Tuesday, March 4, 2014

pragmatism as progressive realism

A recent article in Politico extendedly characterizes Obama’s leadership as “realist.” Politico invites expert response, resulting first in a ping-pong by Dennis Ross (counselor to Obama) on realism vs. idealism which he labels “pragmatism.”

This is a happy thing. Firstly, Obama was academically pragmatist, literally. Secondly, I’ve long capsulated my sense of pragmatism as a fruitful balancing of idealist and realist perspectives. But that’s just heuristic. In a phrase, my sense of pragmatism is a progressive realism (overtly begging the question of what is the best sense of ‘progressive’; what is the best sense of ‘realism’?). Yet, it gets complicated: 

From a classical perspective, idealism as lived is associable with flourishing well-being (which is commonly called “eudaimonic” in positive psychology, as well as in neo-Aristotelian philosophy, e.g., Owen Flanagan, who prospects a scientific project he calls “eudaimonics”).

From a classical perspective, realism as lived is associable with prudence, which I would enrich as a conception of appropriateness.

A classical perspective on balancing the two might well be the virtuous notion of excellent exemplarity or exemplary excellence associable with arêteic ethics. (There is no excellence without admirability, whether or not the excellence is actually recognized, so I include the notion of exemplarity with my rendering.)

Commonly, arête is equated with virtue, such that a definition of arêteic ethics just is a definition of virtue ethics. But a value of exemplary excellence is neutral about what’s highly valuable to exemplify excellently. As such, the notion doesn’t encompass the scale of virtue that a standard list of virtues (or aspects of high character) is about. It’s highly desirable to prospect virtue ethics as devotion to flourishing prudently, balanced well. Going for high balance, authentically and genuinely, is itself aspirational and would seem prudent to those for/about whom we care.

I want to merge a rich sense of virtue ethics as a virtue theory into a sense of high pragmatism (i.e., balancing “idealism” and “realism”). Progressive realism prospects a conception of high pragmatics.

One’s scale of conceiving great good (e.g., healthy lives, good society, healthy economy, good global government) and scale of evidence-based realism (e.g., global ethics astutely attuned to climate change, globality of economic health, realities of human development [in the UNESCO sense of this], accurate perception of volatile thugs and narcissistic autocrats in the landscape of Our political-economic evolving, etc.) would together shape the meaning and value of excellent balance, informing a good sense of leadership, relative to its mandate and leading discourse about Our global community’s evolution.

Yet, a balance may show quite tangibly through engagement in enabling others, as in teaching, parenting, and mentoring, which are ways of life, not just roles. All proven models of teaching, parenting, and leadership are highly oriented by the value of enabling. This also pertains to progressive political ethics, exemplified by fiscal policy that highly values preventive health care, excellence in pre-K through college education, targeted employment apprenticeships, and programmatic support for emerging democracies around the world.

“What about getting justice?,” you ask. Doesn’t The Right prevail over The Good?

Fairness is a great good. Yet, ensurance of fairness is a practical matter that presumes appreciation of the Good or high value of fairness. Any consideration of differences between, say, a Rawlsian and a Habermasian sense of fairness presumes a conception of goods that fairness serves, just as the notion of entitlement (right) presumes goods which one claims, usually tracing back to notions of intrinsic goods that can be explicated in terms of our evolution and good individuation (i.e., good formation of a flourishing, fruitful life).

This posting is associated with the “advancing community” area of gedavis.com.