragmatism you refer to.

Pragmatism, to me, means that what makes no difference in practice, makes no difference to your philosophy. Rorty calls himself a neo-pragmatist and the founding fathers are Pierce, James, and Dewey, but I think you can call people like Marx and Hume proto-pragmatists. I threw the dialetical in there because I don’t think you can make a direct line between Platonic forms and Rorty’s vocabulary talk. As you point out, I thought it might be easier to place pragmatism as a kind of Liberalism and I do see Liberalism as the direct outcome of the seventeenth century religious wars rather than attempting to make some kind of connection with Plato. Dialectically, though, you could see Liberalism as a kind of antithesis to Plato’s Republic, no?

Another quick definition: Realists argue that if it’s true it will work, Pragmatists argue that if it works it’s true – or perhaps I should say that it’s trueness becomes unimportant. I do think Popper fits in here somewhere.

Yep.

You make a good point here. Analytic philosophy can be seen as sub-species of scientism and therefore anti-humanist. On the other hand, some of those puzzles are pretty interesting. :smiley:

Heidegger, of course, is pivotal in the Continental tradition and he’s anti-humanist, but of lot of Continental stuff de-centers the subject as they say and that’s usually seen as anti-humanist as well (I don’t see it that way.). But honestly I sometimes see this anti-humanism as a political move to get out of Sartre’s shadow. :smiley:

Geez, how many names can I drop in one post. :frowning:

Without ever having studied Plato in depth, I would argue that his ideas have more in common with classical analytic philosophy rather than the more modern doctrines of pragmatism and positivism. So far as we take this as the definition of Platonic thought:

Then I would say that Platonism has more in common with the metaphysical idealism of individuals such as Descartes, Spinoza and Leibniz or perhaps even the “transcenent idealism” (if that’s the right expression) of Kant (as you could quite easily substitute these names in place of Plato and the quote would still ring true).

If I haven’t got my ancient Greek philosophers confused (which I have a tendancy to do) then surely Plato’s recollection theory, his dialect (that heavily influenced the tennets of Hegelian and Marxian dialects) and so on, show a desire to tap into truth for truths sake (as per analytic philosophy) rather than truth for the sake of purposeful application. Of course, The Republic would appear to be the practical manifestation of Platonic thought (that is, how Plato’s ideas could be used to practically benefit humanity in a political sense) but even with such a political manifesto, Platonic thought seems to me - given my relatively superficial understanding of it all - to be still based highly in what we would now call “metaphysical thought” which would seem to be in direct opposition to the tennets of modern pragmatism and positivism.

Of course, given that my understanding of Platonic thought is almost certainly less developed than anyone else posting in this topic, I’d quite happily rescind my views if pointed in the right direction. :smiley:

Although, having said everything that I did above, I am still a firm believer that if you track all philosophical thought back far enough, you will end up with the ideas of at least one of the big three Greeks (i.e. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle). I don’t think that Platonism and pragmatism are similar in most respects, but I’m sure that if you trace back the geneology of this latter doctrine far enough, as with any other doctrine you will probably end up back in ancient Greece.

Once again, my history of philosophical thought is fairly weak (as I am more concerned with the ideas rather than their history) so if I’ve missed the mark somehow, feel free to let me know.

In a watered down sense, then yes, in a way, pragmatism is a useful school of thought to be familiar with. I don’t believe that the value of thought simply amounts to its practical functionality (which would be, I’m assuming, the train of thought advocated by strict pragmatists) but I do believe that the function or potential impact of an idea on everyday life should be taken into consideration. For instance, personally, I do not understand why some many people chase after proof for the existence of deities (particularly non-interventionalist deities) when attaining individual certainty about the existence of such a being or beings will make little difference (or at least it shouldn’t) to the mode of our existence in day to day living. Surely there are better things to concern ourselves with than this idle curiosity which, at best, can give us little more than certainty as to the nature our prehistoric heritage. If people, in history, had spent less time searching for the proof of Gods existence, and more time examining why exactly it is that they feel the need to prove the existence of such a being, I can only assume that we would be a much more advanced species by now.

Does that constitute a pragmatic inclination within me then?

