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Pragmatism



     Pragmatism is a philosophy that does not like ideas. Its origin in America at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century is rooted in the long run since Kant of the German Romantics led by Hegel. The relentless message of that school, that the "real reality" of anything, the Ding an sich , is inaccessible to the senses and the world around us as we perceive it is illusion, devolved in Pragmatism as the equivalent, ‘we can’t know anything for sure, so let’s put away abstract ideas and get practical.’ The brisk young Pragmatists stripped the ‘nonsense’ from even their own intellectual forefathers and prided themselves on a policy of can-do, forward charge, save the world activism.

     Amazingly, it has never been an obstacle to Pragmatists that such a position constantly begs the question, ‘well, how do we know what to be practical about?’ Should a naive young mind ask such a question of a practicing Pragmatist he would be remonstrated with some variant of, ‘see, that is exactly the impractical abstract conceptualizing we are talking about; you will have to learn to not point your mind in that direction. Just do what works. It’s immoral to waste time on understanding when there is progress to be made.’

     The dancing and posing and unhooking of syntax in service to keeping the lid on the Pragmatist’s conundrum is fascinating and even amusing, yet despite all posturing it remains that ‘practical’ or ‘what works’ still requires a standard or purpose towards which one must strive. In the light of day the Pragmatist sticks to his guns that there are no absolute standards and then in the background simply performs theft, adhering to whatever principles are dominant at the moment, rational or irrational, no matter. The Pragmatist is extremely agile. He goes with what is winning at the moment. In the history of the United States in the 20th Century that was generally Progressive politics and social justice.

     One of the major tools of the Pragmatist is that of deconstructing the very idea of standards. He does this in the name of kindness. It seems to the Pragmatist a cruelty to hold someone up to a norm; therefore, the Pragmatist trashes the idea of having norms in the first place. (Don’t ask a Pragmatist how he knows -- since there are no absolutes -- that cruelty is wrong; you will just receive another angry look of disapproval.)

     If there is a moral or intellectual standard and some people violate it or gainsay it, do not chide the person or attempt to shame him into proper action, and also do not attempt to judge if the standard itself is rational. Instead, destroy the very idea of standards. It’s almost is if the Pragmatist can abide no pressure when right and wrong are doing combat. Rather than suffer, he uproots the standard and the ground under it. If he can contribute to the very annihilation of ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ he feels good himself, and in turn feels that the deed is good for humanity, enabling people to avoid a nasty confrontation or self-esteem crisis.

     To deconstruct the objectivity of standards, the chain of "logic" proceeds as follows: ‘if you claim that everyone ought to adhere to a norm or standard or truth, you are saying there is something universally true (the content of the standard), but since there is no absolute truth, your norm is simply your belief system, a construct of your mind. It is true for you, but in my world it may not be true for me. So, your insistence on me conforming to your norm not of my world is invalid.’

     Underneath this sophomoric packaging is the potent belief that our reasoning mind can only know about empirical data gathered by the senses, which is nothing to build principles on, being faulty, full of illusion and subjective. On the other hand, "real" truth, norms, standards -- real reality -- actually exists but is unknowable to the human mind because it is in ‘another dimension.’ Yet it is this unknowable ideal world, being perfect, that ought to drive moral decisions. Enter the authoritarian, the meretricious superior, the priest, the dictator, the one who has the Knowledge of the unknowable (don’t ask how) and therefore the Power to dictate it to the masses.

     The bayonet of the Pragmatist’s attack on objective reality is an epistemological nightmare of a statement, a pure contradiction thrust at any and all enemies. It is considered fundamental. You can tell it is considered axiomatic because all philosophers and intellectuals of this persuasion constantly fall back to it as if it were "home." They rest their case on it. They certainly consider it self-evident.

     "There are no absolute truths."

     Ask any teenager attending public schools, which are run under the Pragmatist/Progressive philosophy of education. Teens know this one. It is as familiar to them as the lyrics of a pop-song. If you are a parent of a teen, it has been tried out on you.


One can just picture a young, brash American Pragmatist in 1911 or so at Columbia or Harvard standing with hand on hip dutifully listening to a verbal dissertation, long, sonorous, winding, dense, out of the mouth of a venerated elder from Germany on how the World Mind does not make the noumenal accessible to those attached through the senses to the illusory comfort of certainty, but that if thinkers should surrender instead to the dialect of the world-painful message that the antithesis harbors for it’s thesis, the synthesis of new reality will allow the initiate to absorb the unfolding of the ideal. At which point, the young guy, so far patient and respectful for ‘him whut brung ‘im,’ blinks his eyes and says ‘Right. Now lets figure out how to stamp out this useless spelling and grammar in grade schools. Got to make room for socializing.."

