A Brief Examination of Pragmatism
We're all familiar with the common notion of pragmatism. In common use it functions as a sort of "common sense" approach to any given situation. For example, a husband may have tried to fix the plumbing without having any expertise, making the situation worse. His wife might suggest he be more pragmatic and find someone skilled to take care of the issue- a plumber! This form of pragmatism is not the focus of this article. Rather, the focus herein will be on a philosophical pragmatism that either urges one to ignore inconvenient truths, supplanting them with the concept of a greater good (a pale substitute for truth), or that denies the ability of man to attain to truth.
There are two central assertions of Philosophical Pragmatism that I will very briefly address. These are:
1. The human intellect is completely unable to attain reality. This amounts to a sort of absolutist agnosticism, leaving humanity completely ignorant of reality, and thus truth.This premise has far reaching implications, since if humanity is unable to attain reality, this leaves us in a state of perpetual ignorance as to the inherent worth of human life (if there can be any), the value of family, the relevance of social constructs such as government, culture, etc. All of these are relegated to the vacuum of infinite ignorance, and therefore cannot be said to have any substantive quality.
2. Intellectual concepts are only valuable if they promote life and human progress. What this is telling us is that all science, law, and religion are not in any sense objective, but relative to the condition of humanity at any given moment in time. The connection between this premise and absolute agnosticism is clear. In effect, Philosophical Pragmatism strips the human intellect of its ability to attain truth, and instead places truth in the vague and ever changing context of relativism, thus denying an objective truth. It is from this philosophical premise that the notion of a "lesser of two evils" emerges, since if truth is relative to the condition of humanity- its ability to achieve the perceived greater good- then any absolute truth claims cannot be acceptable. Instead, what must be acted upon is that which achieves what is good for the condition of humanity at that moment in time, up to and including a perceived "lesser evil" for the human condition at that moment.
Essentially, Pragmatism is an attack on Criteriology, and the attendant principles of Ethics and Theodicy which are bound up with Criteriology, If we are unable to attain to truth (Pragmatism), then we are also stricken with an acute inability to argue for the existence, character and nature of a Creator, and thus have no objective and absolute basis upon which to argue for morality and basic rules of life (Ethics). Pragmatism allows for the ignoring of that which has been considered truth in favor of that which is expedient for the human condition at any given moment in time. In such a worldview there can be no truth claims, and thus Christianity is reduced to just another relative concept with no inherent value. In fact, in such a worldview, any religion that meets the criteria of the common good of humanity at any given moment in time is considered true for that time.
Pragmatism appeals to the utilitarianism of our modern society, and is inextricably connected to the concepts that form Cultural Marxism. Unfortunately this philosophy has infected the thinking of many clergy and laity and is taken for common sense, which it is not. If anything Philosophical Pragmatism is irrational in its approach to truth. Along with its offspring, Cultural Marxism, it says that truth is relative and springs forth, not from an Absolute Source, but the current human culture, which means it is ever changing. What is true today may not be true tomorrow, and thus humanity is always in a state of perpetual ignorance, swept along by the winds of the perceived common good of any given moment in time.
As Christians we must reject Philosophical Pragmatism, remembering that there is indeed a Source of Absolute Truth- in fact, the very Way, and Truth, and Life! (John 14:6) This Truth is the same "yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8), and thus His Truth never changes and is eternally good for humanity.
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