I believe that for practising scientists, both natural scientist and scholars from SSH, who have a certain degree of proper self-understanding of their methods, the meaning of its intersubjectivity, the limitations of its claims and the social aspects of their practice of inquiry, pragmatism may well be considered a most realistic image and theory of their daily work. Moreover, even those who have not reflected a lot, or young professionals who not yet thought a lot about these issues, which we know is not unusual at least in the biomedical and natural sciences, pragmatism may come on to them as quite naturalistic descriptive. What then does pragmatism have to offer to them? Given what I discussed in Chap. 2, in the confined space of the practice of inquiry, studying and researching, doing experiments and interventions -in the library, the lab, the clinic or in societal practices- not too much. At that level, scientists, do adhere to validated and accepted methods, logics and procedures of their respective disciplines, but do not bother on a daily basis with the higher levels of philosophical assumptions. So why should they, or we, now bother about pragmatism? They, and we, should very much care about pragmatism. We have seen in Chap. 3 that only one level up, where the mundane matters of management like strategy, policy and governance are discussed, the assumptions of the Legend still reign. This is most visible as soon as we have to consider issues of quality, excellence, acceptability, impact, and evaluation. Then assumptions of the Legend immediately become visible and are at the table in the deliberations which sets scene and tone and in part cause the distortions discussed in Chap. 3. It is at this level that pragmatism will provide realistic guidance for these deliberations and agenda setting, inclusive evaluation criteria - incorporating facts, values and goals, action, interventions and implementation- and social reflexivity of all these steps. At an even higher level, it likewise can be instrumental for shaping the mission and strategy of the organization and government of science at institutional and national level, regarding its higher purpose, aims and ownership and relation to the wider public. At this level, pragmatism because of its realistic, modern, open and democratic view of science, allows for a better narrative with responsibility in how we communicate about science and research to and importantly engage with the various public representatives and public debates and in the media. What forces were working against the pragmatic turn?
Reading the vast body, or even the top 10% of the literature of the past 30 years on pragmatism and the pragmatic turn is impossible and I believe not required for the argument to be made in this book. There is, paradoxically already a lot of esoteric writing about these philosophers whose thesis it was that philosophy should not deteriorate into esoteric writing that does not bother anybody in the real world anymore. The secondary literature on the classical philosophers, Russel, Popper, Kuhn and Wittgenstein, the famous Vienna Circle and the Frankfurt School is also vast, and many have read not so much the original texts but overviews in the books about philosophy of science and modern science. Until very recently, textbooks of the philosophy of science, even philosophy of the humanities, social science and even sociology rarely mention or discuss the work of the early pragmatists, some do refer to Rorty’s progressive interpretations of James and Dewey. When I recently confronted some well-known Dutch authors of these textbooks who I knew clearly do sympathize with pragmatism with this omission, they shrug their shoulders. They reply with the words ‘I thought it was not yet philosophically developed enough’ or that ‘it is not yet suitable for introductory texts books’. Instead, we offer our students mainly still the myth of The Legend vintage 1950s, with sometimes a small side dish of Kuhn vintage 1962 and a glims of the early works of Latour vintage 1979 or 1983 with the explicit warning ‘watch out it’s spicy’.
Barker and Kitcher, however in their very nice textbook Philosophy of Science (2013), where the demise of logical positivism is spelled out, if not celebrated, discuss how we are now able to come to a realistic image of the pluriform practices and can be frank about the limitations of the sciences. Even there, no reference to an alternative realistic narrative of pragmatism is to be found (Barker & Kitcher, 2013). This is of interest given the life-long struggle of Kitcher with his conversion described in Chap. 2. In his ‘Preludes to Pragmatism’ and ‘The Ethical Project’ written in the same years as his 2011, he takes Dewey’s pragmatism as the leading philosophy to think about modern science and ethics in democracy (Kitcher, 2011, 2012). Is it really the case that main-stream philosophers, sociologists and science and technology scholars writing about science consciously kept a safe distance to pragmatism because intellectually and emotionally the gap between the Legend and pragmatism was too big for them? Yes, and Kitcher is most frank about it on the very first pages of Preludes: ‘Classical pragmatism is, I believe, not only America’s most important contribution to philosophy, but also one of the most significant developments in the history of the subject…‘Twenty years ago, I would not have made that judgement. Like most of my contemporaries in philosophy departments in the Anglophone world, I would have seen the three canonical pragmatists -Peirce, James and Dewey- as well-intentioned but benighted, labouring with crude tools to develop ideas that were far more rigorously and exactly shaped by the immigrants from Central Europe whose work generated what is (unfortunately) known as “analytic” philosophy.’pxi (Kitcher, 2012).
