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Error: "Truth is what is useful to us now!"

Pablo Picasso. Weeping Woman.
The ugliness of this philosophical error is enough to make you cry.
(Pablo Picasso. Weeping Woman. Source)

1) Introduction

In this essay, I'll try to explain one of the frequent philosophical errors these days: "Pragmatism". Of course, I'm not talking here about "pragmatism" loosely speaking, as when a wife tells her husband to be more "pragmatic" and to call a real plumber, instead of making another mess in the house! Rather, I'm talking about the philosophical school of thought which denies our capacity to attain speculative truth, and which tries to compensate for this absence by a "truth substitute", i.e. "sentimental knowledge".

Let's say the same thing in a more graphic way. Suppose you're a hockey player, and that you score more goals if you firmly believe that you're a pink elephant with the wings of a butterfly. Pragmatism will say that your belief is "true".

(This essay is by and large only an overview of one section of the Précis d'histoire de philosophie by F.-J. Thonnard.)

2) What is Pragmatism, roughly speaking?

Pragmatism is the school of thought whose main representative is William James (1842-1910). It can be summarized with three fundamental assertions:

2.1) Absolute agnosticism. "Human intelligence is radically and totally unable to attain reality. This is the ubiquitous prejudice in modern philosophers, an unconscious side-effect of the Kantian critique."

2.2) Utilitarian truth. "Intellectual concepts only have value insofar as they foster life and its progress. In other words, the truth expressed by our judgments and our sciences is no longer an objective property, [...] it becomes a totally relative property which depends on the actual state of Mankind, and varies with it. That is a corollary of agnosticism: after having stripped intelligence of its proper rôle which is to conquer truth, we give it the rôle of the will, which is to attain the good and the useful. But since common sense maintains the notion of ontological truth, we will, by a paradoxical transposition, task the will with supplying us this truth."

2.3) Emotional knowledge. "The only way to attain objective truth is through emotions, actions, or life. This item characterizes mostly the "new philosophy" which wants to build itself with knowledge no longer supplied by a passive faculty submitted to the action of the object, but through one of our active, creative powers; subconscious, experience, intuition, action, in a word, life"

3) What are some of Pragmatism's consequences?

As any philosophical error which attacks Criteriology, pragmatism has disastrous consequences on the parts of Philosophy which directly depend on the foundations established by Criteriology, like Theodicy and Ethics. In other words, if our intelligence isn't able to attain truth (the pragmatist error in Criteriology), we can forget about the effort made to demonstrate the existence and attributes of God (Theodicy), as well as the rational study of good and evil, in order to better guide our lives (Ethics).

Pragmatism not only greatly harms Philosophy, but it also attacks the Catholic religion, through (among others) "Modernism". Modernism is not the heresy which makes us love computers and technology (otherwise, I'd have been excommunicated a long time ago!). Modernism, among others, asserts:

3.1) Absolute agnosticism. It's philosophically based on the critiques of Kant and Bergson.

3.2) The emotional knowledge of God. To know God, according to this error, we mustn't use intelligence and its worthless concepts, but stick to emotions. "Its main feature is the vagueness and imprecision which require dogmatic development, but also the stability and universality which can give rise to a catholic religion, since it can be found in any human conscience."

3.3) The mutability of dogmas disconnected from the Magisterium. Dogmas [...] no longer have any absolute value, but their "truth" is to be useful for religious life, whether individual, or social. [...] From the social point of view, men who feel in themselves particularly rich experiences, want to share them with others, hence formulas are indispensable. [...] This is how dogmas are shaped. Any religion which succeeds is true, and more so insofar as interior life is more intense in its faithful. But old dogmas must be renewed, since their only value and truth is in their correspondence with the living and progressing religious emotion in the mass of faithful."

You can also read Pascendi Dominici Gregis by Saint Pius X, which exposes the Modernist error.

4) What is the refutation of this philosophical error?

A rigorous rebuttal of Pragmatism requires an exhaustive presentation of a correct Criteriology. It the meantime, here are some of excerpts from Thonnard:

"What gives an appearance of value [to Pragmatism], is that a true doctrine cannot, insofar as it is true, have bad results; this is why the "profit" we derive from it can be a sign, a consequence with which we can demonstrate at least with probability that such a doctrine is true. But pragmatists conclude that usefulness intrinsically constitutes truth, such that a judgment is not useful because it's true in itself, but on the contrary is or becomes true at the moment where it becomes profitable: and that is their error.

Taken strictly, the pragmatic principle destroys sciences and especially Ethics; the only stability they have is the phenomenism of Hume, since their truth depends on individual usefulness. Moreover, it's impossible to understand "what is our profit" if we totally ignore what is in itself human nature. It's impossible to judge as true what is profitable, unless we assert at least implicitly that "man is for himself the unique final end, based on which the value of his acts must be judged": a purely speculative principle, which on top of that is wrong, since it's the denial of any extrinsic raison d'être for our finite and contingent nature. Pragmatism therefore destroys itself the moment it asserts itself; it cannot lay down its founding principle that "there are no purely speculative truths", without asserting at the same time a truth of that kind.

We can compare this inconsistency with the unshakable solidity of Thomism which, faithful to common sense, is content with philosophizing with the intellect, just like we see with our eyes. It can, moreover, by gaining a better understanding of common sense, solve all the difficulties which block modern philosophers, and which made William James adopt his paradoxical positions"

5) Conclusion

Of course, if it will make you score more goals, you can continue to imagine you're a pink elephant with the wings of a butterfly! But be careful before you "cross-check" Reason, you might end up in the penalty box!

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