Are Rational and Pragmatic Judgment Really Compatible?

Argotitan
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Are Rational and Pragmatic Judgment Really Compatible?

...so for the past several years, I've encountered lots of "pragmatic rationalists" who don't seem to actually exist in the real world.  They're usually in a university setting or online or in some protected white collar job...

...but when you apply pragmatic rationalism to real world people who are down to Earth, you're basically setting yourself up to get exploited or rejected.

That is down to Earth real world people interpret pragmatic rationalism as the simplest way to get the immediate job done, and they don't want to think before they act.  They want to learn from experience, and once they are sufficiently satisfied, they get stuck in their way.  If you come from protected social status, this is fine!  Those people will never actually get in your hair or screw around...

...but say your own personal community is composed of these people.  Now, we're talking about a totally different problem.  We're talking about a community where you can talk until you're blue in the face, or perhaps pick and choose your battles.  Either way, the community around you is going to be stubborn, and if you suggest a way to get the job done which threatens their hierarchy or authority, they will instantly turn you down because it's irrational for them to accept your way of doing things.  They want to stay on top of their little world, and the idea of letting you escape through them is not in their own self-interest.

It's rather conservative really, and I'm just shocked how many self-described pragmatic rationalists claim to be liberally minded despite this.  It makes me wonder if pragmatic rationalists are being honest or even know what they're talking about.

On top of this, I've always conceived of rational thought as being primarily idealistic because it's abstractly focused whereas pragmatic though is artistic because it's concretely focused...

...but even socially speaking, pragmatic rationalists end up associating with artistic idealists which is very strange.  That is pragmatic rationalists basically compute scientific techniques that artists can use to express... random ideas.  Their ideas aren't rational after all.  They're creative, but irrational, and for some reason, the pragmatic rationalists like it.

I can't see any alternative other than political correctness for this.  They support irrational randomness because it's opposed to religiously ordered Western civilization.

Anyway, I don't get it.  I've always thought that the value of being rational is coming up with abstract models that you can practice to concretely express who you are on the inside.

Pragmatic rationalism just gets me in trouble with thickheaded "conservatives" who don't want to change their ways.  They claim they're being pragmatically rational anyway, so it shouldn't be a problem.  It's only when I'm idealistically rational that things make any sense to them and I can get them to cool their jets.

 


Beyond Saving
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Is there a point in all of

Is there a point in all of this rambling?

 


Argotitan
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 I don't know.  Pragmatic

 I don't know.  Pragmatic rationalists never seem to have a point.  They just claim to calculate what it takes to do what works for their own self-interest, but they seem to be very lucky people.  If you take that attitude with a jerk before you've gotten your footing, the jerk will just be a pragmatic rationalist in jerking you around.


Vastet
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Argotitan wrote:Pragmatic

Argotitan wrote:
Pragmatic rationalists never seem to have a point.

Does that mean you are a pragmatic rationalist?

Argotitan wrote:
if you suggest a way to get the job done which threatens their hierarchy or authority, they will instantly turn you down because it's irrational for them to accept your way of doing things.  They want to stay on top of their little world, and the idea of letting you escape through them is not in their own self-interest.

If your way is more effective and efficient, then it would be irrational to fight it. Thus the 'pragmatic rationalist' would not actually be rational.
Which isn't surprising really. Noone is or can be rational all the time. Pesky emotions make that impossible.

Proud Canadian, Enlightened Atheist, Gaming God.


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Hi, Argotian. Vastet alludes

Hi, Argotian. Vastet alludes to the correct answer (IMO), but I'll go through and give you some more details.

First, to see where I'm coming from, I ask you to read this article I've written a while back to cover this topic whenever it comes up: Wonderism, pragmatism, and prediction.

Now, into the quotes!

Argotitan wrote:

...so for the past several years, I've encountered lots of "pragmatic rationalists" who don't seem to actually exist in the real world.  They're usually in a university setting or online or in some protected white collar job...

...but when you apply pragmatic rationalism to real world people who are down to Earth, you're basically setting yourself up to get exploited or rejected.

That is down to Earth real world people interpret pragmatic rationalism as the simplest way to get the immediate job done, and they don't want to think before they act.  They want to learn from experience, and once they are sufficiently satisfied, they get stuck in their way.  If you come from protected social status, this is fine!  Those people will never actually get in your hair or screw around...

I agree that 'pragmatism' has multiple interpretations, and that many colloquial versions of it are what I would call 'short-sighted, politically-populist pragmatism'. But when I refer to pragmatism, I mean 'philosophical, epistemological pragmatism with a long-term view'.

That's one of the big reasons I tie the concept of 'pragmatism' to the concept of 'prediction'.

The short-sighted version which you seem to be referring to is a weaker version which doesn't make as good predictions as long-term pragmatism. A good example would be global warming/climate change. If you artificially limit your predictions to the short-term, you might think, "Pragmatically speaking, this won't affect my life in the next five years, even if it is true, so why bother worrying about it?"

