Hilary with various insights regarding pragmatism and


            Hilary Putnam, a world renowned
philosopher and mathematician, played a pivotal role in the advancements of
analytic philosophy. Putnam provides readers with various insights regarding
pragmatism and verification within the pages 291 through 306 which are titled
‘Pragmatism’ In the journal ‘Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society’. One item
in particular acts as the catalyst for this essay which is Charles Peirce’s
pragmatic maxim, which will be explained in the paragraphs to come. However, it
is this maxim that becomes the influence on Putnam’s thoughts of perceptual
justification which later leads him to reject verificationism while providing
numerous references and hypothetical examples along the way. Putnam eventually
comes to reject verificationism by exploring Peirce’s pragmatic maxim, perceptual
justificationism and verificationism itself which will have to be discussed prior
to the explanation of Putnam’s rejection of verificationism leading to the
revolt against conceptual analysis and further inquiries regarding the
connection between the two and how these concepts return to pragmatism.

            The pragmatist is
one who deems the truth as something that works for them at the time and does
not concern themselves with abstract questions such as ‘why does science work?’
unless the answer to that question will assist them in making it work better.
Charles Pierce, a pragmatist like Putnam provides us with the ‘Pragmatic Maxim’
which eventually not only influenced Putnam, but many philosophers to come. It
states “consider what effects, that might conceivably have
practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then our
conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object”. In other words, for any
statement or inquiry to hold meaning, the meaning of the statement or inquiry
itself must be proven so empirically, rendering the construal of this as the
interpretation of the statement, inquiry or potential object. This continued to work for the duration
of Peirce’s life and will presumably continue to throughout the duration of
pragmatism. However, in order for a proclamation such as this one to be true,
one would have to be under the assumption that the senses of the words within
the maxim would be able to endure the test of time. Which we later find out, is
not always the case.

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verificationism is essentially the way in which one recognizes how the things
are the way they are, by using the sense organs that all human beings have – unless
they are born with a disability that will render one or more of them
ineffective or obsolete. Putnam familiarizes the reader with the topic of
perceptual verificationism by providing an example of what it would be like to
imagine a system of 100 stars arranged at the vertices of a 100-gon in a space nebula
otherwise unoccupied by stars, which is later used in support of Putnam’s refute
of verificationism. Putnam provides readers with two statements on the matter
that are necessary for understanding the points that will be made following
their presentation. The first one being (I) – There do not happen to be any
stars arranged as the vertices of a regular 100-gon (in a region of space
otherwise free of stars) and (II) – No one will ever encounter any causal
signals from a group of stars arranged as the vertices of a regular 100-gon (in
a region of space otherwise free of stars). Which leaves us at the end of an
interesting inquiry – wondering if these two statements truly do mean the same
thing. A process, some would say, that can only be answered by the confines
found within verificationism.

Verificationism can be
considered as a concept that only views perceptual information as valuable if
it can be viewed on a binary scale consisting of true and false. Putnam declares
that one ought to reject verificationism, but not without seeing that there are
certain insights within its concept. In reference to statements (I) and (II)
Putnam would also say that for one to think that they contain the same meaning
would be an egregious assumption because surely to the untrained eye they can
appear to have similar connotations, but in his eyes they do not.

If Peirce were to argue this perspective,
a claim stating that if time were indefinitely prolonged the truth of
the initial inquiries need not be debated over at all because the true answer
would eventually be unearthed. However, Putnam explains that this perspective would
be one of a presumptuous nature in the sense that it assumes (1) The future is
indefinite and (2) that no information is ever irreversibly destroyed from what
it once was. It is here, where Putnam begins to reveal what a true pragmatist
would think in a situation such as (I) and (II).

Putnam conveys that truth
itself is built into our picture of the world itself which can only be verified
in conditions that are deemed to be ‘good enough’. This would also mean that
the sole existence of statements such a these must be a conceptual
prerequisite in terms of understanding what language is at all. Therefore,
making it virtually impossible for us to conceptualize an item that does not
exist on our realm of consciousness (even hypothetically so) without the proper
conceptual grounds to base it off of.

One may wonder why ‘good
enough’ conditions aren’t more intricately explored by Putnam in his claim such
as this one. Although, an inquiry of that nature wouldn’t be considered
pragmatic by any means. However, one that wonders what falls under Putnam’s definition
of ‘good enough’ conditions may have an investigative probe that could be
deemed as one that falls within the parameters of pragmatism.

Regardless, there is a conceptual
connection between grasping certain concepts and being able to verify them
under the proper circumstances. A prime example provided by Putnam is that
there is no epistemological difference between a mathematical truth and one of
that has been proven so empirically, as they are both statements of fact. With the
mathematical example being “5+7=12” and the empirical one being “water freezes
when it expands”. Although, because of the inevitable factor of time no truth
can be considered unrevisable by any means.

For example, if one were to
consider two variables as synonymous (A=B) and then consider the hypothetical
premise “x is an A if and only if x is a B”. One could not be so sure of this
not because at the time two words have the same meaning, but perhaps because
the two words will develop a new sense over time which can arise in an unpredictable
fashion. Putnam claims that even this
hypothetical premise fails when A and B are in different languages. Rejecting statements such as these are essential
on the path to rejecting verificationism for two clear reasons. One of them
being that we should not take every claim that one statement is a conceptual
truth to be the same of that as a claim that some sentence is analytic (which
of course is not the same as comparing a mathematical truth and an empirical
one). The next reason being because we simply do not understand what some
people would be asserting if statements such as 5+7¹12. However,
at one point in time the words “five”, “plus”, “seven” did not hold the same
meaning in which they do presently. This shows that it can sometimes happen
that words which aren’t already attached to meanings can sometimes turn out to
have more significance than they had at a previous instance.

