Curt J. Ducasse on Wisdom, Norms, Theory, & Pragmatism

The fruitfulness of theories, furthermore—whether in philosophy or in natural or formal science—does not depend on the motive that leads to their construction, but on their technical perfection and on the rigor with which their validity is empirically tested. Pragmatists have urged that the most fruitful way of acquiring knowledge is through doing, and that for philosophy this means seeking specifically for the wisdom that will enable us to solve the social or moral problems of our epoch. But if this injunction warns philosophers away from anything, it is from seeking wisdom through theory construction rather than through direct observation and experiment; and—since technically defective theory construction is not advocated by anybody—this is to condemn theory construction in general as a method of seeking knowledge.

But that theorizing is in fact a far more powerful method than is direct experimentation unguided by theory is overwhelmingly proved by the history of the natural sciences. When this is pointed out, however, pragmatists are wont to retort that they do not condemn theory construction, but contend that attainment of any knowledge—even of the most abstract and technical theoretical knowledge—consists in solution of some problem; and that this—the solving of some problem or, as they may put it, the successful dealing with some “problem situation”—is what “learning by doing” essentially consists in. But then, if this is the only way in which knowledge can be obtained, it is automatically the way that always has been used, whether consciously or unconsciously, by anybody who has gained any knowledge, whether natural, philosophical, or other, and whether he was “empiricist” or “rationalist,” naive observer, experimenter, or theorist. To advocate its use is thus as idle as it would be to advocate the use of breathing by men who seek to remain alive. We may well ask, then, what exactly the pragmatist’s counsel, reduces to, if not to a counsel of perfection—the counsel, namely, to succeed in one's attempt to solve the problems, whether theoretical or directly empirical, to which one addresses one’s self!

SOURCE: Ducasse, C[urt] [John]. Philosophy as a Science, Its Matter and Its Method. New York: Oskar Piest, 1941. This is an extract from Chapter 13: Philosophy, Wisdom, and the Application of Wisdom.

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Philosophy, Wisdom, and the Application of Wisdom
by C. J. Ducasse

Ducasse, Curt J.
in Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana

Wisdom, Philosophy and the Proletariat by Franz J. T. Lee
(section of Philosophical Essays on Materialism and Marxism)

History of Wisdom by Franz J. T. Lee

APA Online Special Announcement: 12/27/03 Café Philo DC: "What is the Relation Between Abstract Thought and Wisdom?"

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