Pragmatic Ethics and the Contemporary African Value System
Keywords:Africa, epistemology, ethics, pragmatism, value system
Every idea has practical consequences in terms of how it is interpreted and applied to society. William James’ pragmatic philosophy is a double-edged sword: while it is an epistemological theory focusing on science and the scientific method, it also has implications for moral thought. In this respect, pragmatism becomes a social theory capable of being interpreted in different ways. Epistemology and ethics have divergent interests: one is the justification of knowledge claims, and the other is the justification of moral belief, claims and conduct. Although both converge at the point of justification, what is acceptable standard in epistemology does not readily sift through the net of ethics unscathed. Pragmatic ethics enjoins the pursuit of only those ideals that are potentially capable of making a positive difference to human wellbeing; however, negative interpretation of pragmatist reasoning is the suggestion that a moral agent take that option that enables them to attain their goal or purpose in a moral situation. But this temporary apparent solution only succeeds in putting away the inevitable misery for another day. Positive pragmatism involves using the experience and mistakes of the past to envisage and build a future that enables social development and progress in the science and technological development found in the Western world. Unfortunately, many African societies have made little progress in social development due to the negative aspect of pragmatism that has been deeply imbibed in them. This paper is a critical reflection on the philosophy of pragmatism, from the perspective of the contemporary African value system, using data sourced from library and archival materials.