[Paleopsych] Hedgehog: Richard V. Horner: Two Cheers for Pragmatism

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Richard V. Horner: Two Cheers for Pragmatism
The Hedgehog Review - Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture

          Formerly a fellow of the Institute for Advanced Studies in
    Culture at the University of Virginia, Dr. Horner is now Director of
    the Christian Study Center of Gainesville, in Gainesville, Florida.

          His research interests range from biblical studies to
    contemporary culture, with publications and papers on pragmatism and
    Continental thought.


          Those of us who do not think of ourselves as pragmatists would
    do well, nonetheless, to accept the pragmatists' invitation to exit
    "the increasingly tiresome pendulum swing" [3]^1 between dogmatism and
    scepticism by pragmatic means.

          We may give the pragmatists only one or two cheers out of three,
    and a lot of us will hurry on to list our caveats and provisos, but
    when the pragmatists offer us a "third way of understanding critique
    that avoids...`groundless critique' and...rationally grounded critique
    that `rests' upon illusory foundations," they are on to something.
    [4]^2 Begin with the questions and problems that arise in the course
    of experience, the pragmatists tell us. Try on alternative hypotheses
    for how best to solve these problems and answer these questions, and
    then test these alternative hypotheses against each other by tracing
    their consequences back into experience. As simple as this modest way
    forward sounds, when it comes to framing worthwhile inquiry and
    argument, this modest pragmatic means can go a long way toward
    delivering us from the frustrations that follow either from our
    failure to attain the unattainable standards of certainty and
    necessity or from attempting to live in the absence to which that
    failure seems to lead.

A Pragmatic Means of Inquiry and Argument

          The first cheer for pragmatism, then, is for its simple method
    of framing inquiry and argument. Following William James one can think
    of this modest means of proceeding as the practice of trying on
    beliefs in order to see which of them carries us about in experience
    most satisfactorily. Try on ideas and beliefs, James writes, in order
    to see which of them "help us to get into satisfactory relations with
    other parts of our experience." We should make the most, he continues,
    of "any idea upon which we can ride, so to speak; any idea that will
    carry us prosperously from any one part of our experience to any other
    part, linking things satisfactorily." [5]^3 We choose between these
    hypotheses on the basis of what James calls the "principle of
    practical results," [6]^4 which "is to try to interpret each notion by
    tracing its respective practical consequences." [7]^5 This is
    pragmatism's "usual question. `Grant an idea or belief to be true,' it
    says, `what concrete difference will its being true make in any one's
    actual life?'... What, in short, is the truth's cash-value in
    experiential terms." [8]^6

          Though Richard Rorty takes this modest method several steps
    further in the direction of modesty, he too recognizes that a simple,
    pragmatic strategy, or means of proceeding, is what remains once the
    swing between dogmatism and skepticism has been set aside and the
    quest for method dissolved. Though Rorty talks about "pragmatism
    without method," he does so in order to make the same points James
    made nearly a century ago when he wrote about pragmatism as method.
    Rorty prefers the term "muddling" over "method," but the practices are
    largely the same as those that James describes. One begins with bits
    of experience, texts, or lumps in Rorty's parlance, and one tries on
    alternative hypotheses for how best to understand and work with these
    lumps and texts. Where big questions are in view one faces the "slow
    and painful choice between alternative self-images." [9]^7 Where
    specific problems are in view, one encounters "Deweyan requests for
    concrete alternatives and programs." [10]^8 In every case one's
    reasons for choosing one hypothesis over another lie in the
    consequences that follow from holding to that hypothesis. As Rorty
    notes, "We pragmatists say that every difference must make a
    difference to practice." [11]^9 It is on the basis of these
    differences, Rorty argues, that we opt for one alternative over
    another. In other words, we opt for one understanding of how to link
    certain bits of experience together over another understanding because
    it is "a more useful belief to have than its contradictory." [12]^10
    Whether one sets aside the swing between dogmatism and scepticism by
    way of James' method or Rorty's muddling, then, one still has a means
    of proceeding. It consists in trying on alternative hypotheses for how
    to link certain bits of experience together and comparing those
    hypotheses against each other by tracing their consequences in

