I've had an interest in pragmatism for a solid minute, and who doesn't love to bake?
There has been considerable and brilliant commentary on life, hallmarks of admirable human qualities, and how we might approach existence. After all, we humans have been aggregating history for approximately 5,000 years. The result is considerable evidence that can lend itself to optimist, pessimist, or realist perspectives among some individuals. Some of the most powerful determinants of what seems the proper perspective are our lived experiences and the lived experiences of those within our communities. As a result of the subjectivity and relativity of human experience, any single comment or philosophy must be vague or highly general to apply to everyone. So, I offer you a cupcake instead of a cake large enough for all humanity.
Positive Thought as a Foundation
According to the Mayo Clinic, positive thought has a long list of benefits. However, before we get to the benefits it is vital to establish a shared understanding of positive thinking in this use. It is not simply focusing on the positives, which can generate the experience referred to as toxic positivity. Positive thinking in the sense we will consider is a way of approaching unpleasantness based on productive and positive action in response to it. Some of the recognized benefits of positive thinking follow:
- Live longer
- Reduced experience of depression and pain
- Reduced risk of illnesses
Pragmatism as Positive Thought
In philosophy, there is a tradition known as pragmatism. When we encounter the word pragmatism we might think of pragmatic, which might bring to mind considerations connected to a realist perspective. In many regards that is both accurate and appropriate. The details of pragmatism could easily take a semester to lay out and explore. Within this article and considering the concept of positive thought presented by the Mayo Clinic, we will do well to start by acknowledging the optimistic quality of pragmatism. Consider these two tenets of pragmatism.
- The world is inseparable from our actions.
- A sufficient condition of truth is whether something works in the world.
To highlight the positive thought quality of pragmatism, consider this statement. Every action we take shapes the world. And if what we are doing is working, it is valid. Isn't that empowering?
Pragmatists are responsible for including a healthy dose of realist perspective in their recipe for life, too. Consider John Rawls, an American political philosopher. At the core of some of his thinking is a concept he referred to as "original position." The reduction of this thought is that the position you are born into determines much of your life experience. Consider the cupcake.
From the time the cupcake comes out of the oven, if the cupcake is strawberry or tiramisu, there is little we can do to change that. According to Rawls, a parallel reality is true with humans in life. We see this play out in terms of environmental health factors in different neighborhoods and housing, unequal access to educational institutions as a result of systemic failures in some areas, and increased risk of crime, police surveillance, and other negative behavior and attention based simply on the lives into which an individual is born.
So, we may be wondering at this point where is the optimism in pragmatism. Recall positive thought's focus on productive responses? And pragmatism's inseparability of our actions from the world? According to Rawls, the only rational thing to do is to shape public policy that safeguards even those born into the most vulnerable positions. After all, the realist in pragmatism informs us that it is only a matter of chance which position into which we were born. Other pragmatists, such as Richard Rorty, agree that shaping a world that is better for generations to come is the struggle with which we are faced.
So, it is ours to decorate this life into which we were born. And it is our choice to help in the decoration of the lives of those around us. Regardless of what comes out of the oven, we can make something delicious. And each of our actions counts.
But that is only the start. Developing a taste for actions that make the now and the world of the future better is the hallmark of the pragmatist connoisseur.