Having previously critiqued the presuppositions underlying our conceptions of truth, morality, and progress, I now find myself in the awkward position of defending those concepts against Trump and his intellectual supporters. Richard Rorty’s explanation of John Dewey’s pragmatism helps articulate why it is possible to do both:
“The culminating achievement of Dewey’s philosophy was to treat evaluative terms such as ‘true’ and ‘right’ not as signifying a relation to some antecedently existing thing – such as God’s Will, or Moral Law, or the Intrinsic Nature of Objective Reality – but as expressions of satisfaction at having found a solution to a problem: a problem which may someday seem obsolete, and a satisfaction which may someday seem misplaced. The effect of this treatment is to change our account of progress. Instead of seeing progress as a matter of getting closer to something specifiable in advance, we see it as a matter of solving more problems.”
Take, for example, the ideas that we are destroying the planet and we should stop doing so. These are not assertions of objective reality or universal morality. After all, Earth will persist and life will adapt. But these ideas can help us to solve particular problems more satisfactorily than other ideas, such as the idea that the planet is ours to do with what we will. The latter leads to pollution, depletion, species loss, climate change, all of which harm many people, while benefiting a few. The former, on the other hand, lead to clean air and water, sustainability, biodiversity, relative climate stability, which on the whole benefit most people, while inconveniencing a few. Thus, there is great social utility in positing the truth of anthropogenic global warming and the moral imperative of curtailing it.