          While this simple means of proceeding emphasizes consequences,
    it also values coherence, consistency, and completeness. For various
    reasons, some deserved and some not, James and his pragmatist heirs
    have often been thought of as disdaining such values. They have been
    written off as irrational or even anti-rational, as if notions of
    coherence, consistency, and completeness had no value to them. Those
    who hold to this caricature of pragmatism would do well to remember
    that the following statements all come from the pen of William James.
    The truth of any of our beliefs, he writes, "will depend entirely on
    their relations to the other truths that also have to be
    acknowledged." [13]^11 Pragmatism's "only test of probable truth is
    what works best in the way of leading us, what fits every part of life
    best and combines with the collectivity of experience's demands,
    nothing being omitted." [14]^12 Therefore, "what is better for us to
    believe is true unless the belief incidentally clashes with some other
    vital benefit.... In other words, the greatest enemy of any one of our
    truths may be the rest of our truths." [15]^13 Any particular belief,
    then, "has to run the gauntlet of all our other truths. It is on trial
    by them and they on trial by it, [and] our final opinion about [it]
    can be settled only after all the truths have straightened themselves
    out together." [16]^14 There is no contradiction, then, between
    proceeding by pragmatic means and wanting to make the most of our
    ability to be reasonable. "We find consistency satisfactory," [17]^15
    wrote James, and from a pragmatic standpoint, one can say the same of
    coherence and completeness too.

          We would do well, then, to think of pragmatism primarily as an
    answer to the question: How shall we proceed now that we have let go
    of the quest for method? By thinking of pragmatism in this way, we
    acknowledge, with Rorty, that pragmatism places itself beyond the
    modern quest to identify the one method that will give us the
    certainty that no other method can give, while we also acknowledge,
    with James, that pragmatism is concerned with the question of how we
    carry out activities such as pursuing lines of inquiry, having
    worthwhile arguments, and arriving at settled beliefs. [18]^16
    Pragmatism's understanding of the processes of inquiry and argument
    reassures us that our inquiries and arguments have substantive
    consequences in experience, but it does so without burdening us with
    lofty aspirations we cannot fulfill or abandoning us to the excesses
    or despair that so easily follow from our inability to achieve those
    higher aspirations. It takes Catherine Elgin's question, "What's the
    use?," seriously. Having set aside the quest for method, pragmatism
    does not leave us with no way forward. It leaves us with a modest,
    non-methodological means for arriving at settled, albeit fallible,

A Pragmatic Reading of the History of Reason

          Pragmatism gets a second cheer for its story of modern reason.
    The pragmatist account of the story of modernity suggests that in our
    best moments, over the past few centuries, we have managed quite
    nicely by pragmatic means, though we haven't always called them that.
    Whether we have been dealing with literary texts or scientific data,
    taking on the challenges of politics or of personal relationships, we
    have done our best work by trying on alternative hypotheses and
    weighing them against each other by tracing their consequences in
    experience. This is the process that led to the creation and
    development of democratic institutions and to extraordinary
    breakthroughs in science from the seventeenth century to the present.
    Ironically, we enjoyed so much success through these means that we
    began to think that what we were doing was something much more than
    merely coming up with the best available solution to a problem. As a
    result, we have too often become dogmatic about our ability to think
    and about the conclusions to which that ability has led, and we have
    paid for this sin by falling into the skeptical absence into which the
    path of rationalist dogmatism leads. In other words, we have swung
    from dogmatism to skepticism. The sad consequence has been that
    genuine advances in knowledge have been eclipsed by the tendency
    toward exaggerated claims and by the tendency for our more exaggerated
    claims to collapse under their own weight and dissolve at the hand of
    doubt and skepticism.