Because of this it has not resulted in a reform and its influence faded apart from a few philosophers who have kept the debate about it going. Is the pragmatic turn difficult, for them and most of us, because pragmatism does not offer a new myth or fresh ideology for the twenty-first century which provides a sense of certainty, an uncontested foundation, a legitimation with which we can assure ourselves and the public about the authority of science? Given Dewey’s severe criticism about this quest for certainty and the history of the demise of the Legend the deceptively common-sense philosophy of pragmatism clearly seems to contribute to the uncomfortable relation the philosophers and interested scientists have with pragmatism. In addition, we have seen that the Legend has had enormous impact on the politics of science in relation to society, as frontstage narrative, but that this narrative paradoxically is even in use within science, backstage (!) and there has distorted the general view of the sciences and the humanities. At both these levels of the scientific community the pragmatic turn thus will surely bring gains to many, but losses to others, the former academic elites that lose reputation, access to control and power and its many associated advantages. This institutional feeling of loss and uncertainty also may hold for the philosophers who did not want to be affiliated with non-mainstream philosophy and their proponents. Is it so that only after a successful mainstream professional career in academia, with independence of one’s peers, there is finally room and opportunity to engage with the non-mythical mundane pragmatism and does one have the guts to be frank about the Legend?
I will restrict myself here to a concise overview of the main concepts of pragmatism and discuss a bit more in detail the more recent works of the new pragmatists as far as it relates to the philosophical principles and ideas of inquiry.
Richard Bernstein, whose perspective is from the humanities and social sciences, and his experience in the US liberal arts college system, has written with great authority from the broader pragmatist perspective (Bernstein, 1983, 2010). His Overview (p1–49, (Bernstein, 1983)) is quite technical, but provides a comprehensive history of the concept of rationality in modern philosophy which makes the strong case that pragmatism is the default (in my words). His discussion of the work of Habermas and the early influence of Peirce on Habermas (Habermas, 1970, 1971) will be revisited in Chap. 5. Hacking’s Representing and Intervening (Hacking, 1983), I have quoted already, is very concisely discussing the problems of positivism, especially in the three last pages were the legacy of Peirce is brought in, and in the bit more than 5 pages on what pragmatism has to offer. Hillary Putnam’s Pragmatism (Putnam, 1995) especially the less technical chapters on William James and the in total 18 pages of Chap. 2 on Pragmatism and the Contemporary Debates are very good reads.
The Metaphysical Club, by Louis Menand a professor of English, is a prize-winning highly praised, more literary intellectual history of pragmatism (Menand, 2001). It discusses what prompted these thinkers to work out this unique truly American philosophy between 1870 and 1940. He describes quite colourfully, how they differed in the range of issues they wrote about, in their style and temperament and political engagement. We also get a view of the very different sometimes deeply troubled personal lives they have had, which especially relates to Peirce. Reading this book makes you realize how different the world and the philosophical, religious and political issues were only one hundred years ago. At the same time. it becomes clear how modern and humanistic the pragmatists were regarding their ideas about scientific inquiry, their critique of the Cartesian and positivistic philosophies, the relation with society and the publics, the methods and social structures. It becomes clear that they reflected on inquiry not only from the point of view of episteme (theoretical knowledge), but also techne (technological application and action) and phronesis (practical wisdom and reason) (Bernstein, 1983). Dewey later started a real pragmatist movement which took the thinking and philosophy to many other fields of humanities and social sciences, most of all educational theory, ethics, and political theory on for instance the workings of democracy in the Chicago Laboratory School. Menand provides a fine accessible summary of pragmatism in non-technical language in chapter 13 (p351–375), which starts as follows:
Pragmatism is an account of the way people think, the way they come up with ideas, form beliefs, and reach decisions’...there is no noncircular set of criteria for knowing whether a particular belief is true. No appeal to some standard outside the process of coming to the belief itself.
He cites James who had the most expressive style of writing and has been instrumental in promoting the work of Peirce and Dewey in the USA: ‘Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. Its verity is in fact an event, a process, the process namely of verifying it.’ ‘Beliefs, in short, are really rules for action, and the whole function of thinking is but one step in the production of habits of action.’ He cites James’ most discussed and debated statement, which takes the philosophy of Peirce in the eyes of Peirce much too far, but has much inspired Rorty sixty years later years later: ‘..the true is the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief’ . This could in our days well have been a tweet.
Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914) was the real founder of pragmatism in the eyes of most philosophers of science. What he thought and wrote at the age of 29 in 1870 is most impressively reflecting unbelievable intelligent, independent broad and original scholarship. Reading about him, his temperaments, his personal problems, the hardships that befell him, and how that has also affected his professional career makes you feel sad. Peirce was trained as a natural scientist with laboratory experience and made major contributions to mathematics and formal logics and is regarded as one of the most brilliant American philosophers (Nagel, 1940). He showed us the way out of Cartesian dualisms, the dichotomy of fact and value, the problem of representation by theory of reality and the problem of foundations and ‘truth’. The impact of his work outside the US was recognized in England by Frank Ramsey in the 1920s. Ramsey discussed Peirce’ philosophy with Russel and Moore and in several sessions with Ludwig Wittgenstein in Vienna. (Misak, 2013; Putnam, 1995) Peirce also influenced Popper who agreed with ‘his critique of the search for epistemological origins that has dominated so much of modern philosophy’ (Bernstein, 1983, 2010). Bernstein emphasizes that Peirce, next to more methodological ideas, has strongly proposed the concept of the community of inquirers and ‘his relentless criticism of the subjectivism that lies at the heart of so much modern epistemology’ and connects to modern major influential thinkers, in the next lines: ‘…he develops an intersubjective (social) understanding of inquiry, knowing, communication, and logic. Jürgen Habermas has argued that at the turn of the twentieth century there was a major paradigm shift from a ‘philosophy of subjectivity’ or a ‘philosophy of consciousness’ to an intersubjectivity (social) communicative model of human action and rationality. One of the primary sources of this shift is evident in Peirce’ early papers. The above passage also anticipates the centrality of the community of inquirers in Peirce’s pragmatism. ..To say that inquiry is self-correcting is to say that a critical community of inquirers has the intellectual resources for self-correction.’
It is only in and through subjecting our prejucies, hypotheses, and guesses to public criticism by a relevant community of inquirers that we can hope to escape from our limited perspectives, test our beliefs and bring about the growth of knowledge (p35/36) (Bernstein, 1983).
We have seen in the previous chapter that this is an ideal of integrity, a major critical aspiration that the community has to effectively perform at all levels of inquiry. Peirce and especially Dewey have been criticized as being naïve in their views of communication and interactions in the process of inquiry and, in Dewey’s later works, engaging publics from outside academia. Popper (Popper, 1981) who also in the same vein emphasized the continuous process of criticism in science, also warned against distortions of the discourse by internal and external interests. As the founder, or one of the founders of pragmatism Peirce is favoured and admired especially by philosophers who came from the analytic tradition. Above I cited James’s popular version, we would now say ‘tweet’ of the pragmatic maxim, but Peirce as originator of the maxim was much more subtle on this. Misak, but also others have tried to correct the popular view that was instigated by James. Misak (p29) writes that his notorious statement is to be understood as follows: ‘Consider what effects, which might conceivable have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these is the whole of our conception of the object’. …‘we must look to the upshot of our concepts in order to rightly comprehend them’. And Misak’s favourite: ‘we must not begin by talking of pure ideas, − vagabond thoughts that tramps the public roads without any human habitation, − but must begin with men and their conversation’ Misak p31 (Misak, 2013).
He rejected given, timeless principles, stating that ‘there is no cognition “not determined by a previous cognition” or “something outside of consciousness” (p39). “he thought that ‘truth was a matter for the community of inquirers’ not for the individual inquirer’. Science and inquiry and rationality are matters of getting our beliefs in line with experience, evidence and reason in an ongoing community project. In our efforts to understand reality “each of us is an insurance company’ (p37). This process in practice does never stop. Peirce is categorical to state that this is the case since all our beliefs are imperfect and are subject to continuous testing. There are degrees of acceptance and of trust in a belief of course. It is, he proposes, by this process of Fixation of Belief we gradually improve and finally come to a set of converging true beliefs. But when is finally? This is problematic but not really: like Popper, Peirce proposed a metaphor: ‘its reasoning should not form a chain which is never stronger than its weakest link, but a cable whose fibres may ever be so slender provided they are sufficiently numerous and intimately connected (Collected Papers 5.265). He proposed no unique method, but deduction, induction and abduction, also designated inference to the best explanation. This reminds us in many respects of Poppers falsificationism of conjectures and refutations. It does sound familiar to active scientists in the natural and social sciences with respect to the hypo-deductive method starting with an idea, or hypothesis to be tested and proven, but falsification and refutation is not really the main goal in daily in practice.
