Monday, December 11, 2017

Worldview: Pragmatism

"Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?" (Luke 14:28).

Pragmatism is a philosophy built around practicality. As Christians, we are called by our Lord to be practical in what we do, and in our ethical practice—what we do for God—is very important to our Christian lives. Pragmatism, however, reduces all of life only to questions of immediate practicality.
Pragmatism grew up in the United States. It arose at Harvard University among three members of the Metaphysical Club that existed there toward the end of the 19th century. They were William James, Charles Pierce, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. A later advocate of pragmatism was John Dewey.

Out of a growing spirit of skepticism toward understanding eternal norms, these men began to look for an alternative approach. They said, “We can’t know ultimate truth; we can’t know ultimate values. So, how do we know what is right? The answer is by experimentation.” In his book, The Varieties of Religious Experience, William James turned this approach toward religion. His method was to interview people, and he concluded that religion is fine for many people because it works for them. If religion does not work for you, then you don’t need it. His ultimate concern and that of his fellow pragmatists was not with truth but rather with “what works.”

Pragmatism focuses on the short term. Since we cannot know ultimate truths, we can only deal with immediate issues in terms of short-term perceived workability. Beyond this, the pragmatist has no answer to such short-term solutions to problems as the elimination of the Jews by the National Socialists during World War II. After all, such a solution surely “works.”

Review the decisions you made last weekend. What were your reasons and motivations? Were they for convenience, gain, profit, pleasure? What place did ultimate values and biblical principles have in the decisions? What about decisions facing you at the start of this new week—will pragmatism dictate the outcome?