That seems about right to me. I don’t have the time right now, but it might be fun to examine why Heidegger accuses Pragmatists of Platonism and why Pragmatists and Deconstructionists accuse Heidegger of Platonism. The differences between the two are quite interesting, and, perhaps, correct in their own way – what did you say about everything always ending up with the big three?

Your point concerning Pragmatism is also correct to my mind. I think one danger of Pragmatism is precisely the point you mention, a specific attention to short term concerns and none to long term changes. This is quite different from the seeming endless proofs of God’s existence – and by that I certainly don’t mean that great religious readers shouldn’t be read. I think they should precisely because they may have pragmatic value someday, but not because they are true. :laughing:

One distinction between Pragmatists and Positivists is that Positivists tend to value one description of the world, the scientific one, over others. No Pragmatist would ever belittle the scientific description, it’s far too valuable, but a Pragmatist would argue that to pin your hopes on one description and only one description is still a form of metaphysics or, you guessed it, Platonism.

Also, if I can find the time, I’ll try to post a summary of Heidegger’s argument (the degeneration to Pragmatism) as well as Dewey’s narrative of maturity. As flawed as such a summary will probably be, it still might be useful in stimulating conversation.

I stumbled upon this thread looking through the early days of the ILP forum and I think there are some good ideas in here, and it ties in with something I was talking to James S. about, namely, what is the role of philosophy in the world?

The way the question (1) is phrased here, I would have to answer yes, definitely a “dialectic” descendant, because most (/all) of the main tradition of philosophy is dialectical and either progresses old ideas or opposes them. But as the issue was originally phrased:

I don’t think that necessarily is true. In the modern age we have a greater tendency to lean towards pragmatic thought as a result of the dominance of scientific thought and a scientific worldview, so we seek out a pragmatic interpretation in Plato.

One of the students of Heidegger, Leo Strauss, actually used Plato as a means to combat pragmatism, as did, and even more vehemently, a colleague of his (I’m not sure of the degree of Heidegger’s influence here) Eric Voegelin.

This is equally true of Plato, but it misses something. Plato was in search of the “whole”, to understand all of existence in relation to everything else, and in this there is a deeply metaphysical drive. The underlying mechanisms which run the universe (whether they be gods or any other “natural” force), for Plato, was integral to understanding the place of anything within the whole.

There is a pragmatic relevance to this. The OP defines pragmatism so:

I don’t think Plato can be clearly placed into either of those positions. If you are on a search for what is “good” (so as yet not clearly defined), when a conclusion arises, the conclusion of what is good may be true insofar as that label can correctly apply, but because the thing is good does not necessarily mean it would “work”— this is a definitive aspect of Leo Strauss’s interpretation of The Republic, that it is a work highlighting the dangers of idealism — the search for the truly just city ends up creating a city that is not just at all.

In the Theatetus, Plato shows an incommensurability of knowledge — that complete knowledge cannot be had (which may be disputed), and that theoretical knowledge is inadequately commensurable with situational contingencies.

The Greeks brought in the concept phronesis to fill in this gap (which is something like practical intelligence or prudence) the term is more common in Aristotle than Plato, who uses the word euboulia for a similar concept.

Michael Zuckert, in his essay Why Leo Strauss is not an Aristotelian, argues that in Leo Strauss’s “The City and Man” there is an underlying critique of Aristotle as being the catalyst leading to the modern scientific and pragmatic outlook. Aristotle interpreted the “whole”, and nature, as being inherently good, in the way that Plato had before him. Nature, for Aristotle, would provide all that man needed for a good life, but because man is inherently flawed he would need the help of virtue to be able to live well in this life. According to Zuckert’s narrative interpretation of Strauss, the influence of Aristotle in the middle ages increasingly led to an interpretation that nature was not a hospitable place for humanity (who were flawed by nature), and was something which needed to be conquered by artifice (techne), and this is the impetus for Francis Bacon’s conquering nature.

I think a certain degree of pragmatism is a good thing, or maybe better put a necessary thing, but when pragmatism is combined with an incomplete knowledge of the whole, the danger that arises is taking actions of a grand scale without knowledge of what their future effects will be, as was pointed out in one of the previous comments:

The knowledge we have of the whole (or partial knowledge) plays an influence in what we feel is necessary or desired at any given time. Unless we can have a certainty about true knowledge of the whole, caution should be taken regarding actions which have a chance of effecting our lives on a grand scale.

