More dispatches from my pragmatism seminar.
C.I. Lewis offers a pragmatic conception of the a priori which treats the conceptual scheme by which one interprets experience as one among many possible schemes, selected for its practicality and usefulness.
Nelson Goodman invokes James and Peirce. He replaces natural kinds with relevant kinds which are “habitual or traditional or devised for a new purpose.” The worlds we live in are world versions which “alter with circumstances and objectives.”1
I noted in my earlier posts that Peirce, James, and Dewey share what Isaac Levi calls belief/doubt model of enquiry: Enquiry begins with the disturbance of doubt. Functionally, it is aimed at settling the doubt and replacing it with belief.
The focus is on what Jane Addams calls preplexities— situations in which habit and experience come into tension. The model is also explicit in Mead, Quine, Morton White, and others.2 So it has as strong a claim to be a defining commitment of pragmatism as anything does.
Yet it seems absent from Lewis and Goodman. For them, although conceptual schemes or world versions are selected for practical reasons, there is no special emphasis on the practical tension which leads to the revision of them. So, although they have pragmatic philosophies, it would not be too pedantic to deny that they are pragmatists.
It’s not even clear that Goodman would disagree. He writes in the foreward to Ways of Worldmaking:
I think of this book as belonging in that main stream of modern philosophy that began when Kant exchanged the structure of the world for the structure of the mind, continued when C.I. Lewis exchanged the structure of the mind for the structure of concepts, and that now proceeds to exchange the structure of concepts for the structure of several symbol systems…
At this point, I raise my eyebrow and remind the reader that I’m still dubious about the utility of thinking of pragmatism as one unified thing.