The fathers of pragmatism thought that if you gear all of your brain-power towards this aspiration, your mind would be occupied with delivering practical results, and ideas with no “cash-value” to quote William James, will be put aside. This is precisely why pragmatism has had, since the early days, an inherent disdain for epistemology and metaphysics. The intellectual struggle to capture what the world really is is not only unpractical but can also be dangerous: it tends to solidify the ideas and beliefs of a generation or a particular culture as the ones that finally got the world right. Inevitably, that mentality puts a halt on progress. For a pragmatist, the effort to capture what the world really is is nothing else than a myopic exercise of cutting the future down to the size of the present to use John Dewey’s beautiful image.
What most individuals find excruciating about pragmatism’s idea of progress is that it refuses to identify “progress” with the march towards any specific way-of-life or world-view. In other words, pragmatism’s version of progress has no pre-defined directionality. Instead, as good Darwinians, pragmatists understand progress as the constant struggle to reshape ourselves in ways that allow us to better cope with our ever-changing environment. And what that shape ought to be is something that the human community would have to decide upon as it goes along. To the ears of a traditional philosopher, this is scandalous and irresponsible. But for a pragmatist, this is really what we have been doing since we started philosophizing. While most philosophers see themselves as uncovering the truth, pragmatists see themselves as individuals looking for new beliefs, new vocabularies and new ways to redefine the human condition as new challenges emerge. From a pragmatist’s perspective, this is what Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche or Heidegger were doing, even if they thought they were finally uncovering what the world really was.
Hence, as I mentioned in the previous post, the pragmatist's primary preoccupation is political and not epistemological; the pragmatists’ main focus is to remind us of the importance of wider and wider channels of communication, debate and discussion. If our goal is to ensure that the human community finds increasingly better ways to cope with our ever-changing environment, the conversation needs to remain as open as possible and we need to strive for ever expanding inclusiveness. We do not know what the future will look like, we just know that the more open and inclusive the discussion becomes, the higher the chances that we will successfully cope with whatever it may be.