This, I think, is the reason for the centrality of the question of the good, and the good life, in Plato, so in Plato there is pragmatism but it is beyond the narrow pragmatism understood today.

Pragmatism is what you do when you give up on metaphysics. When you allow yourself the luxury that no matter how hard you have tried you realise that you don’t know shit about the universe and the thread of enquiry you have wasted a life-times pursuit of turn about to be just as crack-pot as anyone else’s.
You have not been clear about which of Plato’s assumptions your text is based on, but let’s face it the Theory of Forms is a self-justifying, solipsistic teenage bit of flim-flam that, were it true, gives Plato and his Greek buddies the keys to heaven, denying it to all barbarians and minor races. Conveniently the true forms of words are Greek ones. Their absolute and universally claimed definitions of truth, justice and the (er…) Greek way, puts Platonists on top.
None of what Plato has to offer lends itself to pragmatic thought.

Pragmatism is a practical place to be, obviously. If Platonism leads to pragmatism it is only in view of the fact that a Platonist completely reverses his philosophy. When he stops allowing the tail of definition to wag the dog of reality, and allows that dog of reality control over its own tail.

Might you be taking Rorty out of context, or was he having a senior moment?

I note this thread is 12 years old. And I was surprised that it is on a philosophical topic. It is a poor reflection on the depths of decadence and depravity that the Forum has suffered in that time.

Just so you know, I revived this thread that was created in 2002, I doubt the OP still uses the forum so he will probably not be responding.

Edit: I see here you noticed that,

I made some comments in the post above which point to another possibility than this:

viewtopic.php?f=1&t=138225#p2503945

So what is meant by the phrase “dialectic successor”?
Is the suggestion that Platonism inevitably leads to pragmatism? In which case the reference to dialectic is redundant.
Or is the suggestion that is you apply a dialectic against platonism you end up rejecting it in favour of a pragmatism?
That the dialectic shown Plato to have misconceived the meaning of concepts?

Sadly we will never know what Brad was on about. After visiting the site for five years, he’s not been back since 2007.

Just out of curiosity, did you read my post? Because I did address those questions:

viewtopic.php?f=1&t=138225#p2503945

“address” is not answer.

Did you read the message, I can’t tell if you actually have a problem with what I wrote or if you’re just being argumentative for arguments sake, because I did answer those questions.

Dialectical successor would mean, that through dialectics, which is a conversant exchange of affirmations and oppositions, the writings of Plato would lead to pragmatism. I wrote about this in my comment above.

The original quote implied that Plato’s philosophy leads to pragmatism, I did state that this is different than a dialectal leading to, and also gave an opinion on this in that comment, which is that Plato’s philosophy must not necessarily lead to pragmatism.

It seems from your responses you didn’t read the comment, but why be argumentative about it?

Your answer is a prevarication, you seem to want it both ways.

You’ve not answered the question at all. Your answer is “Plato through dialectics leads to pragmatism”. This is nonsense. Plato is a philosopher, not a philosophy. Now what aspect of Platonic thought leads to pragmatism, and more especially HOW? Specifically how? It seems incompatible with reason to me, for the reasons stated.

Why be argumentative? Are you kidding? This is a discussion forum - argument is the whole point.

My point about you being argumentative was because you said addressing is not answering, which is semantic quibbling.

Plato leads to pragmatism as a step in philosophical thought, because Plato’s thought addresses actions, for example the Gorgias, asking what is the good? and what constitutes proper action. The way the outcome is dialectically developed is because through consideration and opposition of many possibilities pragmatism arises as a sensible philosophical response to life, it is not directly related to Plato’s thought, but Plato played a large role in bringing philosophical discussion into the realm of human things by recording the thought of Socrates, as opposed to philosophers like Heraclitus and Anaxagoras.

