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  • Instrumentalism is one of a multitude of modern schools of thought created by

  • scientists and philosophers throughout the 20th century. Its premises and

  • practices were most clearly and persuasively stated by two

  • philosophersJohn Dewey and Karl Popper. Independently, they defined the school

  • quite similarly, but their judgments of it were irreconcilable.

  • Dewey was a practitioner of instrumentalism who, while fearing that

  • the name was easily misunderstood, adopted it for his modernization of

  • tools of induction and his denial of reality behind experience. Popper was a

  • critic who judged its insistence on induction and its denial of reality

  • behind experience to be hopelessly flawed. These contrary judgments endowed

  • the school with the legacy of confusion and ambiguity described below.

  • This article reports the definition of instrumentalism accepted by these two

  • philosophers. It explains the grounds of their irreconcilable judgments, now

  • embedded in popular understanding of the school. And it describes the practice of

  • followers of each philosopher, demonstrating that neither philosopher's

  • judgments have achieved universal assent, leaving the school's meaning and

  • legitimacy in modern scientific inquiry indeterminate.

  • Instrumentalism defined In 1925, John Dewey published an article

  • entitled "The Development of American Pragmatism," in which he defined

  • instrumentalism to distinguish it from schools known as "pragmatism" and

  • "experimentalism." In 1956, Karl Popper published an article entitled "Three

  • Views Concerning Human Knowledge," in which he defined instrumentalism to

  • distinguish it from "essentialism" and a "third view"—his own-which he came to

  • call "critical rationalism." Dewey's article was republished in 1984

  • in John Dewey: The Later Works. Popper's article was republished in 1962 in

  • Conjectures and Refutations. The following four premises defining

  • instrumentalism are taken from these sources. Premises 1 and 2 were accepted

  • by both philosophers and the general public. Premises 3 and 4 were and remain

  • controversial, and will be analyzed in the next section.

  • 1) Theories are instruments, tools-of-the-trade of thinking.

  • Dewey: Popper:

  • 2) Theories are tested by consequences, applying the instrumental criterion of

  • judgment. Dewey:

  • Popper: 3) Theory-development requires inductive

  • reasoning, basing general statements on limited observations.

  • Dewey: Popper:

  • 4) There are no realities beyond what can be known using instrumental

  • theories. Dewey:

  • Popper: Instrumentalism is often identified with

  • other schools which share some of these premises: positivism, pragmatism,

  • operationalism, behaviorism, anti-realism, empiricism,

  • consequentialism. Instrumentalism judged

  • Dewey and Popper disagreed on premises 3 and 4. The primary grounds of their

  • disagreement were expounded in the 1930s. In 1935, Popper published Logic

  • of Scientific Discovery, in which he used traditional logical forms to

  • criticize modern schools of thought, including instrumentalism. In 1938,

  • Dewey published Logic: the Theory of Inquiry, in which he reconstructed

  • traditional logical forms to make them usable by modern schools of thought.

  • Neither of these volumes used the name instrumentalism, but both discussed and

  • judged the premises above. = Popper's critique=

  • The opening paragraph of Popper's The Logic of Scientific Discovery observed

  • that all modern empirical schools accept premises 1 and 2, which he later

  • identified with Instrumentalism: Several paragraphs later, he admitted

  • the popularity of inductionpremise 3—but denied its capacity to generate

  • logically true theories: Popper's reference to swans recalls a

  • famous historic error: the inductively-derived belief that all

  • swans are white. He labelled the practice illogical: "Now in my view

  • there is no such thing as induction. Thus, inference to theories, from

  • singular statements which are 'verified by experience', is logically

  • inadmissible." Popper rejected inductive reasoning in

  • favor of deductive reasoning because he maintained that the former could not

  • achieve logical form. Deduction can move from a self-evident universal statement,

  • such as "All men are mortal", to true singular statements that every

  • individual human is mortal, because the universal statement already embraces all

  • singulars. But there can be no principle by which a singular statement can

  • justify a universal, because no singular statement can report observing "all" of

  • any kind. Popper rejected inductionpremise 3–-but

  • not premise 2—the criterion of instrumental efficiency. He argued that

  • deduction could serve modern science, not by assuming general statements to be

  • true, but by providing general statements testable by their

  • consequences. Falsification "works" when experience contradicts a theory's

  • predictions: "it must be possible for an empirical scientific system to be

  • refuted by experience." Popper rejected premise 4 because it

  • denies the distinction between pure and applied science. He granted that science

  • might be viewed from an empirical or instrumental point of view, but asserted

  • that an epistemological or reality point-of-view was equally valid, meaning

  • logical truths can be found independently of experience. His

  • evidence was that pure sciences such as mathematics and logic can make true

  • statements without observing facts-of-the-case.

