home | more philosophy

Pragmatism and Instrumentalism

What words can I use to justify my belief that empiricism or science is better at achieving awareness than mere invention and assumption? How about "instrumentalism"? My Mac dictionary:

... a pragmatic philosophical approach that regards an activity (such as science, law, or education) chiefly as an instrument or tool for some practical purpose, rather than in more absolute or ideal terms, in particular

The British philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) has been accused of misrepresenting the pragmatism of William James (1842-1910), described as a founder of pragmatism. Russell didn't buy the idea that religious beliefs should be deemed "true" if and only if they have good effects. God exists, thought Russell, only if God, as a matter of fact, exists.

Instrumentalism is described by my dictionary as the philosophy of the influential educator John Dewey (1859-1952). The dictionary describes Dewey as viewing "thought as an instrument for solving practical problems". Not necessarily, I would say, but yes, thoughts stimulated by our senses are necessary to our daily functioning, to our survival. Our senses keep us from bumping into things, walking over cliffs or into traffic. There is a pragmatic significance to the belief in empiricism and science, and in this sense I can declare myself a pragmatist. Dewey described his philosophy as "instrumentalism" rather than pragmatism. He didn't confuse his instrumentalism with "truth dependent on good effects." And neither do I.

Empiricism and science are tools we use in connection with the world outside our head, and they need no justification beyond their usefulness.

comment | to the top | home

Copyright © 2019 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.