          At the dawn of modernity, during the period that we now call the
    scientific revolution, scientists proceeded by pragmatic means. No one
    called it that, of course, but that is what it amounted to. Aided by
    helpful devices such as microscopes and telescopes, which were
    themselves the products of pragmatic inquiry and experimentation,
    scientists worked with the bits and pieces and lumps and texts that
    their inquiries served up to them, and they attempted to answer the
    questions that arose in the context of those inquiries. "How shall we
    link the new lumps and texts with the old lumps and texts?" they
    wondered. "How shall we link all the celestial bits together?" "How
    shall we link the terrestrial lumps together?" "How shall we link the
    celestial bits with the terrestrial bits?"--and so on. Sometimes their
    questions had to do with concerns over how to build more accurate
    clocks, sail their ships on course, or heave cannon balls at their
    enemies more accurately and effectively than their enemies were
    heaving cannon balls back. At other times the questions focused on
    finding more satisfying ways to think about things. For instance, some
    scientists sought more satisfying ways to make sense of the fact that
    a mercury barometer gives one reading at the foot of a mountain and
    another reading at the mountain's summit, and others attempted to make
    better sense of the puzzling fact that a few lights in the night sky
    move differently from all the other lights in that same sky. In each
    case, scientists addressed their questions by trying on alternative
    hypotheses for how to link various bits together in more satisfying
    ways, and they judged these hypotheses against each other by tracing
    the consequences that followed from holding one hypothesis rather than
    another. Worthwhile arguments focused on just which hypotheses these

          Just when everything was going along nicely in this pragmatic
    mode, disaster struck in the form of too much success. As Pope put it,
    "God said `let Newton be' and all was light." [19]^17 By linking the
    new and the old and the celestial and the terrestrial, Newton's law of
    gravity performed the "marriage function" to an extent that few ideas
    have ever managed to do. In Jamesian language Newton linked parts of
    experience together in more satisfactory ways than anyone to date had
    done. In Rortyan terms he wove lumps and texts together in more useful
    ways than anyone else had ever managed to do. For understandable
    reasons, however, Newton's contemporaries concluded that what he had
    done was not simply succeed at the humble pragmatic task of coming up
    with a compelling set of action-guiding beliefs, but that he had
    succeeded at the Cartesian task of identifying the one certain and
    necessary truth that Reason had been waiting to give us all along. As
    James observed, "When the first mathematical, logical, and natural
    uniformities, the first laws, were discovered, men were so carried
    away by the clearness, beauty and simplification that resulted, that
    they believed themselves to have deciphered authentically the eternal
    thoughts of the Almighty." [20]^18 In a similar vein, Rorty notes that
    the Enlightened of the eighteenth century believed that "the New
    Science [had] discovered the language which nature itself uses."
    [21]^19 "The new vocabulary," they concluded, "was the one nature had
    always wanted to be described in." [22]^20

          Newton's remarkable success propelled successive generations
    into a quest that has more recently been called the Enlightenment
    Project. What Newton had done for astronomy, it was hoped, others
    would do for every other area of inquiry. What Condorcet called the
    "infallible methods" of reason [23]^21 would achieve truth that is
    certain (beyond the reach of doubt), objective (beyond the reach of
    personal prejudice), and necessary (essential to being fully human).
    As many students of the modern era have observed, however, this
    Enlightenment project did not turn out as it was supposed to. What was
    supposed to have been reason's ability to achieve certainty turned out
    to be "the ability to question everything and the capacity to affirm
    nothing." [24]^22 Reason's ostensible ability to achieve objectivity
    led to the discovery that the "trail of the human serpent is...over
    everything." [25]^23 And reason's supposed ability to achieve
    necessity led to the negation of the very notion of necessity and to
    the exploration of limitless possibilities for thinking differently
    without any assurance that any one difference actually makes a
    difference. As Jürgen Habermas' analysis of The Philosophical
    Discourse of Modernity suggests, the modern world came under the spell
    of "the violence of a subjugating subjectivity," [26]^24 and once it
    came under this "regime of a subjectivity puffed up into a false
    absolute," [27]^25 reason fell prey to its own totalizing critique. As
    Horkheimer and Adorno observed, "the spirit of the Enlightenment
    dictates that `every specific theoretic view succumbs to the
    destructive criticism that it is only a belief--until even the very
    notions of spirit, of truth, and indeed, enlightenment itself...become
    animistic magic.'" [28]^26 In short, the story of modern reason became
    the story of the swing from dogmatism to skepticism, a story in which
    the seemingly glorious highway of reason deteriorated and eventually
    led into a cul-de-sac.

