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Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, John Dewey, Other Key Figures In The History Of Pragmatism

Pragmatism is the collective name for a family of theories emphasizing the practical consequences of holding a belief as a means to evaluating the truth of that belief. This focus on the practical was born of attempts to evade or escape many of the traditional metaphysical and epistemological puzzles and problems of traditional Western philosophy. Rather than continuing to deploy philosophical talents and energies in the service of seemingly endless debates about potentially irresolvable problems, pragmatists instead have addressed the specifics of actual, troubling difficulties felt by philosophers and non-philosophers alike.

Pragmatic theories of truth, for instance, seek to avoid the difficulties of traditional appeals to correspondence and coherence. A correspondence theory of truth typically claims that statements are true if and only if such statements correspond to actually existing and independent state of affairs in the world. Such a theory raises epistemological problems of knowing these relations among statements and the world, as well as the question of our ability to know any state of affairs independent of our ability to capture that state in language and description. A coherence theory of truth typically claims that a statement is true if and only if it coheres with the set of our other beliefs. Such a theory raises the immediate difficulty of possessing a large and coherent web of false beliefs—adding one more coherent belief to this web does nothing to make such a set any more true. Pragmatic theories of truth, instead, typically appeal to the practical consequences of holding a belief. A belief is true if it brings about a satisfactory result in a particular inquiry or investigation. Truth cannot be separated from the specific context of an investigation, nor can it be divorced from the interests of the inquirer, the history of such investigations, or the habits of the culture and persons involved. The specifics of such a theory—what constitutes a satisfactory outcome, how settled a situation must be in order to count as resolved, and the nature and influence of previous such inquiries, for instance—are the subject of much debate and form much of the history of pragmatism's development.

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