Free Will, Pragmatism, And The Things Best Left Unsaid (David Kordahl, 2/26/24, 3Quarks)

Though William James’s pragmatism is a variety of empiricism, it’s easy to see why it never caught on among natural scientists. (The physicists I’ve read who gesture toward pragmatism instead cite Charles Sanders Pierce, who was himself a mathematician and natural scientist.) Most natural scientists are motivated to discover something about the objective, mind-independent properties of nature, not just relations between human concepts, constrained by our environment.

Pragmatism stipulates that we recognize scientific theories as human tools, levers that we use to augment our possibilities. We should adopt whatever theories prove most helpful. To reproduce another emphasized maxim of James: “Theories thus become instruments, not answers to enigmas, in which we can rest.”

Reason fails at the first hurdle, when it can not establish that anything is mind-independent.