Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Pragmatist afterword

Some of the points of philosophical Pragmatism, or at least my personal digestion of William James' views, correspond nicely to the numerous instances of a datum never being alone:
  • "Meaningful communication occurs in a purposeful context". Pragmatically, interpretation is poorly-defined for messages like double-talking philosophical statements that appear to assert nothing in particular or to argue about relations among items whose existence is questionable at best. These statements correspond to messages composed of symbols that lack thorough and steady connections to information. Murky ground for the symbols in a communication implies that regardless of the fidelity of the message's bits, the message's intent is uncertain.
  • "Meaning involves constructive actions". Pragmatists see concepts as works in progress that, appearances to the contrary, came about for the sake of specific goals. This approach is a stark contrast to the alternative, which is that some "special" concepts exist regardless of humans. The mental constructive actions correspond to the procedure that defines a new set of symbols from other information. Symbols neither preexist nor are always obvious.
  • "Relations of concepts are also concepts". In other words, the same analysis and status of concepts applies also to relations. During one "mode", i.e. for the sake of some relevant goal, the human's raw experience might be treated like an undivided whole. During a second mode, i.e. for the sake of a different goal perhaps of equal importance, the human's raw experience might be treated like a convoluted structure of concepts separated by supporting relations. Whether concepts or relations among concepts, the contents of mentality mutually depend on each other and more importantly on an external rationale. Similarly, the general steps in procedures for sets of symbols are also information and therefore also communicable by symbols. "The color 'burgundy' is a dark and purplish shade of red" is a procedure that presumes "dark and purplish shade" is a valid symbol for a detailed informative manipulation of "red" information. And naturally that symbol itself depends on the symbols "dark" and "purple".
  • "Reality is evaluated according to human interest". Some critics attack this proposition by intentionally underestimating the depth and breadth of actual human interest. They pretend that motivation is simple-minded, when experience has shown it to have endless variations. Infants and household pets admittedly have primitive opinions on what's interesting and why, but it's ludicrous to restrict human interest to this limited model. Anthropologists know better. Besides, the salient factor isn't the interest's characteristics but its effect, which is the human's manipulation of raw information in pursuit of ends. One sees a good automobile and labels it as a tool of transportation. Another sees the same automobile and labels it as an intriguing hobby project. The total raw physical information of the car's existence is objective. Human perceptions are translations of that raw information, augmented with the observer's interest. These interpreted perceptions, not the original physical facts, are the pragmatic segments at the bottom of symbols.
  • "The essence of truth is piecemeal and it progresses by lurching, courageous leaps". To the extent that a philosophy has a disposition, Pragmatism is earthy. It's prone to discourage promotion of human thoughts into ethereal and unsullied domains of theoretical purity. It learns toward induction more than deduction. Its advice is to discover unifying truths via patterns in details, not via cramming details into remote and calming abstractions. Feasible approximations are acceptable substitutes in place of brittle logical categories. Hence having fewer symbols in a set is easier to contemplate, at the cost of fewer distinctions and less information. Cutting the world in two symbolic halves has a poetic simplicity, but it would be an awful coordinate system for navigation. Profundity requires few symbols because it has so little to say.

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