It seems to me, pragmatism is the quintessential American philosophy, it embodies everything our founders believed. The US founding was based on a market system… of ideas, economics, politics and philosophy. In a marketplace, ideas, products, and even philosophy are tested. Pragmatism as a method of thought and inquiry tests ideas and weighs them on an empirical scale. In a market, if a product gives value then it will be successful, if however, it is of no value, it fails. Marketing a product then can be said to require pragmatism, if it fails losses need to be cut, so the product is discontinued. Philosophy requires pragmatism to test its results, if the results are good then the philosophy can be said to be good, and if the results of it’s implementation are bad, then the philosophy itself can be said to be bad. In a marketplace, the measure of anything is how it sells, where there is no marketplace however, without pragmatic consideration, there is no viable test on the value of a product, idea, system or philosophy. Moreover, we see empirically that where pragmatism is used the standard of living improves and where pragmatism is eschewed, the standard of living declines. Your standard of living and that of your children is dependent on our leaders, teachers, executives and even ourselves, to be pragmatic and use pragmatism to weigh our decisions.
Pragmatism as a body of philosophy is normative, or in other words, it harmonizes that which we believe and think, with that which is real. People believe in all sorts of things, from communism to relativity, but how can we discern what beliefs are true and which are false? That is where normative philosophy comes in. Pragmatism tests the social theories, philosophical ideas and organizational attempts not strictly scientific questions, while science tests physical theories not complex ones. This is a mistake that many in the sciences have made, they seek to apply the scientific method to questions of society and social philosophy, (complex systems) because the scientific method has been so successful in discerning what water is, how fast a rock will fall, and other purely scientific problems. In complexity theory, strictly scientific questions would be called mount Fuji questions, where questions of society and social interaction are a changing landscape. Therefore, to apply the scientific method to questions of social philosophy, is like driving a nail with a screwdriver.
How pragmatism is used, is it observes the results of an action, then rates those results as good or bad. The rating is then used to predict the outcome of other similar actions. For example, if government puts a limit on the price of rental housing, for even the most noble of reasons, the result is a lack of housing. Pragmatically then, rent control has a negative outcome, even though the motivation might have been altruistic. Pragmatism looks at results not motivations. When the scientific method is used however, it always takes into account the motivation, like a chemical reaction, all the inputs need to be measured, quantified and the method of combining them weighed. In a chemical reaction this is necessary and fits the requirements well, but in complex systems this level of measure is impossible, and so the scientific method fails to predict the results… where pragmatism succeeds.
The founding fathers looked at the results of all the civilizations that came before them. They were very learned men who knew history. They weighed the results of all the governmental systems that had come before, and using pragmatism, they settled on a system of government that combined the best of what history had to offer and discarding the worst. In that way the very founding of the United States was based on pragmatism. The founders pragmatically looked at the results of various systems and if they produced good results, they were considered good and were incorporated, and if they produced bad results, they were considered bad and were discarded. The founders didn’t consider the motivations of the framers of past nations, civilizations and economic systems, they only looked at the results of those systems.
The United States was founded with limited government so those in power couldn’t contaminate the system. The founders had seen the results of powerful governments and so enacted limited government to protect their new nation from those results. While the leaders of powerful governments might be virtuous, have only the most noble of motivations and honest, the results always were and are the same. The system becomes more and more despotic until the tyranny is open for everyone to see. Once that happens the people understand they are victims and loose their perceived stake in that society and the society collapses. The founders recognized that it is the nature of government to seek ever more power over the people, and pragmatically tried to check that tendency, with pragmatic Constitutional limits on the power of government.
The US was founded as a market system because the market system had resulted in such a dramatic rise in the lot of humanity. Under a market system everyone is pragmatic. If you could make more money at another job you change jobs, if you can make more money building anther product or adding features to your existing product you do it, if it fails, you revert to what worked before. Everyone weights the results of their actions. Since we are pragmatic in our business dealings, as a matter of human nature, we apply pragmatism to other aspects of our lives. Our relationships, our housing situation, etc… our every decision is based on pragmatism. Pragmatism becomes ingrained.
Pragmatism therefore is the quintessential American philosophy. The US founding was based on pragmatism, the style of government is pragmatic, our market system is based on pragmatism, our people have been inculcated with pragmatism and our society itself is pragmatic. Tocqueville called attention to American pragmatism in his theory of self interest rightly understood. To be a rational maximizer is to be pragmatic. Everything about America and the American way is pragmatic. Unfortunately, today our leaders are not pragmatic but ideological, and seek to move us away from our founding, to a place that our founders looked at, weighed and rejected… for the results it produced. Our modern leaders care nothing about results and only consider motivations. They believe a system that has only resulted in human suffering on a massive scale, can be made to work, if only the “right” motivations are applied and the “right” people are in charge. Pragmatically speaking, their ideas can only fail, and fail big time, because they always have.