C-21. Pragmatism: concept and theory

Step outcomes, as desired and whether achieved or not, are enough to occasion our pragmatic concern and attention, which is to say, the invocation of pragmatism as a concept. Particular consequences, even those not produced by human steps, can be of pragmatic concern – precisely because they are consequential, informative (so to speak) to all us multi-step, incompletely instructed humans.

Considering the concept as a territorial marker – whatever else it may purport to be – pragmatism serves to remind us of some particulars which are very much worth our attention. Still, there are the usual conceptual problems. Definition, for one. Peirce’s pragmatism was not the pragmatism of James, prompting Peirce to rechristen his version as “pragmaticism.” (See below.)

But pragmatism as theory can alter our perspective on pragmatism as concept. And more importantly, a theoretical view of pragmatism can make much more of consequentiality than is to be found in any summary of particular consequences and what they are related to. More, for instance, than the yeoman work that consequences do in adjudging the value of scientists’ hypotheses and our more mundane alchemic initiatives to change things. The work of James and Dewey has started us on the path toward a positive, more constructive and productive kind of pragmatism, one where behavioral necessity and problem solving figure more prominently, where the Nature of Things yields helpful principles for behavior before the fact.

First, however, let’s employ FFPS’s view of step structure to dispatch the Peirce – James contretemps. Peirce, it would appear, is talking about what happens within the molecular core of minding => moving (VII). Whatever is minding’s focus of attention (word, idea or event) is best understood, he says – i.e., is thereby defined –by the move it occasions. James is (more?) concerned with the outcome of the step taken, not the move within the step as consequence but with the consequence of the step taken. The step’s outcome can be, and often is, ambiguous as to its antecedents however, making its consequentiality less useful as a definition of word, idea or event. Peirce also has reason to find James’ view objectionable because it uses pragmatism conceptually rather than on theoretical grounds, leaving it unanchored (C-22).

Peirce’s use of logic as a procedural tool to investigate sign phenomena limits his attention to what else is going on inside all but the simplest step. There, BFPS tells us, cognition and communication are doing their grasp x involve bit (XI), maybe forming BE’s impressions of the consequentiality of the focus of attention that will be manifested in its consequent move. Both James and Dewey seem to see pragmatism as a concern for the challenges facing human behavior, the steps we must make and take to meet the problems whose solutions will determine the quality of human life (0). So their perspective on pragmatism involves many particulars of consequence, outside as well as within the core molecule. Many problems, as they and we have seen, require extended behavioral molecules for their solution. (See James on the need for [many] unities – i.e., collective action [App. II] – and Dewey on the need for inquiry – i.e., pointed questioning [X] — in problem solving.)

“Pragmatic meaning,” therefore, extends to particular consequences outside the core step as well as to consequences inside that step. Thus, for instance, later consequences of a step taken, and memories of those further consequences, have meaning. Also, because Peirce’s idea, word or event is itself in consequence, there is further pragmatic meaning to elicit from relationships with antecedent conditions (e.g., referents, conventional usage). (Definition, as we have seen already in the case of the behavioral manifold [V], is too often more effort than effectiveness – the high price we pay for using concepts.)

Within the behavioral core of minding => moving the behavioral requisite of singularity (VIII) obtains. It is this aspect of oneness which provides the basis for the otherwise unusual grouping of idea, word and event. It is also a oneness it seems — in this case the concern for, and logic of, the order of things (III) — that underlies Peirce’s assertion that pragmatism applies to matters of truth as well as of meaning.

But we have, in BFPS, located Everything – i.e., the Nature of Things – between None and One [III]. Aspects of oneness then, however useful, do not offer us a complete and accurate picture of the Nature of Things, of consequentiality per se and of all that is in and of consequence.

The puzzle-problem distinction may be helpful here. On the order of things, we engage a puzzle. The oneness that obtains promises a “solution.” On the Nature of things, we engage problems as well as puzzles. We then, with problems, will have to come up with a different kind of “solution,” a composed solution. Both address discovery, but in different ways.

Pragmatism can thus be characterized in “not just” terms:

Problem, not just puzzle; Nature of things and partial order, not just order of things; Everything, not just everything; historical, not just ahistorical; behavioral problem, not just situational problem; behavioral structure, not just bodily structure; ought and might, not just was and is; composition, not just combination; behavioral necessity, not just logical necessity; development, not just growth; capability, not just capacity; development, not just growth; accidents, not just failures; development and research, not just research and development; generality, not just universality; effectiveness, not just effects….

