Pragmatism: Where It Breaks Down [and Why You Should Care]

Pragmatist argue that it’s necessary to check our religious beliefs at the door when we debate issues. Unfortunately, that can’t work. Part of a series on truth.

Richard Rorty, the leading American philosophical pragmatist–who I wrote about in The Problem with Your Personal Testimony post–argues that when you come to the public square to debate issues like divorce, abortion or civil marriage, you should leave your religion at home.

That’s pragmatism.

Unfortunately, there’s a problem with that approach.

The problem exists in the nature of religion. Religion, at its core, is a set of beliefs about the hard questions of life.

Hard questions like what is really real? What is a human being? Why is it possible to know anything at all? How do we know what is right and what is wrong?

What Pragmatism Looks Like in the Public Square

Let’s pretend for a moment that the issue on the table is population control via contraception, abortion and infanticide.

Someone who believes [based upon their religious view] that a person becomes a human at inception would see abortion and infanticide as legislated manslaughter–no matter its practical impact on society or economics.

Yet, a person who doesn’t hold that belief–say, like utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer–might argue that abortion and limited infanticide is a reasonable mechanism to control population and decrease economic strain on the health system.

As you can see, the question becomes, “Who throws out their belief?” Both arguments emerge from their answers to hard questions of life.

Where I’m Going with This

But my point here is not to argue the merits of one case over the other.

My point is simply that it’s impractical to remove one’s religious view from the public square–even if they are controversial and faith based.

In fact, to say “Please, leave your religious views at home” is in itself controversial and faith based.

It smacks of anti-religion. And exclusivity.

It’s equivalent to saying “My views are privileged above yours.” In other words, my beliefs hold sway over yours…

And my beliefs are exclusive to truth.

What Comes Next

So, in the end, it’s not a matter of practicality or exclusivity when we debate issues in the public because we’ve seen that the pragmatic argument is equally indicted as making an exclusive claim to truth…

And we’ve also seen that you can’t determine what’s practical until you determine which world view you hold.

So, in the end, it’s not a matter of who’s views are religious or not. It’s a matter of who’s right and who’s wrong.

And it’s best to decide that with evidence.

With that in mind, tomorrow we’ll explore why it makes sense to embrace Christianity’s exclusive claim to truth.

One thought on “Pragmatism: Where It Breaks Down [and Why You Should Care]

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