          While pragmatist and non-pragmatist students of the history of
    modern reason often share this story of reason's collapse under its
    own weight, pragmatists suggest that we move forward by rediscovering
    the pragmatic ways that have always been available in this story. We
    should recapture the modest means that stay close to experience and
    proceed on the basis of the best reasons that pragmatic considerations
    can provide. This approach was at work before the modern project was
    put in place, it has been there throughout the modern era, and it
    remains available to us today. It enables us to see that when reason
    has done its best work over the past several centuries, a period in
    which it has done lots of good work, it has tried on alternative
    hypotheses and weighed them against each other by tracing their
    consequences in experience. Pragmatism, then, can help us understand
    how we got ourselves into the aggravating swing between dogmatism and
    skepticism in the first place, enable us to acknowledge this history
    as our own, and yet not leave us trapped in the cul-de-sac into which
    that history so easily leads. We can recapture the simple pragmatic
    means by which we have done our best work throughout the past few
    centuries and ask again, not in exasperation but in hope, "What's the

The Cheering Stops

          Having freed us from the swing between dogmatism and skepticism,
    the question arises as to why any pragmatist would hold to the morally
    lightweight, detranscendentalized understanding of homo sapiens that
    seems to accompany the skeptical swing of the pendulum of modern
    reason. What would the pragmatic reasons be for holding to such
    beliefs? Why, for instance, does Richard Rorty hold to what he himself
    calls the "morally humiliating" view that "there is nothing deep down
    inside us except what we have put there ourselves"? [29]^27 Why does
    he hold to views that lead him to conclude with Sartre that,

      when the secret police come, when the torturers violate the
      innocent, there is nothing to be said to them of the form, "There
      is something within you which you are betraying. Though you embody
      the practices of a totalitarian society which will endure forever,
      there is something beyond those practices which condemns you."

          Rorty admits that "this thought is hard to live with," [30]^28
    and yet he is quite willing to follow Sartre and Nietzsche into that
    place of absence created by the death of God, where Rorty has worked
    consistently to "prevent us from inventing God surrogates like Reason,
    Nature, CSP, or a Matter of Fact about Warrant." [31]^29 In this place
    that is devoid of both gods and idols, even the self or the subject
    turns out to be no more than "drawing a line around a vacant place in
    the middle of the web of words." [32]^30 Nothing is allowed to stand
    in for God and his doubles. One wonders, however, why Rorty holds to
    this understanding of himself and of the featherless bipeds who
    inhabit the planet with him. Does he hold these views because he sees
    them as compelling on pragmatic grounds, or has the swing from
    dogmatism to skepticism pushed even a thinker as original and
    independent as Rorty into a place of absence and emptiness to which
    pragmatic considerations alone would never lead?

          In asking this question we are not arguing that Rorty's liberal
    and humanitarian ethics are inconsistent with his understanding of the
    human condition. His understanding is open to numerous ethical
    conclusions, and one of these possibilities is the ethical stance to
    which he holds. There is nothing the least bit inconsistent,
    therefore, in his sharing a first-order narrative with Nietzsche and
    still preferring a liberal and humanitarian ethics. One can say the
    same with regard to the position for which John Stuhr argues in this
    issue of The Hedgehog Review. While his thoroughly
    detranscendentalized understanding of life is open to several ethical
    stances, it certainly allows him to opt for the "preferred
    differences" he does, and so he is in no way inconsistent to hold to
    the ethical stance that he holds. Both Stuhr and Rorty demonstrate
    that one's first-order narrative need not be a deep metanarrative in
    order for one to prefer the ethical commitments and behaviors valued
    by modern democratic societies. Both Rorty and Stuhr have "good
    morals," and they do so without deep reasons and without being
    inconsistent. Every indication, furthermore, is that one can not only
    opt for the ethical stance to which Rorty and Stuhr hold, but also
    live largely in accordance with that stance. One can be a faithful
    spouse, a loving parent, a supportive colleague, an encouraging
    teacher, and a conscientious citizen who seeks to alleviate suffering
    and care for the disadvantaged, while also viewing the self as an
    empty place in the middle of a web of words and viewing the world as
    thoroughly detranscendentalized.

