Philosophers get attention only when they appear to be doing something sinister--corrupting the youth, undermining the foundations of civilization, sneering at all we hold dear. The rest of the time everybody assumes that they are hard at work somewhere down in the sub-basement, keeping those foundations in good repair. Nobody much cares what brand of intellectual duct tape is being used."
...those who wish to reduce objectivity to solidarity -- call them "pragmatists" ... view truth as in William James' phrase, what it is good for us to believe...From a pragmatist point of view, to say that what is rational for us now to believe may not be true, is simply to say that somebody may come up with a a better idea. It is to say that there is always room for improved belief, since new evidence, or new hypotheses, or a whoe new vocabulary, may come along.
Pragmatism is like Romanticism in its doubts about Platonic, universal Truth and Reason. What differentiates it, on my account, from Romanticism is that the Romantics tended to exalt something called Passion, or the Imagination, or Authenticity, or Depth, which becomes what Habermas called an “other to reason”—that is, something that claims to have an authority trumping that of reason. Pragmatists don’t believe that we have any faculty that has such a priori authority, and, in general, don’t want to ask the question of what has innate authority or legitimacy. Our view is that you can forget whether an ideal is authentic or legitimate or universal or deep, and just ask whether it’s useful for solving the problems of the day. What unites Plato and the bad kind of Romantic is the notion of your ideas having authority because of some privileged source, while the pragmatists, say “the hell with what the source is, let’s look at the consequences.”
The thing that’s made me have the most doubts about a lot of what I’ve said is [University of Pittsburgh analytic philosopher] Robert Brandom’s work. I was saying that we should get rid of the notion of “representation” altogether. A lot of pragmatist philosophy consists in saying that there is no relation between mind, or language, and reality called The Accurate Representation of Reality, because criteria of accuracy of representation are impossible to specify, and pressing the issue leads to epistemological skepticism, and so on. I used to think that the whole metaphor of representation was so thoroughly misleading that it should be dropped, in favor of descriptions that serve our purposes, as opposed to descriptions that get at The Way It Really Is. Brandom convinced me that we could hang on the notion of representation, and that it probably would be better to do so, so as not to appear to be paradox-mongering.
No pragmatist ever questioned that there are some things you can put into relations of isomorphism with other things, and they were representations—maps, photographs, stuff like that. However, when it comes to Mendeleyev’s Table of Elements—are we representing the Nature of Matter accurately? Well, where’s the isomorphism? It’s a tool, not a representation. If you use Mendeleyev’s Table, there’s a lot of stuff you can do that you couldn’t do if you didn’t put any stock in it. But the attempt to say: “This is isomorphic to reality in a way that a map of New Jersey is isomorphic to the coastline of New Jersey” is a metaphor that won’t cash.
BLVR: You wrote, in Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (1989), that one of the reasons why so many people find pragmatism distasteful is its inability to empower. RR: Yeah, it’s basically negative and therapeutic. It doesn’t have a great, big, powerful, constructive message. You can’t go away inspired by the need to do something or other. You read the pragmatists and all you know is: not Descartes, not Kant, not Plato. It’s like aspirin. You can’t use aspirin to give yourself power, you take it to get rid of headaches. In that way, pragmatism is a philosophical therapy. It helps you stop asking the unhelpful questions.
The difference between Elijah Muhammed's decision about how to think of America and the one reached by Baldwin is the difference between deciding to be a spectator and to leave the fate of the United States to the operation of nonhuman forces, and deciding to be an agent.
National pride is to countries what self-respect is to individuals: a necessary condition for self-improvement. Too much national pride can produce bellicosity and imperialism, just as excessive self-respect can produce arrogance. But just as too little self-respect makes it difficult for a person to display moral courage so insufficient national pride makes energetic and effective debate about national policy unlikely.