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Posted on March 31st, 2013, by

What is truth? The question is neither hard nor simple, because many scientists have had their own opinions about this notion and, of course, the main hero of this discussion, William James, had his own one. The Pragmatic Theory of Truth is widely known in philosophy and psychology, because its pragmatic conception of truth of statements relates to their practical usefulness. According to James, the source of the pragmatic interpretation of truth serves the dependence of beliefs that has influence on our assessment of the practice, the effectiveness of human activity (James, 1909). Describing the truth James explained that it may exist on its place between an idea (or it can be opinion, believe, statement etc.) and its object. Into the acknowledgement of the words mentioned above James added that “Truth is a property of certain of our ideas. It means their agreement, as falsity means their disagreement, with reality. Pragmatists and intellectualists both accept this definition as a matter of course” (James,1909). Moreover, the next explanation will help us to understand the meaning of truth with more details: “the truth of an idea is not a stagnant property inherent in it. Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events. Its verity is in fact an event, a process, the process namely of its verifying itself, its verification.

Being an ideologist of pragmatism James rejected the contemplative life, and considered the action as the main sense of human life. James was trying to prove that only that knowledge is important and can be called the truth that helps to achieve success in action, in achievement of a concrete goal. James used subjective attitude to pragmatism and basing on this position he also stated that it is impossible to apply any universally valid criterion of truth to the conviction underlying all knowledge and action, because they express the practical interest of the actor. Their validity or truth is determined by whether they are practically meaningful, i.e. shaping the lives and are real, necessary and significant to the particular subject. James depicts the criterion of truth as a possibility to confirm it in practice, to benefit something from it, namely, profit-making, i.e., the real satisfaction of a specific individual of his relationship with reality, because James was sure that observing every word a person should look for the way how to find its practical cash value, should force it to work in the stream of own experience. Thus, for example, the ”˜hypothesis of God’ can be the truth, if it satisfies the individual in his particular fate. Since the interests and vital circumstances are different and all people are different too, then there are many truthful statements. And if vital circumstances are constantly changing, the attitude to the truth should be also changeable.

Thinking about correctness of James’ words it is necessary to mention that I have a little bit other opinion about this concept. I think that many concepts have their right for existence, but there are many generally observed moments that considered to be a truth for everyone. Thinking about the legislation, for example, we should mention that all people should know different laws and obey to them. It is possible to say that according to James’ theory a person can choose own truth, basing only on own opinion and necessities, but taking into account the fact that we live in society it is necessary to mention that any person should think not only about own well-being, but also about a common good. Thus, it is possible to say that I have own point of view on truth and comparing it with James’ position I found some similarities and differences in it.

In conclusion, James proved us that pragmatism makes all our theories less stiff, it sells them the flexibility and seats each of them for the work. Essentially, pragmatism has nothing cardinally new in its essence, and therefore, it exists in harmony with many old philosophical trends nowadays.

Work cited
James, William. Pragmatism. Cambridge (mass.), August, 1909.

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