          The difficulty in the positions that Rorty and Stuhr hold,
    however, lies in the fact that their action-guiding beliefs are
    inadequate as guides to action. While their beliefs allow for the
    ethical choices they prefer, their beliefs do not require these
    choices. If one begins with the Nietzschean understanding to which
    Rorty holds or the detranscendentalized understanding to which Stuhr
    holds, one is clearly free to choose liberal and humanitarian ethics,
    but one can just as easily opt for alternative ethical commitments as
    well. Yes, Rorty and Stuhr both demonstrate that one can begin with
    Nietzsche and still turn out to be a gentleman who values kindness,
    meekness, and humility, but if one begins with Nietzsche one can just
    as easily turn out to be an arrogant, albeit inventive and brilliant
    elitist, who views kindness, meekness, and humility as wormlike. On
    pragmatic considerations alone, therefore, Rorty and Stuhr fall short.
    They do not provide us with beliefs that are sufficient to guide
    action. In a pragmatic frame we are looking for a set of beliefs about
    ourselves and our fellow inhabitants of this planet that will not
    simply allow for good behavior by making that behavior a legitimate
    possibility. We are looking for action-guiding beliefs from which good
    behavior follows as a consequence. It is not clear that Rorty's and
    Stuhr's beliefs are generative of action. While we are all encouraged
    to see them work from the first-order narrative that they hold to
    moral preferences that they share with modern democracies, we remain
    less than sanguine about equally viable alternative preferences that
    could flow just as easily from those first-order narratives. We need
    to offer the same challenge to Rorty and Stuhr, therefore, that James
    raised to the philosophers of his day. Until they can demonstrate that
    their beliefs make a difference in practice, and that they generate
    actions as consequences and not simply as possibilities, we will
    remain doubtful about their basic understanding of the human

          The problem with Rorty's and Stuhr's moral commitments comes
    into focus more clearly when we remember that the search for
    action-guiding beliefs is embedded in the deeply troubled experience
    of daily life. The attempt to establish settled, action-guiding
    beliefs is not an abstract project that takes place in some neutral
    setting but rather a living struggle that takes place in the face of
    the trials, temptations, and evils of day-to-day human experience. In
    this context it becomes more apparent that we are not simply looking
    for beliefs that will allow us to be good, but for beliefs that will
    lead us to be good. Here we are not only talking about what Habermas
    and his American counterparts refer to as the "depth and pervasiveness
    of normativity" which "has been too often ignored and always
    underanalyzed," [33]^31 but also pondering the unmasking of
    knowledge/power/evil, in which both the prophets of old and the
    prophets of extremity have led the way. We are talking about the world
    where each of us actually lives, where without and within, we
    experience darkness as well as light, confusion as well as clarity,
    hatred as well as love, war as well as peace, and shame as well as
    glory. In this world where we actually live, we need exactly what the
    pragmatists say we need: settled beliefs that will not simply allow us
    to act but guide our action.

          Others have, of course, raised these same issues with
    pragmatism, and they have often done so in ways that are sympathetic
    toward the pragmatist tradition. In "Pragmatism and the Sense of the
    Tragic," for instance, Cornel West pushes the pragmatist tradition to
    confront the "challenge of a deep sense of evil in the tragic."
    [34]^32 Critical of what he considers to be Dewey's shallowness in
    response to the evils of the twentieth century, West looks to Josiah
    Royce for a more satisfying response. "To Royce," West observes,
    James' and Emerson's promotions of heroic action, "in and of
    themselves, are insufficient or Sisyphysian, pushing a rock up a hill,
    but no progress, unless there is a deeper struggle with the sense of
    the tragic." [35]^33 West continues by quoting Royce: "the full
    seriousness of the ...problem of evil..." or of pessimism in the pure

      isn't the doctrine of the merely peevish man, but of the man who to
      borrow a word of Hegel's "has once feared not for this moment or
      for that in his life, but who has feared with all his nature; so
      that he has trembled through and through, and all that was most
      fixed in him has become shaken." There are experiences in life that
      do just this for us.... When the fountains of the great deep are
      once thus broken up, and the floods have come, it isn't over this
      or that lost spot of our green earth that we sorrow; it is because
      of all that endless waste of tossing waves which now rolls cubits
      deep above the top of what were our highest mountains. [36]^34

          There may be a few who are so innocent or indifferent that these
    words have no meaning, but most of us know something of what West and
    Royce and Hegel are talking about. These are not the "mere pangs of
    our finitude that we can easily learn to face courageously," [37]^35
    West reminds us. These are the tragic times and evils of life that
    demand a deeper understanding than anything Dewey or Emerson, James or
    Rorty have offered us.

