Thursday, October 20, 2005

What's Pragmatism?

Over the holiday, on advice of a friend, I started reading Richard Posner's Law, Pragmatism, and Democracy. For those of you who don't assiduously read everything put out by Posner, he is the chief justice of the seventh circuit Court of Appeals. He's also a prolific writer, puts out a book or so annually, writes numerous law review and other scholarly articles, and often pens op-eds or articles in more accessible works. And he mainains a blog.

I've only gotten through the first two chapters of his book, where he outlines pragmatism and distinguishes philosophical pragmatism with "everyday" pragmatism. In chapter 2 he lays out legal pragmatism, a theory to which he subscribes, and explains how it accords with everyday pragmatism more than its philosophical brother.

The first chapter is very interesting. I have little exposure to philosophy in general, so I was unaware that pragmatism was a legitimate form (I was under the impression that philosophy is about ascertaining metaphysical truths). So pragmatism intrigued me.

From what I can understand given Posner's understandably limited explanation is that pragmatism is about finding solutions to practical problems and looking for answers to questions that can be answered. In other words, rather than looking to determine if "truth" has a real meaning, we should spend our time trying to determine the answers to more practical issues.

One key point is that meaning should be decided based on what answer leads to the most favorable consequences. That's an interesting point, because something's meaning usually has no bearing on the consequences. As Posner points out, G-d's existence is not related to whether the consequences of his nonexistence are favorable.

I'll deal with this issue in later posts.

Update: Romach correctly points out in the comments that Posner is no longer the CJ.

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