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One of our crew has kindly offered to give us an introduction to the below topic which I know almost nothing about (and copy-and-pasted from Wikipedia to blag the below!). This will be followed by the normal table conversations.
Pragmatism as a philosophical tradition began in the United States around 1870. Charles Sanders Peirce, generally considered to be its founder, later described it in his pragmatic maxim: 'Consider the practical effects of the objects of your conception. Then, your conception of those effects is the whole of your conception of the object.'
Pragmatism rejects the idea that the function of thought is to describe, represent, or mirror reality. Instead, pragmatists consider thought an instrument or tool for prediction, problem solving and action. Pragmatists contend that most philosophical topics—such as the nature of knowledge, language, concepts, meaning, belief, and science—are all best viewed in terms of their practical uses and successes. The philosophy of pragmatism “emphasizes the practical application of ideas by acting on them to actually test them in human experiences”.Pragmatism focuses on a “changing universe rather than an unchanging one as the Idealists, Realists and Thomists had claimed”.
William James (1842–1910)... was one of the leading thinkers of the late nineteenth century and is believed by many to be one of the most influential philosophers the United States has ever produced, while others have labelled him the "Father of American psychology" ...he is considered to be one of the major figures associated with the philosophical school known as pragmatism, and is also cited as one of the founders of functional psychology... James wrote widely on many topics, including epistemology, education, metaphysics, psychology, religion, and mysticism. Among his most influential books are The Principles of Psychology, which was a groundbreaking text in the field of psychology, Essays in Radical Empiricism, an important text in philosophy, and The Varieties of Religious Experience, which investigated different forms of religious experience, which also included the then theories on Mind cure.
Richard McKay Rorty [masked])... came to reject the tradition of philosophy according to which knowledge involves correct representation (a "mirror of nature") of a world whose existence remains wholly independent of that representation... Against this approach, Rorty advocated for a novel form of American pragmatism, sometimes called neopragmatism, in which scientific and philosophical methods form merely a set of contingent "vocabularies" which people abandon or adopt over time according to social conventions and usefulness. Abandoning representationalist accounts of knowledge and language, Rorty believed, would lead to a state of mind he referred to as "ironism," in which people become completely aware of the contingency of their placement in history and of their philosophical vocabulary. Rorty tied this brand of philosophy to the notion of "social hope"; he believed that without the representationalist accounts, and without metaphors between the mind and the world, human society would behave more peacefully. He also emphasized the reasons why the interpretation of culture as conversation (Bernstein 1971), constitutes the crucial concept of a "postphilosophical" culture determined to abandon representationalist accounts of traditional epistemology, incorporating American pragmatist naturalism that considers the natural sciences as an advance towards liberalism.