But you see, this is not the same kind of pragmatism that I am talking about. It doesn't matter if it affects your life or not. What matters is *which theory/hypothesis makes the better predictions*? That's it. That's everything. And if you look at things with *that* criterion in mind, then the evidence-backed theories of modern climatology -- i.e. that the Earth's temperature is rising due to increased levels of CO2 (and many other secondary causes as well) from human activity, and that this change is contributing to and will continue to lead to rapid changes in climates around the world, i.e. global warming and climate change -- are the best theories we currently have. That is, these theories make the best predictions, and therefore are the 'most true'. In this case, they are so much 'more true' than any other alternative theory, that we colloquially just say that these theories 'are true' and call the other ones simply 'false'.

It's about 'what is true', not about 'what is in it for me'. It's pragmatism, not utilitarianism. Unfortunately, lots of people 'on the ground' use 'pragmatic' as a near-synonym to 'utilitarian'. In those cases, I use examples like the above to explain why it's better (<-- see that?) to think of pragmatism as being about prediction. Thinking of pragmatism as being about prediction 'works better' to help us understand what's actually true about the world. Pragmatism in this way, is itself pragmatic. From short-sighted pragmatism, you can show people that long-view pragmatism is even better than what they think at the moment. It's self-improving, if it is sincerely held in the first place.

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...but say your own personal community is composed of these people.  Now, we're talking about a totally different problem.  We're talking about a community where you can talk until you're blue in the face, or perhaps pick and choose your battles.  Either way, the community around you is going to be stubborn, and if you suggest a way to get the job done which threatens their hierarchy or authority, they will instantly turn you down because it's irrational for them to accept your way of doing things.  They want to stay on top of their little world, and the idea of letting you escape through them is not in their own self-interest.

If they are truly thinking pragmatically, with the view towards what's *actually true*, then the solution to this dead-lock is to turn to the *evidence* which reality provides us. I wrote another article which talks about this type of dead-lock: Wonderism vs. faith. It shows that, when you look at things pragmatically, faith fails. Faith (I believe it because I believe it) is *not* pragmatic. Though that was written with religious faith in mind, you can use a similar argument against any form of dogmatic or short-sighted, self-interested thinking.

Evidence is the answer you're looking for here, IMO.

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It's rather conservative really, and I'm just shocked how many self-described pragmatic rationalists claim to be liberally minded despite this.  It makes me wonder if pragmatic rationalists are being honest or even know what they're talking about.

First, just because they are pragmatic rationalists doesn't mean they've thought everything through yet. Nor does it mean they've seen all the evidence yet. If they *really are* pragmatic rationalists, then they will be able to be swayed by evidence, and if you argue with them with this criterion in mind, by appealing to the available evidence, then you will eventually be able to convince them that they are wrong (or, as *often* happens, you will begin to see that the evidence doesn't *actually* support your position as much as it supports their position (or some other, third position, or even the position that, "there's not enough clear evidence to know either way" ), and if *you* are a pragmatic rationalist, then *you* will end up being swayed by the evidence and realize that *you* were wrong; personally, this happens to me daily as I constantly try to improve my understandings of one topic or another).

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On top of this, I've always conceived of rational thought as being primarily idealistic because it's abstractly focused whereas pragmatic though is artistic because it's concretely focused...

I don't see the 'artistic' distinction as being very useful there. Perhaps I'm simply not understanding what you mean.

However, if you look at 'empiricism' as being the 'concrete' implementation of pragmatism, then pragmatic rationalism can be the 'abstract' and empiricism the 'concrete'. That's more how I see things, personally. Ultimately, it's going to lead you in the direction of science, and a scientific worldview, for the very simple reason that science is currently *the best* pragmatic knowledge-generating system we have. It makes the best predictions, hands down. And its whole guiding principle is 'what makes the best predictions'. Science is the real-world extension of philosophical/epistemological pragmatism. I think that's why you're seeing more and more people regard themselves as 'pragmatic rationalists', though honestly I've never heard that combination until you mentioned it. Makes sense to me, though; it's a useful phrase, I think.

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...but even socially speaking, pragmatic rationalists end up associating with artistic idealists which is very strange.  That is pragmatic rationalists basically compute scientific techniques that artists can use to express... random ideas.  Their ideas aren't rational after all.  They're creative, but irrational, and for some reason, the pragmatic rationalists like it.

I would place pragmatism at the root, not rationalism. I'm a rationalist *because* I'm a pragmatist (i.e. rationalism helps me make better predictions), not the other way around. Therefore, I do not see any conflict between *pragmatism* and art, nor 'random ideas'. Indeed, in terms of hypothesis generation, 'random ideas' are an important ingredient into the scientific meme-pool, just like random genetic mutations are an important ingredient into the evolutionary gene-pool. Without such random 'exploration', evolving systems quickly run out of useful variation, which leads to stagnation and the collapse of the ecosystem.