John Dewey, a student of Peirce, was very much inspired by the work of Peirce but his view of philosophy and scientific inquiry was much broader. He was concerned with the role of science in the broad scheme of the problems of society and its diverse publics and of democracy. He wrote extensively about the relation between science, the conduct of inquiry and the problems of these publics. This philosophy which naturally flows over in political theory is the pragmatism I will discuss in Chap. 5 where involvement and engagement of the publics with scientific inquiry will be discussed in terms of the present societal challenges in our modern times. Dewey had a background in educational theory and pedagogy, child upbringing and development. In his thinking education was a major factor in building civic communities that could allow for public to participate in deliberation about inquiry and action. Education in his mind was life itself. For him inquiry must be prompted by a concrete situation of doubt or a problem and thus foremost had the obligation to contribute to mitigation or solving issues that hindered people from leading the good life. This was the short-term aim of science and he did not bother with the Peircean epistemological problems how in ongoing inquiry in the long run ‘truth’ comes about. Dewey was a true public intellectual who connected in a natural way inquiry with social action in which he himself engaged forcefully in political actions. He had high visibility in American public life, politics and its debates for instance at the times of McCarthyism.
Bernstein elaborates on Dewey’s vision of radical democracy which will be revisited in Chap. 5 (Bernstein, 1983). Dewey wrote widely and a lot. His contribution to the philosophy of science which is most relevant here has been summarized by Hacking where he divides pragmatism in two ‘Peirce and Putnam on the one hand and James, Dewey and Rorty on the other. ..It is interesting, for Peirce and Putnam both to define the real and to know what, within our scheme of things, will pan out as real. This is not of much interest to the other sort of pragmatism. How we live and talk is what matters, in those quarters. There is not only no external truth, but there are no external or even evolving canons of rationality. Rorty regards all our life as a matter of conversation’. Dewey rightly despises the spectator theory of knowledge…the right track in Dewey is the attempt to destroy the conception of knowledge and reality as a matter of thought and representation. He should have returned the minds of philosophers to experimental science… in his opinion things we make (including all tools, including language as a tool) are instruments that intervene when we turn our experiences into thoughts and deeds that serve our purposes..’ (p 62/63) (Hacking, 1983).
Putnam, whom I introduced in Chap. 2, has made an intellectual journey from analytical philosophy to pragmatism, and even after 1981 apparently became more influenced by the works of James and Dewey than Hacking in 1983 had anticipated. In the collection of papers published with the telling title Words and Life (Putnam, 1995; Putnam & Conant, 1994) there is deep admiration for Dewey’s philosophy of inquiry as shown in Pragmatism that same year. ‘Perhaps the most detailed case for the view just defended, the view that all inquiry, including in pure science itself presupposes values, is made by Dewey in his Logic (Dewey, 1939), here I want only to discuss one aspect of Dewey’s view, the insistence on a very substantial overlap between our cognitive values and our ethical moral values. I have already examined the claim that there is a fundamental ontological difference between cognitive or ‘scientific’ values, and found that the reasons offered for believing that claim fail.’
Comparing Carnap’s (positivistic) view with Dewey’s: ‘For Dewey, inquiry is cooperative human interaction with an environment; and both aspects, the interactive intervention, the active manipulation of the environment, and the cooperation with other human beings, are critical. For the positivists…the most primitive form of scientific inquiry, and the form that they studied first when they constructed their (otherwise very different) theories of induction, was by simply enumerating. The model is always a single scientist…For Dewey the model is a group of inquirers trying to produce the good ideas and trying to test them to see which ones have value’.
Putnam then states: …cooperation must be of a certain kind in order to be effective,. It must, for example, obey the principles of “discourse ethics” [here he cites Habermas]…When relations among scientists become relations of hierarchy and dependence, or when scientists instrumentalize other scientists, again the scientific enterprise suffers.’ Dewey was as Putnam states, not naïve and was aware that there are power plays in the history of science as in the history of every human institution, ‘“but he still holds that it makes sense to have a normative notion of science….Both for its full development and for its full application to human problems, science requires the democratization of inquiry.
“Dewey opposes the of the philosophers ‘habit of dichotomization of inquiry.’ in particular he opposed both the dichotomy “pure science/applied science” and the dichotomy ‘instrumental value/terminal value”. Pure science and applied science are interdependent and interprenetrating activities, Dewey argues. ..Science helps us to achieve many goals other than the attainment of knowledge for its own sake, and when we allow inquiry to be democratized simply because doing so helps us achieve those practical goals, we are engaged in goal-oriented activity. ..we are not- nor ever were-interested in knowledge only for its practical benefits; curiosity is coeval with [= as old as] the species itself, and pure knowledge is always, to some extent, and in some areas, a terminal value even for the least curious among us (p172, 173) (Putnam & Conant, 1994).
I have in the previous chapter demonstrated, using Bourdieu’s theory of ‘the field’(Bourdieu, 1975), how the internal politics and power games of science have in the past 40 years developed into a system where the discourse ethics due to, among others these dichotomies of the Legend and other related interests is heavily plagued if not seriously distorted. I will discuss in the next chapter how I think the community of inquirers can be improved and organized based on these insights.