          This is not to suggest that just any deep narrative will do. To
    the contrary, as Rorty and others have pointed out repeatedly,
    horrible things have been done in the name of metanarratives, and
    these days we need not think hard to come up with examples. On
    September 11^th we confronted this tragic truth in as horrifying a
    manner as we North Americans have experienced in a long time. We
    concur with Rorty, therefore, in condemning inhumane actions and in
    judging the action-guiding beliefs behind these actions to be false.
    We also concur with Rorty in maintaining a pragmatic frame of inquiry
    and argument in the face of these horrors. All too often, the sort of
    horrifying actions we have recently witnessed come at the hands of
    people who have taken leaps to authority. We would do well, therefore,
    to continue with the pragmatic consideration of action-guiding beliefs
    that can be tested by their consequences.

          The basic notion of pragmatism, remember, is that the true is
    that which is good by way of belief, and this judgement is to be made
    by judging the consequences of any given candidate for belief. Whether
    these beliefs arise from imaginative but empty self-fashioning that
    does not think anything runs deep, or flow from metanarratives that
    distort or exploit sacred texts, when these beliefs lead to inhumane
    action, we know by this consequence that these beliefs are to be
    rejected as false. Whereas the problem with Rorty's and Stuhr's
    action-guiding beliefs is that they are under-determinative, then, the
    problem with the beliefs of Nazis and terrorists is that they are
    clearly generative of action that is evil. When we judge this action
    as consequence, we are justified in concluding that the beliefs behind
    these actions are false.

          We need, therefore, to do some hard work. We need to try on
    alternative sets of action-guiding beliefs about humans to see which
    of them does the work demanded by life itself. Rorty's Nietzschean
    understanding is not enough and allows too easily for ethical
    principles and practices that neither he nor we would want to endorse.
    Stuhr's detranscendentalized understanding of life is similarly
    inadequate. While his taste in "clothing" may be similar to our own,
    all attire turns out to be optional. Not just sports coats but
    trousers too become matters of personal taste. Royce, coming to us by
    way of West, points us toward Christian ideas about the suffering of
    God in Christ who bears the sins of the world, and then points beyond
    this symbolism to what he calls the deeper truth of philosophical
    idealism. "[I]t is this thought," Royce says, "that traditional
    Christianity has in its deep symbolism first taught the world, but
    that, in its fullness, only an idealistic interpretation can really
    and rationally express..." [38]^36 Royce may be right, but given
    life's demand not simply for depth but for the will to engage the
    darkness and evil of this world, it might be the other way around.
    Perhaps idealism points toward the deeper truths given to us by sacred
    texts. In any case, he has, at least, located the conversation in
    which we are most likely to find action-guiding beliefs that might
    just be adequate to life.

          As West continues he points his readers toward those
    understandings that are adequate to human experience and to the
    challenges of the tragic and the evil in this world--deeper
    understandings that enable us to face up to and fight against evil.
    West moves by way of pragmatic considerations, comparing alternative
    hypotheses against each other on the basis of their consequences in
    experience, not on the basis of authority, whether scientific or
    religious. Again he looks to Royce who finds these deeper
    understandings in the symbolism of Christianity and in the
    philosophical idealism to which that symbolism, according to Royce,