     But there are serious problems. First the axiom is a negative in all its forms. ‘There are no absolute truths; we can be certain of nothing; there is no such thing as objective reality; true reality can never be known.’ To base a philosophy on a negative invites a counter of "There is no God, but if there is one, God have mercy on me." In other words, a philosophy based on a negative, if applied, leads inexorably to destruction.

     Second, such an axiom is self-liquidating, a contradiction whose premises annihilate one another. Using the most popular formulation "there are no absolute truths," one notes immediately that since this statement itself is included, as it must be under "no," then if the axiom is to ‘work,’ it itself could not be absolutely true. This now falsifies the original formulation by establishing that even the most patently obvious statements of the speaker, even the most fundamental statements of the philosophy are not absolutes. This then seems to reassert the claim of the axiom. However, having now put a substantial amount of credibility into establishing that there are no absolutely true statements, one has to admit that the axiom itself therefore is quite "absolutely" not true, thereby admitting the possibility of the existence of something absolutely true. This immediately re-triggers the entire argument, ad infinitum.

     Colloquially: "There are no absolute truths," to which the response is: "Are you certain that is absolutely true?"

     The Pragmatist axiom is dishonest. It keeps begging for people to not challenge it but rather stipulate it, as in ‘Aw, come on, you know what I mean, we’re are only human, you can’t be absolutely sure of anything, that would be so closed-minded and fascist.’


One wishes the the Pragmatist's buzz saw might be put to use in the destruction of irrational beliefs, but do not be deluded: all rational truth such as the sovereignty of the individual and even the cold hard facts undergirding science are ruthlessly chopped down by the clear-cutting Pragmatist. The chain saw is turned on, however, only if it ‘works’ for the split second purpose of the Pragmatist.

     This axiom, if granted even an instant of respect by an otherwise rational mind, is fatally corrosive. It requires the soul grounded in objective reality to annihilate its grasp of reality and open up a black hole from which there is no escape. The proper name for this is Nihilism.

     Joseph Ellis speaks with the mind of a Pragmatist. It is baldly obvious in the quotation analyzed in this essay, and more so in his books in which he is not shy about issuing heavy pitches against "abstract principles." He is explicit about calling them impractical. He specifically and with all due deliberation levels this charge against Jefferson and the meaning of the Foundation Principle in the first chapter of his Jefferson biography.

     Typical of Pragmatism, Ellis never becomes specific about the value system that determines the destination of all acts that he would deem practical, nor how he or anyone becomes vectored in on it.

     The Revolutionary takes the exact opposite position of the Pragmatist. He honors a true political principle, which is induced logically from true facts about the subject of politics -- man -- which facts in turn rest on the existence of man in objective reality and the identification of man’s nature. Having arrived at it through reason, the Revolutionary is certain of his conviction. It is absolute. This truth is respected even if many people are acting in contradiction with it at a given time, even if the person elucidating it is himself at odds with it. Even if Jefferson, a slaveholder, is declaring the high, true principle that all men are created equal.

     Thomas Jefferson might be judged for his slave holding and the particulars of his personal life, or not; that is an important issue and deserves its own essay. But in any case, such judgment in no way affects the veracity and importance of the Foundation Principle, which stands on it’s own, a universal truth.

     Americans should have their eyes wide open when they listen to Professor Ellis and all other Pragmatists, Radical Skeptics, Post-Modernists and Progressive academia in general. Make no mistake: these minds reject the philosophical principles upon which the nation was founded. They are rooted instead in European Platonic/Kantian/Hegelian/Marxist thought, the American branch of which is Pragmatism. This is the thinking that led to Nazi Germany and the USSR. We must investigate what we are getting by signing on to these beliefs and sending children to be educated by them. We ought to question the wisdom of allowing their values to replace those of Jefferson and the other Founders of the United States of America.

     There is a brilliant beauty to the way in which "is," the verb of existence, rips the heart out of the Pragmatist’s attempt to render reality void and thus brings overwhelming vindication for the assertion of the Primacy of Existence. It is a terrible swift sword.




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