Pragmatic Theory of Truth

Pragmatism is a philosophical viewpoint associated with an American philosopher and doctor of medicine, William James. In his book entitled Pragmatism (1907), James makes a pronouncement about truth based on the good or practical consequences of an idea. According to him, “Grant an idea to be true, what concrete difference will its being true make in anyone’s actual life?—What, in short, is the truth’s cash value in experiential terms. What do verification and validation pragmatically mean? They again signify certain practical consequences of the verified and validated idea.” Thus, for James, the nature of knowledge is pragmatic, as it is found to have a successful application in the world. Moreover, it is not his concern to look at the formal structure or well-formed formula for validity, nor the empirical data for verification, James construed both the process of validation and verification as tantamount to the good or practical consequences that the belief in the idea would bring. He further stated that, “The truth of an idea is not a stagnant property inherent in it. Truth happens to an idea.” He also added that, “The true, to put it briefly, is only the expedient in the way of our thinking, just as the right is only the expedient in the way of our behaving.

In order to give emphasis on his point, James cited the idea of believing in Santa Claus as an example. Of course, many children believe in the idea that Santa Claus is true. Remember when you were young and you would try to stay awake until the wee hours of the morning in order to catch Santa putting your Christmas gifts inside your Christmas socks? Those were the days when you truly believed in Santa Claus’ existence, because you were able to receive and enjoy the good or the practical cash value of your belief. But, as you grow older, you would realize that you have outgrown the idea of believing in Santa, perhaps after the age of seven and you are not anymore given his gifts, what was good and practical before may not be anymore today.

This is the gist of the pragmatic theory of truth. A good number of people, could be considered as pragmatists since one always has to consider the question, “If I do this, what is in it for me?” Once you examine your choices or alternatives, you would take into consideration the good and practical consequences before making a decision. To a certain extent, there will always be a pragmatic side of the human spirit.

Unfortunately, who should decide, ultimately, or from whose point of view are we looking at when one is taking into account the practical consequences? Who should benefit from this good or practical consequence? Who will decide whose point of view will be considered when there are opposing views or interpretations of these practical consequences? Will this theory of truth be another example of might makes right? Or is this an example of a viciously relative interpretation? Why is it that some progressive groups in the Philippines, for example, label the United States as imperialist? Or is China a bully? From the point of view of China, they are asserting their territorial claims from their ancient history, but from the point of view of its neighbors, Vietnam, Japan, and the Philippines, China is infringing on the sovereignty and territory of its neighboring countries.