Pure pragmatics and the transcendence of belief


Authors
Jeffrey Barrett
University of California, Irvine
Abstract
Accuracy in the philosophical theory of rationality demands that we recognize particular beliefs as arising within the context of larger units, the cultural or conceptual schemes, patterns, or practices, involvement in which itself provides standards and grounds for their rational evaluation. At the same time, though, a satisfactory account of rationality cannot hold the standards, values, or commitments of one particular culture, practice, or conceptual scheme, even one’s own, immune from rational criticism. In order to accurately and responsibly picture the shape of our commitments and the dynamics of their revision over time, in other words, the theory of rationality must reconcile the immanence of reason to particular cultural and conceptual units with its transcendence of them. This raises a deep and far-ranging problem of perspective. In his perspicuous presentation of it, Hilary Putnam put the problem this way: There are two points that must be balanced, both points that have been made by philosophers of many different kinds: (1) talk of what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ in any area only makes sense against the background of an inherited tradition; but (2) traditions themselves can be criticized … On the one hand, there is no notion of reasonableness at all without cultures, practices, procedures; on the other hand, the cultures, practices, procedures we inherit are not an algorithm to be slavishly followed. As Mill said, commenting on his own inductive logic, there is no rule book which will not lead to terrible results ‘if supposed to be conjoined with universal idiocy.’ Reason is, in this sense, both immanent (not to be found outside of concrete language games and institutions) and transcendent (a regulative idea that we use to criticize the conduct of all activities and institutions). (p. 431). As Putnam argues, it is difficult to find a standpoint of theory from which the contrasting claims of immanence and transcendence can be reconciled..
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