Reaction Paper on Inanna Hamati Ataya (2012), Josep S. Nye Jr (2008), James Johnson (2006), Osmo Kivinen and Tero Piiroinen (2007) on Pragmatism

Understanding Pragmatism

Compare with positivism and scientific realism, pragmatism is quite overlooked because of dearth in literature and references. Sometimes I imagine pragmatism is like a ghost, you cannot see it, but you believe in the existence of the mystical creature. From the four articles, three of them defending the existence of pragmatism and one article which wrote by Josep S. Nye is an example of the importance of pragmatism in the real world since it emphasizes on finding the solution. As for positivism and scientific realism focus on the mind of the inventor or the researcher itself, pragmatism considers the point of view of the outsider in Dewey term is the spectator of knowledge. As per mentioned by (Baert 2005) “The spectator theory of knowledge sees knowledge as predominantly, if not exclusively, a way of representing the inner nature of an outer world as accurately as possible” p.129

Why pragmatism there in the first place is a puzzle for me. Why this kind of thinking can exist without proper evidence like articles in journals from scholars. Is it just an idea or is it real? Understanding pragmatism as a branch of philosophy with pragmatic in politic sometime indistinguishable. Being pragmatic is usually associated with practical. A history trace to Charles Sanders Peirce consider as the architect of pragmatism and Baert even mentioned him as the first generation of pragmatism along with William James, G.H Mead, and John Dewey (Baert 2005) p.127. Pierce’s contends the doctrine of fallibilism and indeterminacy. Pierce enjoy uncertainty as a driven factor of inquiry. Pierce formulated the pragmatic theory of truth and stated truth is determined the result of the unlimited practical inquiry. He is more concern with the result than the deeper meaning of the universe. While other kingdom arguing the nature of existence, pragmatism emphasizes the nature of the inquiry. If the nature of the inquiry is not part of something through practical inquiry, then it is not part of the truth. For pragmatism, there is nothing beyond the practical world.

The first article is from Inanna Hamati Ataya.  Ataya article explores pragmatism through Morton Kaplan work. In her, article Ataya occurs to agree with Kaplan. She compares between mostly positivism and pragmatism. In her view, the shifting from truth to meaning that differentiates pragmatism from another epistemology. That knowledge is action. Knowledge is not about copying but coping (Hamati-Ataya 2012) p.129. Pragmatism perceives a problematic situation as relevancy to practice. When they look at the problems, they will enact experimental notion of inquiry. The inquiry will unify logic and experience which transcribe as a theory. The tools constructed to resolved conceptual and empirical issues. So, the process of inquiry can be surprising, fallible and provisional. In pragmatism, theory helps to navigate a problem and achieve purpose known as theory pluralism. Pragmatism will harvest knowledge through the researcher impression of the doubt.

Positivism and scientific realism they are questioning the “object” as evidence of their beliefs whether they see the same object as observable and non-observable and how scientific realism put metaphysic to describe reality beyond knowledge. But for pragmatism, they don’t question the object but the meaning of the object. While positivism attack scientific realism through the erroneous they conduct in the past. The pragmatism gives space or error, stagnation even regress. When positivism heavily on the verification process pragmatism concern about the result and the system that yielded it. That is why the four articles emphasis on the importance of language. The truth merely who has the best argument. Pragmatism tries to use the practical term to check what principle better than others, checking from one to other usages rather than the “purity” of the form creating what is the most useful. Creating interaction with the environment and produce feedback to perfecting theory.

The second articles were from Joseph S. Nye tries to bridge the gap between science and policy. The growing gap has produced better political theory, and that is more important than whether it is relevant. To some extent, the gap is an inevitable result of the growth and specialization of knowledge (Nye 2008) p.597. I believe the expression of das sein das sollen can represent what Nye have in mind. Theories are the ideal representation of the world, but theories cannot address real-world situations. In Kaplan term there is no one single theory can explain everything. Some scholar invented a pure theory that is not intended or useful to direct empirical analysis (Morton 2004).

Moreover, Nye argues if our purpose is to understand the world, current change will drive changes in theory building, but often the swings in academic fashion are excessive and lack balance (Nye 2008) p.597. As I mentioned before, theories are the ideal condition to bring down theories from ideal condition to the real world is a very difficult thing to do. Theories should transform into “practical” form. Occasionally the practical form is adjusted according to “needs”. There is politic involves it, and when politic involves the purity of theory change. In Nye perception as bureaucracy “They want short quick answers while for many academics such short answers are not answers” p.598. I think there is no scholars wants to get their hand dirty. There is a value held by scholars that cannot cope with the practical world. The best things can happen is if scholars can meet policymaker with high moral value.

The third articles were from Osmo Kivinen and Tero Piiroinen. Kivinen and Piiroinen emphasis on the ontological aspect, language, and relation. Pragmatism does not stress the existence of the object but the meaning behind the findings. Therefore, Kivinen and Piiroinen argue “whereas Searle wants more ontology of society, we want to rid the social sciences of ontology altogether (Kivinen and Piiroinen 2007) p. 99. The pragmatism tends to avoid some debate like “what is God”, “how is the most ethical way to treat people”, “what is moral”. If those things cannot prove by the practical inquiry, then it is not part of the truth, if it is not part of the truth that will easily be abandoned by pragmatism.