On the other hand, I'm not sure of what kinds of 'art' you're talking about. I'm just going off of the vague little bit of what you've written. So perhaps you're referring to something else where my response doesn't apply. Not sure.

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I can't see any alternative other than political correctness for this.  They support irrational randomness because it's opposed to religiously ordered Western civilization.

The 'irrational' has its 'uses' too. For entertainment, for example. Here's a pragmatic prediction: A world without harmless but 'irrational' stimulation from 'art' and other 'randomness' would be a boring, stagnant world which few if any people would want to inhabit, whereas one with a rich abundance of such varied stimulation would be a vibrant and pleasant world to live in, so long as such 'randomness' does no serious harm in the long run. Do note that I place 'wonder' at an even deeper foundational level than 'pragmatism', and so I *value* such vibrancy and intellectual stimulation over and above boredom and stagnation (not to mention the potential horrors of 'harm'). I'm a pragmatist *because* I'm a wonderist, not the other way around. For me, Wonder > Pragmatism > Reason (Rationalism/Empiricism) > Science. That's just a quick schematic ordering, not definitive, BTW. For example, I would also branch off after pragmatism towards the kinds of 'arts' that I enjoy as, Wonder > Pragmatism > My Favourites (e.g. Science Fiction, Action movies, electronic music (but also 'classic rock' and many other genres), sculpture, nature photos and documentaries, etc.). I don't see any conflict in this ordering.

By the way, this technique of ordering things by 'which one acts as the 'ground' for the other' is part of another area/branch of philosophy which I'm still exploring, and which I call 'foundationism'. I haven't written much on this as yet, though, sorry; don't have any essays on it to link to.

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Anyway, I don't get it.  I've always thought that the value of being rational is coming up with abstract models that you can practice to concretely express who you are on the inside.

Hmm, never heard of it expressed that way before. It's an interesting idea to explore. I've always thought of rationalism as being tightly associated with a logical/mathematical way of thinking. For example, using symbolic logic to help structure and think about various propositions and to help work through them in a systematic way, such as the typical logical syllogism:

All humans are mortal.

Socrates is a human.

Therefore, Socrates is mortal.

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Pragmatic rationalism just gets me in trouble with thickheaded "conservatives" who don't want to change their ways.  They claim they're being pragmatically rational anyway, so it shouldn't be a problem.  It's only when I'm idealistically rational that things make any sense to them and I can get them to cool their jets.

My suggestion: focus on evidence-based reasoning, and challenge them a) to provide evidence for anything and everything that they *claim* as true and which you dispute, and b) with evidence of your own to support any and every claim you make which is in dispute. If, after going through this process repeatedly (a debate/discussion), it becomes clear that they are ignoring mounds and mounds of evidence, whereas you have been willing to let the evidence guide your opinions, then you will then be able to claim, with the discussion itself being *evidence to support your claim*, that they are not *actually* interested in the truth, i.e. they are not *actually* the kind of long-view, prediction-based 'pragmatic rationalist' that I've been distinguishing here. Instead they are a short-sighted, naive utilitarian (there are some forms of 'utilitarianism' that are not so naive; but the less naive they get, the more and more they approach prediction-based pragmatism as I've described, so I doubt you'll have any problems with such non-naive utilitarians).

Sometimes (read that as 'usually'), you'll just run up against people who are not really all that rational nor pragmatic/evidence-based reasoners. That's humans. That's what we're up against. Sucks, but there it is. Might as well call a spade a spade.

Fortunately! There is good reason to believe (i.e. good evidence to support the hypothesis) that many people *can* be influenced over time to value evidence-based reasoning, and to go with the evidence rather than their own dogmas or biases. It takes time though, and persistence. But it *does* work. That's a prediction, by the way. Eye-wink It doesn't work with everyone, nor all the time, but it does work. Works pretty well, actually. And one of the better techniques to use to accomplish this is to adopt a pragmatic mindset, and a pragmatic style of debate. In other words: Use what works. The suggestions I've made here are techniques that I use all the time, and I find that they work -- for me at least, and for many people I've seen use them as well. However, there are many other techniques which could and probably do work also. You probably have your own favoured techniques, which if I tried them maybe I wouldn't be so good at it as you would be. Different techniques work with different people, and with different audiences and different circumstances. A pragmatist would try out various techniques and pick and choose which ones seem to work the best, adding them to their debating 'toolbox' or, like an arrow, their debating 'quiver'.

That's about the best we can hope for for now, I think. Perhaps one day we'll have a more 'scientific' theory of 'convincing people with reason', but today as far as I know, it's just a bunch of techniques and the practice necessary to build up skill with whatever techniques work best for you. You might think of yourself as a 'craftsman' and argumentation a 'craft'. Or you might think of yourself as an 'artisan/artist', and reason an 'art'. Perhaps even 'The Art of Pragmatic Rationalism'. Eye-wink

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