Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course


Idealism and Pragmatism – Derek & Jonathan

In analyzing the balance between pragmatism and idealism, we concluded that the most important subject of discussion is the goals of democracy. While we have many different ways to run it, the aim of government is what affects its quality and style the most. As time has progressed, we have seen a dynamic change in the way that we as a society, seek specific goals. As we entered the modern era, we have allowed more room for idealists, and have been awarded then by the goals that we have sought.drawing idealist pragmatist w800

Our modern government today has approached their democracies in a varieties of ways, but these methods can all be encompassed by two major ideas: pragmatism and idealism. The challenge that our governmental system faces today is how to balance these major pillars of ideology.

The direction in which we progress, however, has still been logically and largely pragmatic. This is due to the nature of pragmatic approaches. If we consider pragmatism, which literally means a practical approach, we see that it is simply looking for the best available option. Many issues are solved daily with pragmatism and it has done relatively well so far. Pragmatism, unfortunately, is limited by it’s own definition. When issues are considered in a pragmatic way, whatever changes exacted will be within the current method of thinking. A parochial solution if you will. Not to say pragmatism does not solve problems, but the nature of pragmatism inhibits the growth of idealism and subsequent major developments in the social paradigm.

Idealism is, well, idealistic. To seek an idealistic society is to seek the best possible that the system may offer, regardless of its potentiality. Admittedly, there are many great components to this resolution. An idealist would say that why not seek the best possible options? We must aim for the best, in order to attain the best for the citizens of this planet.

Idealism would also argue that there must be a catalyst, an instigator for change, in order to make the monumental progress that is possible. How could we possibly know what’s possible, if we don’t try? It parallels the ideas of Kuhn in epistemology, as he suggests we challenge the basis of the paradigms we remain trapped in today.

You could say “shoot for the moon and you might just land in the stars”. But a pragmatic approach combats this with a different idea: if you shoot for the moon, you might just end up floating in the middle of space, with nothing accomplished. This is one of the undeniable flaws of idealism, and one of the major points of contention from both sides – what happens when one falls short of the goals presented by idealism? Have they achieved the distance they have covered? Or is it an all-or nothing challenge?

Pragmatists have also challenged the idealists in terms of limitations. Is there a potential limitation to the goals you can seek? One could ask: when do the possibilities of ideals end? Human nature can only conform to the ideals of this world to a certain limit. Mengzi once said that “the great man is the one who does not lose his child’s heart” – this goes on to say that all men are eventually corrupted. If so, this means that an idealistic world cannot exist (or only exists to a certain point). This asks the question: when should we stop searching for a greater society? Is there a point when we have reached the peak of our abilities?

Furthermore, it is important to note that, due to the differing areas in which pragmatism and idealism may be applied, the answer to which is better depends on the questions you ask and the area you wish to broach. Like Quantum Mechanics if you will. You may be considering these two ideas in terms of their social, political, religious or even moral aspects. The plausibility of these two may change significantly depending on what aspect you are looking from.

As seen above, there are many questions to consider when dealing with these two ideas. If they were to be simplified to a select few, these are the most important questions to ask:

1. Should democracy seek idealism or pragmatism?
2. Is there a limit to idealism?
3. Should we treat idealism and pragmatism differently when dealing with unique topics (eg political, social, moral, etc)
4. Is there a balance between idealism and pragmatism? If so, where is it?



The Need for Ignorance

1. You must read this post before you read the one you are currently reading.
2. Everything stated below is a topic of conversation, and is under continual development and change. Please, comment below, because it is very hard to address the fundamental flaws in your own work.

Knowledge is the basis of progression, of our culture, and of our existence. We are dependent on knowledge for everything. My question is: why do we allow such clear inaccuracies in knowledge to exist, if it is so prevalent in human’s lives?

This question is broad, especially considering the fact that knowledge and human’s existence go hand in hand. Regardless of your belief about the inception of the human race, knowledge has been around for a very, very long time. If it has been around so long, how have we been unable to conquer it? To solidify it? To find lasting confirmation in it?

A good place to start is the pragmatical aspect of knowledge. After all, each time we enter a new era of knowledge, we are destroying everything we have built previous to that.

This subject was discussed in class in great depth – the way we shift our knowledge between paradigms. By the end of the discussion, I had formulated a simple image of how paradigms reconstruct themselves between paradigms.

The theory is that all of knowledge is a building. This building has many layers, many levels of knowledge, which we have accumulated within a paradigm. Each time we find new information we add it to the top of the building, building higher and higher. If we find that one piece of information or knowledge was inaccurate, we remove it. Now, if this piece of the building happened to be near the top, it causes little destruction, as only the top must be reconstructed. What happens if the base is removed? The entire building comes crashing down. But wait. Each of these pieces are still extremely useful, as an independent piece. The only problem we faced was the lack of as strong base.

For this reason, we must create a new base. This new base is stronger, and the rest of the pieces of the old building are reorganized, in a new, different way, on top of the new base. In this way, I believe that each time we resolve to create a new base, we are entering a new paradigm. We are not simply discarding all previous knowledge, but building it on an entirely different foundation, one that is (sometimes) stronger.

The first question one must ask is: is it worth it? Is it good to create one very, very tall structure in which all of humanity’s knowledge remains in, or is it better to periodically knock it down and build a newer one?

In my opinion, I believe that we must build as tall and long lasting towers as we can, for as long as we can. Though there is opposition to this mindset, my motives are simple; progress. It is impossible to make tangible progress in our society, in our world, without an existing building. No matter how wrong we are, no matter how poor of a foundation this building has, it is better than a building stranded in a perpetual cycle of construction. There is no way that we as a human race can progress while existing between buildings. Obviously, the human race will progress exponentially faster if we continually create these new buildings, but what hurry are we in? If we are to be searching for a non-existent truth, why rush?

I was approached with a historical example in response to this – don’t we live in a better society today, than we did in the 14th and 15th century? I would respond to this as such:

Established that it is beneficial to the human race (on a short-term basis, of course) to remain in a single building, it is perfectly viable to have accuracy within that building that lasts. That is the goal – for a single building to last as long as it possibly can. While there may be a “better life for all” existing in the future, we must first search the present paradigm to see if this is possible. We must push each building, each paradigm we exist in to its maximum capacity before we start the next one.

While we do not have complete equality, justice, or happiness among all people, I believe that we have potential. Potential for a strong building, one that lasts, one that supports the world in the way that the world so desires.

The purpose of this miniature spiel was reveal why we tolerate inaccuracies in knowledge. In a general sense, I believe that it is because we, as a society, have faith in the paradigm we are in. We see potential for our paradigm, our building. In fact, the large majority of the people within our existing paradigm have found satisfaction in this paradigm of knowledge.

If we were to take everything written above and use it as a model, there would still be a fundamental problem in the nature of this conclusion – how do you remain within a single paradigm, without falling to ignorance?

As a result, this would mean questioning everything but the base of the paradigm we remain in. And one would question, wouldn’t this be in complete opposition to everything that Kuhn ever stated?

One way to combat this ignorance would be to decrease the following period between society and philosophical trailblazers. This would mean allowing a longer time for philosophers to develop the basis for a new paradigm before shifting. In this way, you would not only allow for more progress within the current paradigm, but you would allow for a stronger base to be built in the future paradigm.

One idea, one purpose is behind all of this. My (unconfirmed) belief is that human race as a whole is progressing at a fast enough rate that paradigmal shifts are not necessary in order to bring massive change in the world. If so, then it would only be logical to remain within a paradigm that offers stability, and the most short-term progress.

Let us all be ignorant. In the name of progress.