New Pragmatism, New “Success”

Howard Silverman’s excellent “Pragmatism in the Age of Social-Ecological Truths” notes that pragmatism must take on a new aura in the 21st century. Silverman quotes numerous environmental philosophers about what the new pragmatism is all about.

It struck me that there is a deeper reformulation of pragmatism wanting to emerge here — which I’ve been thinking of as “evolutionary pragmatism” — which I noted in a comment on his blog, as follows:

Pragmatism is defined in my dictionary as

“an approach that assesses the truth of meaning of theories or beliefs in terms of the success of their practical application.”

This raises two issues, both having to do with “success”:

(1) What do we define as success? At its most fundamental level, our new situation (emerging crises) and sciences (ecology, complexity, evolution) demand that we broaden our view of success beyond immediate narrow benefits (e.g., quarterly monetary profits). The more entities and systems that benefit and the longer the time frame of those benefits, the more “new-pragmatic” a particular approach could be said to be.

(2) Success in evolutionary terms involves the alignment of one’s qualities, behaviors, mental models, etc., with the realities of one’s environment. To the extent we are not so aligned, we are “unfit” to survive/succeed, and get weeded out by natural selection. This operates at all levels simultaneously, so if we try to do something for the 7th generation after us that doesn’t please the existing generation, the current larger society will weed us out, even as the future prepares to weed that larger society out of the garden of Life. So pragmatism requires finding ways to align with both present and future realities. I would suggest that this reaches beyond ethical standards and policy making. It involves changing the systems within which that alignment is impeded or facilitated. I mean our political, governmental, economic, educational, journalistic, scientific systems and more.

For me, these two understandings embrace, underlie, and reach beyond the four points in Silverman’s article. The new pragmatism requires a deepening and broadening our concept of success and a serious overhaul/transformation of the systems we use to generate that success.

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