An Introduction to Skrapticism

This post is a follow-up to the discussion that occurred between Daniel and Ross in Daniel’s post, “Pragmatism, The Evil Demon, and Inquiry-Limiting Hypotheses”

In this post, I want to explore Ross’ claim that “I don’t think there’s such a thing as a justification for pragmatism, and in fact I think the notion of a “justification” presumes a correspondence theory of truth.”

I think that is a brilliant point, Ross.  Let me explain what I mean.

I don’t know if it is possible, and I don’t know what it would mean, to have a conversation before one has “accepted pragmatism,” or “accepted a correspondence theory of truth (CTT)”  I am not sure what this would entail.

This reminds me of when someone asks me my religious beliefs, and I answer “I don’t have any religious beliefs.”  They respond, “Oh, so you are agnostic?” Then, they label me as an agnostic, as if it is comparable to Atheism, or Christianity.  They automatically place me in a field and want me to be able to justify my agnosticism on rational grounds, when it is merely the skeptical, unsure position.

Now let me return to pragmatism and the CTT.  I don’t think it is coherent or useful to compare the justifications for pragmatism and CTT.

Let us take a deep breathe, concentrate and compare Daniel and Ross’ views on the issue of which position has more explanatory power: pragmatism or CTT

Daniel: “You can explain pragmatism in terms of the correspondence theory of truth. You could just say that it is true that in all actual cases of language, we use words pragmatically. However, you cannot explain the correspondence theory of truth in terms of pragmatism. ”

Ross: “As a pragmatist, I’ll readily concede that the correspondence theory of truth is a useful way to approach many problems. If you subscribe to the correspondence theory of truth, however, I think you are bound to assert that the correspondence theory of truth is TRUE (and if you don’t, I think our differences are primarily semantic) and thus that the pragmatist notion of truth ought to be excluded.”

You too are both very smart people, but yet, have divergent views.  I could definitely be wrong, but I think that these differences are more manifestations of your preconceived positions on the issue, rather than accurate reflections of the way things “really are.”  I think that you both are failing to approach the issue objectively, or at least are failing to convince me that you are approaching the issue objectively.

So, let me try to find a different solution.  I will take a page out of Rorty’s book, and attempt to evade this problem entirely through re-description.

For me, agnosticism is the a skeptical, unsure approach to any understanding God.  Similarly, my view of language is skeptical of truth or correspondence to reality.  I think that before you form a belief about an issue (I am not really sure what a belief actually is, though), you shouldn’t be held intellectually responsible for your belief.  You shouldn’t have to defend your position.  Perhaps you should be prepared to give reasons why you are skeptical of other positions.  Also, I think people can be pragmatically responsible for their beliefs, and I think that people can be criticized on other grounds, but not on intellectual grounds.  So, I want to redescribe Pragmatism in such a way that it falls into this awkward area of intellectual invulnerability.

I want to replace the word Pragmatism with Skrapticism.  I want to provide a rough idea of what I mean.  I haven’t yet fully figured out what I want Skrapticism to explain, but here are my first thoughts.

I am unsure what theory of truth is coherent.  I am open to the idea of a correspondence theory of truth, irrelevant to its “usefulness” (though, I am not sure how one would convince me to accept it, when as Ross pointed out, one can redefine usefulness as nearly any particular metric).  The reason why I do not currently subscribe to a correspondence theory of truth is two-fold.  First, I do not know how to ground it in reason, and second, I don’t think its necessary or useful for anything that I do in my life.  I also don’t have any passionate urge to subscribe to it.  I can see why someone would disagree with me, I am just trying to explain my intellectual and psychological reasons for holding this belief so that you might better understand why I am a Skraptic.

I don’t know how you feel about this issue, but I do not intentionally choose to use words that I do not understand the meaning of.  This might sound obvious, but the implication for me is that I do not use the word “know” or “true” outside of a pragmatic sense.  It is true that tomorrow is Friday (from my perspective) and I know that CMC will have hummus tonight.  I don’t really care what conditions must be fulfilled for either of these claims to be “true.”  [I don’t think redefining knowledge as “true, justified belief” explains anything.  Now I have three words I don’t understand instead of one.]