          One hundred years ago William James observed that life feels
    like a fight: "If this life be not a real fight in which something is
    eternally gained for the universe by success," he wrote, "it is no
    better than a game of private theatricals from which we may withdraw
    at will." "It feels," he said, "like a fight." [39]^37 A century later
    it still feels that way, and we find ourselves still wondering how we
    might think about this feeling. Rorty admits that this is a tough
    question and recognizes that it is in the experience of this sort of
    moral intuition that his own conclusions find their greatest
    challenge. Rorty understands that for a lot of people, some sort of
    "metaphysical comfort" is needed in order to stay in the fight and not
    give up. Without such comfort there is a sort of moral humiliation
    with which they cannot cope, a humiliation that can have real and
    harmful consequences. Despite these real and harmful consequences,
    Rorty concludes that it felt the way it did to James because over two
    thousand years of cultural history had pushed him in that direction:

      For us, footnotes to Plato that we are, it does feel [like
      something eternal is at stake]. But if James's own pragmatism were
      taken seriously, if pragmatism became central to our culture and
      our self-image, then it would no longer feel that way. We do not
      know how it would feel. We do not even know whether, given such a
      change in tone, the conversation of Europe might not falter and die
      away. We just do not know. [40]^38

          Rorty does not deny James' feelings, nor does he deny that we
    need to be able to link these feelings together with other parts of
    experience. In good pragmatic style, furthermore, he looks to
    consequences in his attempt to sort this question out. In the end,
    however, Rorty sets aside immediate consequences and puts his hope in
    the more distant possibility that we might someday think and feel
    differently about moral experience.

          Though we can give Rorty credit for being far-sighted in a way
    that pragmatists are rarely known for, there may be a more compelling
    alternative hypothesis for how to think about the feelings that James
    describes. Perhaps the reason life feels like a fight in which
    something eternal is at stake is because life is a fight in which
    something eternal is at stake. This hypothesis has far more resonance
    than the footnotes-to-Plato hypothesis, and it does so because of the
    consequences that follow from it. Not the least of these consequences
    is the fact that holding to an understanding of the human condition
    that brings deep significance to the fight enables us to sustain the
    strenuous mood for which Stuhr and other pragmatists have called. In a
    similar manner, seeing the fight as deeply significant also encourages
    us not to give up on the hope of "existential transformation" to which
    Rorty urges his audiences these days. Why does Rorty call us to such
    transformation unless he sees a rather constant need for it? And how
    shall we hope to see such transformation become real in our lives
    apart from the sense that there is something at stake in this matter.
    Rorty is right. There is something fundamentally wrong with us, and we
    do need to be transformed. The question is whether cheering us on and
    encouraging us to maintain the strenuous mood is going to be adequate.
    Rorty is a good preacher, and he can often be inspiring, but if he
    hopes to see "existential transformation" become a reality in our
    lives, he may need to have more to offer than the thin
    self-understanding from which he argues. He may need to get more
    completely in touch with whatever it is that resonates for us in the
    very call to existential transformation.

          Popular caricatures notwithstanding, the genre of pragmatism is
    probably not the instruction manual but the confessional. To trace the
    consequences of beliefs and to assess their value for life is finally
    a deeply personal story. Pragmatist writers are often engaging not
    only because they write lucidly and talk about practical matters, but
    also because they write autobiographically and confessionally. Both
    James and Rorty are at their best in their most confessional moments,
    and when Stuhr writes in the personal manner that he does in this
    issue of The Hedgehog Review, he is again writing as a pragmatist
    might be expected to do. The pragmatist's concern is life--what works
    and what doesn't, what is good and what is not--and the pragmatist
    knows that the best place to carry out this inquiry is one's own life,
    in conversation with others. Good pragmatist writing, then, is deeply
    personal. In my case, it is about facing the challenges of being an
    understanding and faithful husband, a patient and encouraging father,
    an appreciative and thoughtful son, a constant and supportive friend,
    a humble and unintimidated colleague, an active and caring citizen,
    and simply a human being who is ready to make sacrifices for strangers
    and to love his enemies. Still more to the point, it is about facing
    these challenges as someone who is troubled by his failings in these
    roles. The pragmatists are right. We do need action-guiding beliefs.
    If, however, these beliefs are truly going to guide our action in that
    realm of moral failure and moral hope where we all live, they will
    need to offer deep understandings of who we are. They will need to
    offer an understanding characterized by spirituality and
    transcendence, by incarnation and redemption, for these are the
    beliefs that are capable of guiding action in all those times when
    life continues to feel like a deeply significant fight.

