From wonderism to pragmatism Wonder is a desire to know. It pushes us to seek answers to our questions. But how do we know when we've found real answers? How can we know anything at all? The best answer to this question that I've found is that we can know things by pragmatism (specifically, epistemological pragmatism).
What is pragmatism?
There are many different theories and formulations of pragmatism, by many different philosophers (e.g. Peirce, James, Dewey, Putnam, Rorty, Haack, et al.). It can seem complex and contradictory and hard-to-wrap-your-head-around. But actually, pragmatism is very simple, very easy, very powerful, and will change the way you look at life, the universe, and everything. At least, that's my prediction.
But does it work? Is it useful? Is it true?
Despite all the different variations, formulations, theories, and opinions of pragmatism, it always comes down to a single, simple concept: Use what works. This is the concept that beliefs or ideas are good to the extent that they work. When we put an idea into practice, what are its practical consequences? Does it work for us?
The word 'work' is itself kind of vague. A rock works to crack a nut, so should we give up using nutcrackers? Or are they both the same because they both work? Perhaps a more accurate word would be 'useful', with the idea that some ideas are more useful than others. Even though the rock is useful, the nutcracker is even more useful for the purpose of cracking nuts.
The idea of usefulness is itself a useful idea, but what does it really mean? So an idea is useful. So what? We want to know if it's actually true. At its simplest, most basic level, pragmatism is the idea that what works, what is useful, is what is true. In other words, the measure of the truth of an idea is how useful it is. This kind of throws the idea of truth on its head. Most people think that, of course, if an idea is true you can probably find some use in it, but then again, maybe not. And they also think that some ideas may be useful, but not actually true.
This is where the philosophers of pragmatism usually start spinning their mental wheels trying to devise more precise, more cleverly worded, and more thorough explanations of what it really means to be useful and/or true. At this level, pragmatism is a bit counter-intuitive. Some people get it right away and say, "Well, of course!" But others may sit back, doubtful, thinking, "I'm not so sure." If they are philosophers, they might have their own alternative views of truth and knowledge, such as the correspondence theory of truth, or coherentism. The discussion gets really complicated, really quickly.
But we don't have to go down that road (unless you really want to), because there is a much more intuitive way of thinking about usefulness and truth that cuts through much of the confusion. With this way of thinking about it, pragmatism will seem obvious and inevitable.