Armed with nothing but their own vision? Sounds heroic, does it not, but consider this Bible verse.
Judges 21:25 New King James Version (NKJV)
25 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Is that verse saying Israel needed a king? Yes and no. 1 Samuel 8 makes it clear that we should not raise up a human king over us. Instead, we should accept God’s rule. Instead of doing what seems right in our eyes, we should seek to please God.
Why is it wrong to do what is right in our own eyes instead of God’s eyes? We are self-centered. We easily perceive the advantages for us. We too readily disregard whatever harm we might cause others.
To be fair, Ayn Rand’s philosophy, Objectivism, does consider the rights of others, but even that consideration is self-centered.
The essence of Objectivist ethics is summarized by the oath her Atlas Shrugged character John Galt adhered to: “I swear—by my life and my love of it—that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine. (from here)
How seriously should we take such an oath? Knowing the nature of mankind?
Rand’s is one of the more thoughtful among Atheistic philosophies. Most of us, whether Atheists or Theists, make our choices more lazily. We don’t bother constructing ideological reasons, and we excuse that as pragmatic. Yet whatever Rand’s philosophy may have been, she did not subscribe to pragmatism (see Pragmatism). Nevertheless, to walk down a road armed with nothing but our own vision is to walk unarmed.
Now there is pragmatism and then there is pragmatism as a philosophical tradition. Here we will not get into pragmatism as a philosophical tradition. By the time the ivory tower academics have gotten done with a word, even they do not knows what it means anymore.
So let’s begin by considering the origin of the word.
pragmatism (n.) “matter-of-fact treatment,” 1825, from Greek pragmat-, stem of pragma “that which has been done” (see pragmatic) + -ism. As a philosophical doctrine, 1898, said to be from 1870s; probably from German Pragmatismus. As a name for a political theory, from 1951. Related: Pragmatist (1630s as “busybody;” 1892 as “adherent of a pragmatic philosophy”).
Apparently, the term has a peculiar background. Nevertheless, if we look up “pragmatic,” we can see the emphasis is on results, that is, “practical” results.
pragmatic (adj.) 1610s, “meddlesome, impertinently busy,” short for earlier pragmatical, or else from Middle French pragmatique (15c.), from Latin pragmaticus “skilled in business or law,” from Greek pragmatikos “fit for business, active, business-like; systematic,” from pragma (genitive pragmatos) “a deed, act; that which has been done; a thing, matter, affair,” especially an important one; also a euphemism for something bad or disgraceful; in plural, “circumstances, affairs” (public or private), often in a bad sense, “trouble,” literally “a thing done,” from stem of prassein/prattein “to do, act, perform” (see practical). Meaning “matter-of-fact” is from 1853. In some later senses from German pragmatisch.
Why would people see pragmatists as busybodies, that is, meddlesome? What was that all about? The problem is that pragmatists emphasize practical results. The pragmatist uses the end to justify the means. Consider. If a pragmatist has a productive paper mill, does it matter if his paper mill pollutes the stream that runs by his paper mill? The pragmatist can point to an immediate, practical benefit, but what is practical to one person may be a nasty, practical joke to the farmers downstream.
The self-centered nature of human beings is why some insist upon an alternative approach to decision-making.
wisdom (n.) Old English wisdom “knowledge, learning, experience,” from wis (see wise (adj.)) + -dom. A common Germanic compound (Old Saxon, Old Frisian wisdom, Old Norse visdomr, Old High German wistuom “wisdom,” German Weistum “judicial sentence serving as a precedent”). Wisdom teeth so called from 1848 (earlier teeth of wisdom, 1660s), a loan-translation of Latin dentes sapientiae, itself a loan-translation of Greek sophronisteres (used by Hippocrates, from sophron “prudent, self-controlled”), so called because they usually appear ages 17-25, when a person reaches adulthood.
Before making a decision, the wise person considers the matter and strives to make a decision based upon a complete understanding of the situation. What is desired? Why? Who benefits? Who loses? What are the ethical considerations? What are the precedents? What will be the long-term results? What principles and precedents can we apply to guide our decision?
Since there is no way to please every human being, the wise try to please the Creator. Knowing that each of us matters only because we matter to our Creator, the wise study to know God’s will. Therefore, some study the Bible as a book of wisdom, His wisdom for us.
Pragmatism, however, is a secular pursuit. It is easy to know our own will, but God’s? Ironically, the pragmatist considers even claiming to know God’s will presumptuous. For the pragmatist, each day is new, each project a new opportunity to display his genius and just do what works. What matters is his own experience, his own vision. What will work today is what today is all about.
Can we know if what we are doing is in God’s will? Check out Do You Really Know for Sure?
To Be Continued
- Unintended Consequences In The Political Realm
- Unintended Consequences In Our Personal Lives