At this point, Putnam begins to explain that a ‘new sense’ is entirely different
from a ‘new meaning’. A new sense can be viewed as something like an inevitable
extension of the way a word has always been used where as a new meaning can redefine
a sense entirely. While it is known that some statements simply cannot be
falsified unless someone invests a kind of theory or language to it that we
can not currently predict 5+7 will always = 12. Supposing that the ‘sense’ of
these numbers and words remain the same over time. Although, a present definition
should not be deemed as insignificant just because the possibility of a
different sense exists on the horizon – at least in terms of analytic truth.
Therefore, few philosophers can claim that there is no conceptual connection
between understanding and perceptually verifying.

Next, Putnam goes on to inquire if this connection
even exists at all. Explaining that these perceptions are not bound by just
interpretations of words but also by ways and interpretations of life. Here,
the reader is presented with the problem of how one is truly able to grasp a
concept of a chair. In order to grasp this concept, one must first be familiar
with the concept of a chair. Of course, a description of sorts is in order for
one to even fathom what a chair is without having any prior content knowledge.
And eventually, one must finally see it and sit in it. But, without these
general understandings, according to Putnam, one cannot truly understand
possess the full ability to conceptualize what a chair is. This abstract
example is where Putnam provides the foundation for his assertions on verificationism.

Mention of the astronomer Frank Dyson
help the reader to further understand particular conceptual connections. When
Putnam discusses Dyson’s hypothetical intelligent beings whose bodies posses no
sense organs and are created out of gaseous
nebuli (Nebular Gasses). The question at hand becomes ‘could we teach
beings such as these to conceptualize what a chair truly is?’. Putnam begins to
say that if it is so, there would be major flaws in the statements he has
already conveyed, along with a necessary explicit understanding of the
empirical concepts along with a fine tuned description of physics. Putnam then
wants to make sure the reader is not taking his insight on verificationism too ‘molecularly’
making sure that the readers mind does not wonder off of the track of his
initial point.

Then, Putnam continues to say that we
would not be able to make clear sense of the conceptualization of a chair to
one of these celestial beings because we do not possibly have the ability to
make a clear sense of identifying what the notion of a chair is without some
very broad assumptions being made. One of these assumptions being the fact that
the knowledge of a chair that we have is seemingly unrevisable. It would be
assumed that a chair would be recognizable without knowing what a chair is –
but most humans are likely familiar with what the concept is! A second reason
that Putnam explained his perspective in the manner that he did was because of
his encounter with psychologist Eleanor Rosch. During this meeting, Rocsh
brought up the issue of the ‘beanbag chair’. Explaining that those who knew
what a beanbag chair was, knew what it was not because it had a back, but
rather because it was a chair! Which leads Putnam down the path of the blurred

The debate of the blurred concept has
long been debated. The main point being whether it is if it is really a concept
at all. Putnam brings philosopher and logician Ludwig Wittgenstein into discussion
with how verificationism should be viewed. Wittgenstein’s example regarding
conceptualization can be viewed on the same grounds as the ‘chair’ argument is
the famous photograph example. This essentially asks if an indistinct photo is
really a photo at all and concludes that often times an indistinct photo is
often times more telling than a sharper one. Which can also be seen as
correlated with concepts as a whole
and how they are grasped in comparison to verifiability.

Putnam says that replacing a concept with
unclear parameters by limiting the concept as a whole is not the process of
analyzing the concept that is up for debate but rather superseding it with another
which has more clear guidelines and therefore different from the original one.
Putnam conveys that if one attempts to comprehend defining a chair by ulterior
concepts such as geometrical and physical origins we then replace the idea of a
chair with a totally different nature which is the spine of Putnam’s entire
basis. On the flip side of the coin, if one explains a few examples of chairs
in general then one can eventually say that the term chair describes any object
that falls under the umbrella of which we have described even if it is merely
rendered sufficiently similar (as described by Putnam). If one was to do this,
they may also find themselves confined within the shackles of assumptions!

This would be similar to assuming that
the nebular gas people discussed above would be able to translate ‘sufficiently
similar’ to a sufficiently similar sense that we do as humans – which would also
mean that they would have to grasp the same objects that a human does when regarding
something as sufficiently similar to a chair in terms of concept and other potential
concepts that are attainable by similar perceptions. Surely, it would be
irrational and improbable to suggest that a being of this nature would possess
sense organs similar to those held by a human.

Putnam then explains the most crucial
part of how verificationism should be not be viewed as a reliable method of critiquing
morality by showing the reader that one cannot have a clear sense of grasping these
familiar concepts separate from processing the suitable perceptual verification
tactics. While obtaining such abilities involves some skill to perceptually verify the presence of an object
(whatever it may be) as a ‘conceptual truth’. This, in the mind of Putnam is
best reconsidered as the description of the crux in which the very concept of
our language exists.

Essentially, the major correlation
between the denial of verificationism and pragmatism is that our grasp of empirical
concepts depends on our perceptual verification abilities. Putnam would
describe verification as something that is not defined or identified with as
knowledge of objects behind closed doors or a concept with relatively incorrigible
features in reference to the world around it. The belief is along the lines of
an insouciant, self-supporting method in which ‘sense’ is potentially a perpetually
fluctuating factor. What identifies an item as a belief is that it is at least semi-related
to its action. By that, one can use the process of successive approximations
when inquiring about the matter, like that used by Putnam, in order to seek out
the truth behind a given principle. Although, one must not forget to consider
the potential possibility that further intellectual action on any given matter
can alter the sense in which it is paired. Our perception of truth claims and
our hold on conceptual abilities and practical abilities seem to be at the core
of what truly is pragmatism.