The oxford dictionary defines Dialectic:

  1. The art of investigating or discussing the truth of opinions.

  2. Enquiry into metaphysical contradictions and their solutions.

2.1 The existence or action of opposing social forces, concepts, etc.

and Dialectical:

  1. Relating to the logical discussion of ideas and opinions.

  2. Concerned with or acting through opposing forces:

I was using the term dialectic in the Platonic sense of discussion and inquiry into ideas and opinions. When I said Plato’s thought has lead to pragmatism dialectically I was referring to the dialogical history of philosophical thought. I was not using dialectic in the deterministic sense of Hegelian or Marxian dialectics.

Plato, as an early philosophical enquier into human action began a discussion which is the history of philosophy, the discussion which moved through the inquiry into different ideas and opinions led to pragmatism’s formulation.

You forget that Plato’s main philosophy, the Theory of Forms, is diametrically opposed to Pragmatic action. It does not seek the optimal solutions to anything. It seeks fantastical Forms from which to describe actions.
His dialectic is directed aways from pragmatism.

A practical pragmatism is what humans did before his philosophy. FInding the most useful and practical way to deal with problems directly with what you have, and not trying to find the justice, honour, that is supposed to lie beyond.

My post that you did not address or deal with…

Pragmatism is what you do when you give up on metaphysics. When you allow yourself the luxury that no matter how hard you have tried you realise that you don’t know shit about the universe and the thread of enquiry you have wasted a life-times pursuit of turn about to be just as crack-pot as anyone else’s.
You have not been clear about which of Plato’s assumptions your text is based on, but let’s face it the Theory of Forms is a self-justifying, solipsistic teenage bit of flim-flam that, were it true, gives Plato and his Greek buddies the keys to heaven, denying it to all barbarians and minor races. Conveniently the true forms of words are Greek ones. Their absolute and universally claimed definitions of truth, justice and the (er…) Greek way, puts Platonists on top.
None of what Plato has to offer lends itself to pragmatic thought.

Pragmatism is a practical place to be, obviously. If Platonism leads to pragmatism it is only in view of the fact that a Platonist completely reverses his philosophy. When he stops allowing the tail of definition to wag the dog of reality, and allows that dog of reality control over its own tail.

Might you be taking Rorty out of context, or was he having a senior moment?

I still wonder if you read the original post I formulated to revive this thread, because my comment about Plato dialectically leading to pragmatism (in the sense described in my previous comment) was only a brief portion and more of that comment was consisted of a description of how following Plato’s thought closely does not lead to pragmatism.

Plato’s theory of forms is an integral part of what is presented in his philosophy but it is not the entirety of it. The dialogue Gorgias, for example, has discussions whose outcomes are applicable to pragmatic considerations, and through dialectical or dialogical contemplation of the ideas one may arrive at conclusions opposing the ones given in the dialogue. Here is an example from the Jowett translation found online:

The topic is not strictly metaphysical, but addresses concrete actions: the use of rhetoric, the power of tyrants, acts of fools… these ideas do lend themselves to pragmatic contemplation, and this is not the only text of this nature. The Statesman, for example, discusses the ways in which theory does not match up to practice, so the true statesman needs to act outside of the law in order to safeguard the state. That is a practical consideration, I alluded to this in my first post with this:

One need not follow the conclusions of Plato’s interlocutors completely in order to philosophically contemplate their propositions.

You seem to be implying that because Plato’s thought leads away from pragmatism it would be impossible to contemplate that thought philosophically and come to pragmatic conclusions of one’s own.

This may very well be true:

but it is also the case that the history of philosophical thought has gone through Plato and a number of other metaphysicians and arrived at pragmatism, the judgement we pass on either route aside.

The dialogue (Gorgias) ends with Plato making a statement metaphysically conceived that people should do good because they wish to avoid punishment in the afterlife by the gods. In this sense there is metaphysics at the core of the issue, but the metaphysical issue has pragmatic consequences (even if based on false assumptions). So even if we say that the conclusion presented by Socrates was a lie, or based on crackpot assumptions, they are intended to have pragmatic consequences.

Here is some of my original comment:

And

I have made reference to three Platonic dialogues in this comment: Gorgias, The Statesman, and Theatetus, as well as work from other Plato scholars.

Also, I am not the OP, nor am I channelling him, so I cannot speak for his comments or his use of other philosophers (Rorty).