24 October 2008

Pragmatism and particularism

Pragmatism and particularism are complementary philosophies, close cousins if not actual siblings. Pragmatism’s focus on what works transcends the vain rivalry between different, usually opposing, creeds, whether in politics, economics or ethics. Pragmatic choices are made in the context of the particular circumstances calling for action. Point-scoring and petty games of one-upmanship are rejected as irrelevant, frivolous even, in the pursuit of tangible goals. Truth ceases to be an empty abstraction that changes chameleon-like to suit the ideological surroundings; it becomes a non-negotiable value that is only as good as the delivered results.

01 October 2008

Particularism: an articulation

The French philosopher and writer Paul Nizan declared that he rejected ‘all humanist mythology that speaks of an abstract man and ignores the real state of his life.’ I will add that this real state is the particular state of any individual’s existence. Idiosyncrasy is what defines each member of the human species. To appraise one is to appraise him alone. One must guard against the common tendency to reference generalities and refrain from extrapolating a larger, but fuzzier, idea from the known details. One should strive for accuracy.

In counterpoint to Nizan, his more famous compatriot Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that ‘every human endeavour, however singular it seems, involves the whole human race.’ Now here we have an example of the ‘abstract man’ myth Nizan rejected. So every single act of the individual involves the whole human race? And on what empirical evidence did Sartre base his grand statement? It’s a poetic declaration but one hardly demonstrable by a rigorous scientific method.