    [41]^1 Richard Rorty, Truth and Progress: Philosophical Papers, Volume
    3 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998) 4. ] [42]^2 Writing at
    the beginning of the 1990s, Richard Bernstein framed these extremes in
    terms of the modern and postmodern--a way of speaking that not many
    would choose presently. In doing so he suggests that all the fuss over
    the terms may be little more than a way of talking about the grand
    swing from dogmatism to skepticism, from the lofty aspirations of
    modernity to the empty postmodern space into which those aspirations
    seemed to dissolve. ] [43]^3 William James, Pragmatism in Writings,
    1902-1910 (New York: The Library of America, 1987) 512. ] [44]^4 James
    531. ] [45]^5 James 506. ] [46]^6 James 573. ] [47]^7 Richard Rorty,
    Consequences of Pragmatism: Essays, 1972-1980 (Minneapolis: University
    of Minnesota Press, 1982) xliv. ] [48]^8 Rorty, Contingency, Irony,
    and Solidarity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989) 87. ]
    [49]^9 Rorty, "Does Academic Freedom Have Philosophical
    Presuppositions?," Academe: Bulletin of the American Association of
    University Professors 80. 6 (1994): 58. ] [50]^10 Rorty, Consequences
    of Pragmatism, xxiii. ] [51]^11 William James, Pragmatism and The
    Meaning of Truth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978) 41. ]
    [52]^12 James, Pragmatism and The Meaning of Truth, 44. ] [53]^13
    James, Pragmatism and The Meaning of Truth, 43. ] [54]^14 James,
    Pragmatism, 521. ] [55]^15 James, The Meaning of Truth in Writings,
    1902-1910 (New York: Library of America, 1987) 923. ] [56]^16 See
    Richard Rorty, "Pragmatism Without Method," Objectivity, Relativism,
    and Truth: Philosophical Papers, Volume I (Cambridge: Cambridge
    University Press, 1991) 63-77; and William James, Pragmatism, 505-22.
    ] [57]^17 As quoted in Richard S. Westfall, Science and Religion in
    Seventeenth-Century England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958)
    199. ] [58]^18 James, Pragmatism, 511. ] [59]^19 Rorty, Consequences
    of Pragmatism, 191. ] [60]^20 Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, 193.
    ] [61]^21 Marquis de Condorcet, "The Future Progress of the Human
    Mind," The Portable Enlightenment Reader, ed. Isaac Kramnick (New
    York: Penguin, 1995) 29. ] [62]^22 John Patrick Diggins, The Promise
    of Pragmatism: Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority
    (Chicago: The University of Chigago Press, 1994) 95. ] [63]^23 James,
    Pragmatism, 515. ] [64]^24 Jürgen Habermas, The Philosophical
    Discourse of Modernity: Twelve Lectures, trans. Frederick Lawrence
    (Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, 1987) 33.
    ] [65]^25 Habermas 56. ] [66]^26 As quoted in Richard Rorty,
    Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, 57. ] [67]^27 Rorty, Consequences
    of Pragmatism, xlii. ] [68]^28 Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism,
    xlii. ] [69]^29 Rorty, Truth and Progress, 54. ] [70]^30 Rorty,
    Consequences of Pragmatism, xxxvi. ] [71]^31 David Couzens Hoy and
    Thomas McCarthy, Critical Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994) 63. ]
    [72]^32 Cornel West, "Pragmatism and the Sense of the Tragic," The
    Cornel West Reader (New York: Basic Civitas, 1999) 179. ] [73]^33
    Cornel West, Prophetic Thought in Postmodern Times (Monroe, ME: Common
    Courage, 1993) 47. ] [74]^34 As quoted in West, The Cornel West
    Reader, 181. ] [75]^35 As quoted in West, The Cornel West Reader, 181.
    ] [76]^36 As quoted in West, The Cornel West Reader, 181-2. ] [77]^37
    As quoted in Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism, 174. ] [78]^38 Rorty,
    Consequences of Pragmatism, 174. ]

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