Peirce was a mathematician, he emphasizes language. Peirce viewed language as one system of signs among others; his perspective on meaning was very broad (Sierpinska 2013) p.15. In mathematics, language can be used to build model while other conceived it as action. As a result, it is understandable why pragmatism highlights the importance of meaning and action. For Kivinen and Piironen language not only for the purpose for communication “We understand language as a tool of action, of coordinating actions and coping with the environment, enabling people to predict the behavior of their fellow actors through communicating who is doing what” p.107. Kivinen and Piironen try to describe deeper meaning of the language “in contrast, all we pragmatists need to say about how language ‘‘relates to’’ the world is that concepts, like any other tools of action, are entangled in causal relationships with the rest of the world” p. 107.

The value of language is not only accentuating by pragmatism, other epistemology like scientific realism also stress on language. The distinction was scientific realism emphasis language to describe object observable object clearly while pragmatism emphasis on action. I do agree with Kivinen and Piironen that action is not volition of mind but do something. The social scientist should emphasize the usefulness of their theory. When scientist only focuses on developing of theory, be like a stack of books in the library but nobody read and cares about it.

The last article is from James Johnson. Johnson specifically criticizes King, Keohane, and Verba known as KKV on science research methods Designing Social Inquiry. KKV, they are among the prominent and influential scholars in political science. In the article Johnson attack positivism in the way the abuse of positivism world in the quantitative method. Johnson was considering positivism do not threat the quantitative and qualitative equally. Johnson describe the characteristic of positivism from Hacking as emphasis upon verification, pro-observation, anti-cause, downplaying explanation, anti-theoretical entities, by being against metaphysic, untestable propositions, unobservable entities, causes, deep explanation—these, says the positivist, are the stuff of metaphysics and must be put behind us (Johnson 2006) p.229.

Reading Johnson article is interesting in the middle of positivism dominance. Johnson attack positivism cause of too much focus on causal explanation. As a modeler positivism tries to make a model that can conjecture the world from their point of view. The principle of ceteris paribus assumptions or all other things remaining constant in positivism can produce fissures in way of thinking. The deductive way of thinking in positivism perhaps overly simplification and failed to give a more accurate depiction of specified relation. That is why Johnson proposed to elaborate in the causal mechanism (which is scientific realism way of thinking). It is unique that Johnson attack positivism through pragmatism to promote scientific realism.


Every epistemology has their own strength and weaknesses. In term of theory building, pragmatism not as productive as other epistemology. Another weakness of pragmatism is the focus on inquiry to find the effective outcomes, sometimes it neglected the truth for the practical world. One of the questions for pragmatism scholar is, if the inquiry is driven by doubt and problem solving, it will be questioned they position as “scientist”. Pragmatism looks like practitioner rather than a scientist. They act like government “fixing” the problems instead of inventing something new.

What seems missing from other epistemologies through pragmatism lens is a causal relationship between theory and public problems. If the first-place research has a clear purpose, it will be stated in research design that the purpose of the research is to give the solution to public problems. Compare to other epistemologies, the desire to reveal the truth in science is not needed by pragmatism because they only pursue the usefulness. The criticism gave by pragmatism to other epistemologies is the lack of empiricism, they tend to ignore the research question in pursuing the truth. As the result, the theory might be missing explicit framework with the public problems and we create -in J. White term- a theoretical wasteland. For example, in the conquest of truth positivism tend to put forward objectivity, as consequences the objectivity will create value freedom.

As in the practical world, I believe pragmatism has contributed an alternative of the way of thinking. Born and develop in by an American scholar, pragmatism enhances science amid the dominance of positivism. This way of thinking is one an alternative to bridging the gap between science and the real world. Pragmatism was imperiled in the world war II due to the reluctance of European scholar for the American’s way of thinking. The second generation of pragmatism Davidson, Putnam, Quine, Rorty hopefully can revive the pragmatism in the United States. Science will be benefited from many alternatives’ way of thinking. Let me close this paper with Rorty quote “’hope’, rather than ‘truth’, is the proper goal of inquiry”.



Baert, Patrick. 2005. Philosophy of Science Philosophy of The Social Sciences. First Edit. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Polity Press.

Hamati-Ataya, Inanna. 2012. “Beyond (Post)Positivism: The Missed Promises of Systemic Pragmatism.” International Studies Quarterly 56(2): 291–305.

Johnson, James. 2006. “Consequences of Positivism: A Pragmatist Assessment.” Comparative Political Studies 39(2): 224–52.

Kivinen, Osmo, and Æ Tero Piiroinen. 2007. “Sociologizing Metaphysics and Mind : A Pragmatist Point of View on the Methodology of the Social Sciences.” : 97–114.

Morton, Rebecca B. 2004. Cambridge University Press Methods and Models: A Guide to Empirical Analysis of Formal Models in Political Science. First edit. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Nye, Joseph S. 2008. “Bridging the Gap between Theory and Policy.” 29(4): 593–603.

Sierpinska, Anna. 2013. Understanding in Mathematics Understanding in Mathematics.

Category: Thoughts