The point of pragmatism, so to speak, is to add more strength to our intellectual capability by making the most of consequentiality. Given our condition of incomplete instruction we must do our utmost to bring as much of the future into the present as we can, to self-inform ourselves, not just rely on the information inherent genetically and/or available from the environment. Communication and cognition (App. III) enable this very constructive mode of imagination, inserting consequentiality into our steps and then employing consequentiality to assess those steps.

We need to extend Peirce’s effort to bring behavior more forcefully into the ontological and epistemological perspectives of philosophy. We need to do more –all that we can — with consequentiality:

1. With consequentiality per se – i.e., as a general persisting condition of the Nature of Things and the condition of which behavior (not just behaviors) is a manifestation. As the sine qua non of our lives, it and behavior should not be obscured by questions like “existence” nor limited by characterizations of behavior as states or properties of bodies. Consequentiality per se is perhaps the most important extension that pragmatism as theory has to offer. This quality, this persisting general condition of the Nature of Things, taken in conjunction with partial order and discontinuity, brings possibility and the future into the foreground, giving particular consequences purpose before the fact in addition to the considerable assistance they render after the fact. Further, there is the principled input, re behavioral necessity, of behavioral requisites and imperatives to guide our efforts to improve effectiveness, to add to the criterial contributions of effects.

Which is to say that not only do effects make a point about behavior, so do the principles that follow from the Nature of Things’ consequentiality make a point for the steps we might take. So now hypotheses are not the only pointed question (X: Ideational mechanics) we might ask to help guide our way and add to our effectiveness.

(There seems to have been a temptation for observers of communicative behavior to visualize communication content as though it were clouds [or skyhooks?] floating above us. However, together with cognition [App. III], it is sometimes – and crucially – the view ahead, especially with regard to the before-after relation, hence composition and innovation.)

Think of it as enlightened trial and error, if you will. But development and research is more than that. It is the principled basis for a more positive approach to development – as, for instance, to complement the more remedial of clinical efforts in dealing with health problems (App. V: life systems vs. death systems). Think strength!

2. With more modes of knowing, via cognized outcomes, which are many once we venture beyond the order of things after the fact and the limited informative utility of logical necessity. Peirce saw consequences as determinative – i.e., criterial — of truth as well as meaning because outcomes are means of knowing. There is more to knowing, however, than what applies to the order of things after the fact. (Knowing can be extended, or limited, by the how and what of the questions we ask.) In this sense, we can extend pragmatism to apply as a procedural tool (App. VII) to any cognitive behavior in which an outcome is observed in relation to something prior to it (e.g., prior feeling, moves made, idea employed [IX] or any other condition antecedent or attendant to the outcome (whether logically necessary and/or sufficient or not). Knowing offers no certitude however. We are talking about process here, not product. The process is essential to solving the behavioral problem, if not always the situational problem (I). So knowledge processes may be functionally equivalent, with respect to the behavioral problem, offering something to go on, but not pragmatically equivalent for solving a particular situational problem and/or how it makes us feel.

That there are various modes of knowing, of cognitively involving outcomes, invites intrapersonal confounding and confusion as assessments of feeling, means and notion get mixed up. Then too there is the failure, by both observer and actor, to distinguish emotion (a body state) from knowing’s feeling (a step process and product), thereby neglecting their interaction and/or compounding them.

That there are various modes of knowing also invites interpersonal dispute, of course, and poses difficulty for community minding (aka public opinion – see C- 24). Inter-observer agreement may be possible if the outcome is criterial with respect to a hypothesized order of things, yielding public as well as personal knowledge. But processes of knowing have work to do beyond the discovery of existing order and orderings and how we know is as much a problem as what we think we know. (Note the dynamics of agreement vs. understanding: XI, and the possibility of imbalance, of over-emphasis on agreement.)

What serves to guide us in accord with the Nature of Things is no simple matter. But one way or another, all modes of knowing are going to play a part. Several parts, actually. They will play a part in bringing the future into the present, in the steps we make, and then in the steps we take. We cannot afford to talk of structure just for knowledge products. We must also consider the structure of knowledge processes. In all this we need to emphasize the distinction between processes of learning and knowing (XI). One such way is to see learning as bringing the past into the present and knowing as bringing the future into the present. In any case, to treat them as synonyms – i.e., loosely as concepts – is to obfuscate functionally distinct needs, processes and products.

