Pragmatism: All or Some or All and Some? (1) My previous account:
In an earlier paper I wrote:
You will be a pragmatist about an area of discourse if you pose a Carnapian external question: how does it come about that we go in for this kind of discourse and thought? What is the explanation of this bit of our language game? And then you offer an account of what we are up to in going in for this discourse, and the account eschews any use of the referring expressions of the discourse; any appeal to anything that a Quinean would identify as the values of the bound variables if the discourse is regimented; or any semantic or ontological attempt to ‘interpret’ the discourse in a domain, to find referents for its terms, or truth makers for its sentences.1 Instead the explanation proceeds by talking in different terms of what is done by so talking. It offers a revelatory genealogy or anthropology or even a just-so story about how this mode of talking and thinking and practicing might come about, given in terms of the functions it serves. Notice that it does not offer a classical reduction, finding truth-makers in other terms. It finds whatever plurality of functions it can lay its hands upon. (Blackburn, ‘Pragmatism: All or Some’ in Expressivism, Pragmatism and Representationalism’, ed. Huw Price, p. 75)
The motivation for this was mainly to establish a specific geography for expressivist accounts of such things as modality, probability, causality, and normativity. On such accounts you do not identify the function of modal discourse, for instance, by talking of reference to possible worlds, or possible states of affairs even. Instead you talking of such naturally explicable or intelligible practices as endorsing and policing inferences, for example. The ban on mentioning possibilia (or similarly chances, laws, norms etc.) in the ‘perspicuous representation’ (an übersichtliche Darstellung) of what we do is what separates the approach from any kind of realism. It ensures that the perspicuous view is not one from outside (aspects of the world) to our minds, but one in which our activities are responsible for our talking in the ways we do. In what follows I shall just refer to this as the BAN.
Notice that this philosophical approach does NOT imply the the ban spreads. Once you have the perspicuous account you can be comfortable with the forms our speech and thought take. So you can relax into saying all kinds of realist-sounding things. There are values, duties, rights, possibilities, chances…and many statements concerning them are true. As I have often put it, it’s not what you end up saying that defines your philosophy, but how you view the way we get there. An expressivist plus quasi-realist package gets you there without ontological contamination. Since the activities it highlights are entirely ‘naturalistic’ or free from apparent metaphysical contamination, the approach is, as Huw Price puts it, a defence of subject naturalism.
But an implication of this way of approaching things seems to be that a more global pragmatism is not on the cards. For it seems impossible to stand back sufficiently from everyday middle-sized dry goods, the things making up our pre-theoretical environment, and offer an übersichtliche Darstellung or explanation of what we are doing in talking in these terms, that does not itself refer to the elements of the environment about which we talk. If we tried to do that we would either tie ourselves into metaphysically suspect alternatives (time-slices of furniture, or ‘particles arranged tablewise’, for example) or even tie ourselves up in such things as sense-data—the absolute antithesis of anything modern pragmatists (post-Sellars, post-Wittgenstein) would want.