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Social & Political Philosophy

Idealism and Pragmatism – Derek & Jonathan

In analyzing the balance between pragmatism and idealism, we concluded that the most important subject of discussion is the goals of democracy. While we have many different ways to run it, the aim of government is what affects its quality and style the most. As time has progressed, we have seen a dynamic change in the way that we as a society, seek specific goals. As we entered the modern era, we have allowed more room for idealists, and have been awarded then by the goals that we have sought.drawing idealist pragmatist w800

Our modern government today has approached their democracies in a varieties of ways, but these methods can all be encompassed by two major ideas: pragmatism and idealism. The challenge that our governmental system faces today is how to balance these major pillars of ideology.

The direction in which we progress, however, has still been logically and largely pragmatic. This is due to the nature of pragmatic approaches. If we consider pragmatism, which literally means a practical approach, we see that it is simply looking for the best available option. Many issues are solved daily with pragmatism and it has done relatively well so far. Pragmatism, unfortunately, is limited by it’s own definition. When issues are considered in a pragmatic way, whatever changes exacted will be within the current method of thinking. A parochial solution if you will. Not to say pragmatism does not solve problems, but the nature of pragmatism inhibits the growth of idealism and subsequent major developments in the social paradigm.

Idealism is, well, idealistic. To seek an idealistic society is to seek the best possible that the system may offer, regardless of its potentiality. Admittedly, there are many great components to this resolution. An idealist would say that why not seek the best possible options? We must aim for the best, in order to attain the best for the citizens of this planet.

Idealism would also argue that there must be a catalyst, an instigator for change, in order to make the monumental progress that is possible. How could we possibly know what’s possible, if we don’t try? It parallels the ideas of Kuhn in epistemology, as he suggests we challenge the basis of the paradigms we remain trapped in today.

You could say “shoot for the moon and you might just land in the stars”. But a pragmatic approach combats this with a different idea: if you shoot for the moon, you might just end up floating in the middle of space, with nothing accomplished. This is one of the undeniable flaws of idealism, and one of the major points of contention from both sides – what happens when one falls short of the goals presented by idealism? Have they achieved the distance they have covered? Or is it an all-or nothing challenge?

Pragmatists have also challenged the idealists in terms of limitations. Is there a potential limitation to the goals you can seek? One could ask: when do the possibilities of ideals end? Human nature can only conform to the ideals of this world to a certain limit. Mengzi once said that “the great man is the one who does not lose his child’s heart” – this goes on to say that all men are eventually corrupted. If so, this means that an idealistic world cannot exist (or only exists to a certain point). This asks the question: when should we stop searching for a greater society? Is there a point when we have reached the peak of our abilities?

Furthermore, it is important to note that, due to the differing areas in which pragmatism and idealism may be applied, the answer to which is better depends on the questions you ask and the area you wish to broach. Like Quantum Mechanics if you will. You may be considering these two ideas in terms of their social, political, religious or even moral aspects. The plausibility of these two may change significantly depending on what aspect you are looking from.

As seen above, there are many questions to consider when dealing with these two ideas. If they were to be simplified to a select few, these are the most important questions to ask:

1. Should democracy seek idealism or pragmatism?
2. Is there a limit to idealism?
3. Should we treat idealism and pragmatism differently when dealing with unique topics (eg political, social, moral, etc)
4. Is there a balance between idealism and pragmatism? If so, where is it?

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