I would like to Let Rorty shed some light on this issue.  Rather than asking what truth is, Rorty talks about what “truth” as a term does. I think this is very important.  Until we have accepted a correspondence theory of language, or some other linguistic conception that justifies a non-pragmatic use of truth, I think it makes sense to limit our use truth to instances in which we understand what it, as a term, does.

A Skraptic wouldn’t claim that truth doesn’t exist, or claim that we cannot find truth, or claim that truth is incoherent.  But rather, the Skraptic is unsure as to what truth can offer us.

After reading about Kripke, Dennett, and Rorty, a Skraptic might enjoy parts of Pragmatism, and might find the Pragmatic literature to be useful and fascinating, but the Skraptic wouldn’t choose to fully embrace Pragmatism for fear of being tied down to a philosophy of language that they endorse.

The Skraptic is merely sampling at Yogurtland.  She has yet to choose her delicacy.

If one, like me, chooses to label oneself as a Skraptic rather than a Pragmatist, one has effectively chosen Agnosticism over Atheism.  The Skraptic doesn’t think that Truth doesn’t exist, and he doesn’t think that it is necessarily illogical to believe in truth, but rather that she doesn’t have enough information either way.

I would like to offer another metaphor to illustrate possible implications of Skrapticism.

In Daniel Dennett’s criticism of Dawkins’ The God Delusion, Dennett writes that

“We agree about most matters, and have learned a lot from each other, but on one central issue we are not (yet) of one mind: Dawkins is quite sure that the world would be a better place if religion were hastened to extinction and I am still agnostic about that. I don’t know what could be put in religion’s place–or what would arise unbidden–so I am still eager to explore the prospect of reforming religion, a task that cries out for a better understanding of the phenomena, and hence a lot more research than has yet been attempted.”

To explain my metaphor, I want to reconstruct Dennett’s criticism, replacing “Dawkins” with Rorty/Pragmatists.  Dennett with Skraptic.  Religious with “objective truth,” or “correspondence theory.”

I am not convinced that the world would be a better place if everyone was a pragmatist.  Instead, I agree with Rorty and Gordon’s argument that philosophy is a therapeutic method for helping people with certain ideas.  Not everyone is a Skraptic, and many Skraptics would love to vehemently believe in Christianity (if only they could).

Now, I want to look at the implications of Skrapticism on Philosophical Quietism.

Quietists believe that “Philosophy has no distinctive methods and philosophy can solve no problems; philosophy becomes a kind of therapy, dissolving philosophical problems rather than solving them.”

I do not necessarily think that all problems need to be dissolved, but I also don’t think all problems are fruitful.  Instead, I think it is up to the individual to investigate whatever she feels like investigating.  I don’t think this is problematic, profound, or anything in particular, but rather a reminder of the problem of labeling ourselves with certain beliefs.  It might force us to take too active of a stance towards a certain problem and lead to negative impacts like what Daniel described.

Finally, I want to revisit the original impetus for this post.

Ross said that he doesn’t think there’s such a thing as a justification for pragmatism” and that “the notion of a “justification” presumes a correspondence theory of truth.”

I think that it is more useful to think like a Skraptic, because it is not only unnecessary to justify Skrapticism, but definitionally impossible.

The second question that was heavily debated was whether pragmatism or CTT has greater explanatory power.  Now, it seems clear that Skrapticism must clearly have the greatest explanatory power imaginable, because it can conceive what it is like to view the world from everyone’s perspectives.  Because Skraptics want to explore and expand their understanding, and have no limitations as to what assumptions they can uphold, Skrapticism has the potential for limitless explanatory power.

But, I don’t think this matters.  I am not advocating Skrapticism for anyone who does not want to willingly take on the banner.  Skrapticism requires a primary interest in looking at things from different perspectives, and the true Skraptic wants to constantly expand her final vocabulary.

There are many interesting arguments on each side of the issue, and I don’t think it is necessary for any Pragmatists to become Skraptics.  I’m not positive that there is a difference, but I think that there is, and I think that the difference is nearly synonymous to the difference between Atheism and Agnosticism.

Through dropping the harsh, anti-propositional stance, Skrapticism seems to resolve a major philosophical dispute.  It seems like this is pragmatically in a Pragmatists best interests.  That is, unless she is a Pragmatist only for the sake of argument.

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