Every generation faces both promise and peril. In the last century, Americans faced the challenge of the Cold War and the excitement of space exploration; we confronted fears of terrorism and the opportunities of information technology. Today’s young people are entering a world of COVID and climate change at the same time that we benefit from global prosperity and connectedness.
This dialogue spans the generations to consider how democratic action is both boosted and challenged by social media, and how biotechnology and information technology can address environmental problems and increase social connection when used responsibly. Using an interview technique, we’ll press our understanding of democratic engagement, technology, and sustainability to uncover our worst fears and discover what everyone can do to prevent those fears from coming true.
This presentation uses the lenses of pragmatism to explore participatory democracy and the social ethics of Jane Addams. It applies these concepts using examples from public administration. The contributions of Larry Hickman inform the discussion throughout.
Hickman deserves our respect for trying to get Technological Pragmatism the respect it deserves in philosophy of Technology. In spite of all his great efforts there are still critics or skeptics about its normative guidance. My paper will focus on an important debate between Hickman and Borgmann, where Borgmann claims that pragmatism does not have enough “normative substance” to evaluate particular technologies and to guide with the everyday use of technology.
In spite of Hickman’s heroic efforts to convince critics like Borgmann about the virtues of Pragmatism, they continue to see a weakness in regard to its normative standpoint or commitments, they are just not robust enough. Pragmatism lacks concrete “thick” guidance and a substantive view of about what should center life, makes life worth living, or what is the good life.
In this paper I take on this challenge to Pragmatism’s reputation. My strategy complements, but is different than Hickman’s reply to Borgmann. I think we can say a lot more on behalf of the normative “thickness” of Pragmatism, we just need to do it in a way that is consistent with our commitment to experimentalism-contextualism.
I argue that Pragmatism provides a normative standpoint as well as practical guidance of which virtues are needed in our technological culture. Pragmatism provides a solid and empirical philosophical framework that avoids two common extremes: a naïve optimism that encourages adoption of any new technology; and a pessimistic resistance to technological innovations. More importantly, and to address the charge of not being normatively “thick” enough, we need to argue that Pragmatism stands by the values and virtues of democracy as a way of life. Moreover, pragmatism, as much as Borgmann and the Amish, have deep seated value commitments: a view of what should centers life or makes life worth living. Dewey’s philosophy, in particular, has a view about what are the most important type of relationships, experiences or activities in life. That should be enough basis to evaluate out everyday use of technologies.
John Capps, with Evelyn Brister, Kristopher Edelman, and Noah Collins
Rochester Institute of Technology
The “eclipse” of pragmatism has been a consistent issue in the history of recent American philosophy. Broadly speaking, the view is that American pragmatism—the philosophical approach historically associated with Peirce, James, and Dewey—was overshadowed by other approaches during the mid-20th century. Typically, the view is that pragmatism was displaced by logical positivism or by analytic philosophy in general. Some are inclined to view this as an unfortunate turn of events: a native, homegrown philosophy crowded out by exotic invasive species. This, in turn, raises a number of thorny issues, including how to define both “pragmatic” and “analytic” philosophy, their relationship to each other, and how contemporary philosophers define, and identify with, their own tools, methods, and history. Here we will address this question from a new direction by using a data set of several thousand journal articles published in 10 prominent philosophy journals between 1900 and 2016. This will help us determine how, whether, and in what sense pragmatism was eclipsed. Besides shedding light on the recent history of American philosophy, this bibliometric method is itself a pragmatic approach to settling questions in the history of philosophy.
Taking Peter Singer’s work as a test case, this presentation draws on Dewey and Hickman to critique the contemporary quest in ethics and policy for timeless mechanisms that purportedly get at objectively preexisting answers. Building on Dewey, Hickman’s pragmatic philosophy of technology challenges the aggregating moralist’s reductionistic quest for a predetermined metric whereby we judiciously weigh matters so that the balance automatically tips toward the good—many contemporary economists and policy analysts say “optimal”—outcome supported by a universal welfarist principle. Such strategies are at least a counterweight to a do-nothing attitude about the welfare of others, but the quest for a cover-all metric that is “Right” once and for all is not essential to constructing precise quantitative welfare models, algorithms, and assessments. So Hickman’s advice is to drain the theoretic bathwater while evaluating the functional-operational baby by its directive power.
This paper provides further reflections on my dialogue with Larry Hickman, director emeritus of the Center for Dewey Studies, and Daisaku Ikeda, president of the lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai International (SGI). The most surprising outcome of this dialogue is how similar Deweyan pragmatism is to many forms of Mahayana Buddhism including Nichiren Buddhism the source of SGI. I have explored some of these similarities elsewhere. Here I survey additional similarities in terms of Hickman’s philosophy of technology by emphasizing value creation and criticism. (Soka Gakkai means value creating society.) I explore Peter D. Herschock’s, Buddhism and Intelligent Technology relying on Hickman to rectify Herschock’s philosophy of technology before discussing Herschock’s insightful application of Buddhist ethics to AI and the internet. I conclude by identifying many of Herschock’s Buddhist principles in Dewey’s theory of inquiry and thereby showing how they reside implicitly within Hickman’s philosophy of technology.