Pointed questions offer a structured approach to curiosity, maximizing the efficacy of effects in support of knowing and thus effectiveness. Metaphorically, we can not only burn the candle at both ends, we can also light it at both ends. The more of the future that we can bring into the present the more we will come to know in and of the future. (Re the neologism in ideational mechanics: Consider “thingk” as the future tense of “thing.”)

3. With more outcomes to be seen within the compositional step, as in development and research, in addition to the outcome of the molecular step in its attendant circumstances. Composition’s work with relating, especially that via cognition and communication with relations before the fact of established relationships, offers many opportunities to arrange the cognitive minding of outcomes.

Crucial to development in this way, however, is our development of pointed questions, of a more cultivated curiosity, in regard to the before-after relation. The convenience of the inside-outside relation (as for classification, logical analysis, attribution etc.) has been pervasive and persuasive, lending itself to logical necessity and the flip-flop of object and attribute as tools. The concept of causation, which confounds relationship with relation, has been too attractive and too often used as an explication of the before-after relation. These usages have given us a handle on the particulars of the past, but they stand in the way of a better understanding of the past and of a stronger grasp on the problems of the present and future.

Pragmatism brought behavior more forcefully into philosophical thought than its history-minded progenitors. Now behavioral theory can return the favor. Process consequentiality (C-16) brings new consequences into play, principally those made evident in compositional change (II: see “all that it takes”), in regard to the behavioral problem (I), in response to behavioral necessity (III), with emphasis on requisites and imperatives (Topics VI-XI) pertinent to agents of constructive change. Process consequentiality details more conditions, more contingencies* of sequence and ingredient (e.g., recipes), and more control potential, more conditions that are both in consequence and of consequence (see C-11: Control foci; also the many small steps that may be needed for a giant step [C-26], for which cognition and communication are indispensable). Reductively, it can establish by method (e.g., signaled stopping technique) and theory (e.g., ideational mechanics) the many behavioral units involved in the compositional process, so that criterial measures can be brought to bear during the construction of the step and not just applied subsequently to the step, thereby strengthening development and research (D&R) as a procedural tool for knowing.

For example, in signaled stopping research on messages, a stop indicates, first, a relevant functional unit, and second, the reported reason for that stop (e.g., to disagree, to question, to think) indicates a message outcome within that message. This is much more productive of message effectiveness, enabling revision, than just applying an attitudinal measure after the message is finished to get a globby answer to a globby research question.


Consider this potential parallel development from our understanding of inorganic bodies. We have an acquaintance with and see the consequentiality (aka materiality) of sand, gravel, stones, boulders, rock slabs, et al. We have a similar kind of familiarity with various actions, with particulars of behavior (e.g., approach and avoidance, eating and drinking, talking and writing). In the first case, of bodies, the disciplines of physics and chemistry established units within that evinced principles evoking an order of things (e.g., the periodic table) and greater materiality – especially constructive materiality. And now biology is following a similar path with respect to organic bodies. What has not happened yet with respect to behavior, to step making and taking, is a similar path taken and followed. Reductionism has not reached behavior. There is no historical reductionism for behavior to parallel the physical reductionism of the older disciplines.

Every unit of relating, in minding and moving, in the making and taking of steps, extends our realization of behavior, in our understanding of behavior – principled as it is by the qualities, requisites and imperatives of the Nature of Things – and in our improved effectiveness if and when we build on that understanding.

Pragmatism, seen through the lens of consequentiality, is the most open of philosophies or, if you will, of natural sciences It appreciates the consequentiality of compositional change, of creativity and invention, as well as that of more circumstantial changes. If we think of a philosophy as a procedural tool (App. VII), as indeed it seems we should, then such an extended pragmatism becomes a philosophy of and for the future. (And, it should be noted, an expanded pragmatism owes something to an expanded functionalism – so as to be applicable before the fact – as well as to a fuller appreciation of the Nature of Things.)

Pragmatism, fully realized theoretically, has a striking ontological feature, evident in our discussion of evolution (C-21): While behaviors are manifestations of us as bodies, so too are our bodies manifestations of behavior – per se as well as of particular behaviors. The fact of evolution fits best in a theory of behavior.

* Contingencies do not completely fill out the picture. Add complications: what the compositional task, the organizing, often looks like before the fact. Consider, for example, the problem of gappiness [VI], of getting three or more step takers to act as one [C-23].

(c) 2011 R. F. Carter