  • Logically true theories don't require establishing facts-of-the-case; they can

  • be conjectural myths, derived from inspiration or chance, which are "...

  • psychologically or genetically a priori, i.e., prior to all observational

  • experience." They can also precede observation or recognition of

  • similarities and differences. Instrumentalism's denial of

  • logically-certain deductive truthspremise 4—threatens "... the idea

  • of the objectivity of knowledge and of common standards of criticism or

  • rationality." Because Instrumentalists claim that "truth" is always

  • situational, they forfeit their capacity to explain sciences in which the

  • instrumental criterion of judgment cannot be applied. In pure sciences, the

  • criterion is logically-established truth, not what works or is useful given

  • temporary conditions. = Dewey's reconstruction=

  • Dewey's Logic of 1938 was very different from Popper's Logic of 1935. While

  • Popper used traditional logical forms to criticize modern practices such as

  • induction, Dewey revised those forms. He addressed the problem of whether

  • scientific inquiry "can develop in its own ongoing course the logical standards

  • and forms to which further inquiry shall submit." His affirmative answer is the

  • substance of premise 4, which traditional logic led Popper to deny.

  • Dewey's Logic did not name instrumentalism or pragmatism, but

  • asserted that both schools treat theories as tools for producing

  • consequences. Consequences are "necessary tests of the validity of

  • propositions, provided these consequences are operationally

  • instituted and are such as to resolve the specific problem evoking the

  • operations, ..." When Dewey analyzed inductionpremise

  • 3—he accepted its standard meaning of processes for developing general

  • propositions from particular cases. He explained why Aristotle's understanding

  • of these methods was no longer acceptable.

  • Popper partially repudiated Aristotle's belief that superior intellects can

  • "intuit the essence" of eternal forms by observing physically changing forms:

  • each observed swan is an imperfect sample of universal-but-unobservable

  • swan-ness. But he provided no rational means to carry out induction's necessary

  • function of establishing the facts-of-the-case by relating singular

  • observations of kinds to general statements about kinds. Dewey's

  • instrumental analysis did provide such means by reconstructing both induction

  • and deduction. One may think of a singular observation,

  • i.e., "this swan is white", as an isolated fact without general reference.

  • But Dewey insisted that such an observation necessarily involves the

  • general meaning of "swan" as a particular kind of "bird". If one were

  • not familiar with a kind of animal having numerous well-established

  • characteristics, one could not name it either "bird" or "swan". Kinds,

  • including species, do not exist apart from experience. They are created by

  • inquiries whichcontrary to Popperuse induction to distinguish stable

  • characteristics of experience from accidental or irrelevant

  • characteristics. Dewey argued that modern science does

  • not treat particular observations as knowledge of what is real: one does not

  • assume, after a few observations, that whiteness is a defining characteristic

  • of swans. Particular observations "are selectively discriminated so as to

  • determine a problem whose nature is such as to indicate possible modes of

  • solution." Observations become facts-of-the-case only after being

  • causally related to a problem. Dewey supported this theoretical

  • generalization with an example of medical knowledge. The case of malaria

  • shows how modern induction avoids Popper's charge of requiring endless

  • observations. After certain "singular" symptoms came

  • to be recognized as constituting a disease, it was named malarialiterally

  • "bad air"—as a common-sense conjecture about its causepremise 1. Popper might

  • have considered that conjecture to be testable by predicting that the disease

  • would be absent in environments with "good air." But testing a prediction

  • about air quality could not have led to new insights. It was an insignificant

  • fact-of-the-case. When further observationsapplying

  • premise 3—identified the conjunction of parasites with the disease, experiments

  • revealed the life-history of particular parasites and their relation to a

  • particular kind of mosquito: anopheles. At each stage of inquiry, particular

  • observations [inductions] led to general hypotheses [deductions] guiding further

  • observations to establish logically-warranted particular and

  • general propositions. Multiple theories generated by induction were used

  • throughout the process of inquiry. They evolved from quite conjectural to quite

  • confirmed generalizations, but never from "conjectural myths" to "truths"

  • independent of observable life processes.

  • The result of this hypothetical-deductive sequence was to

  • establish malaria as a specific kind of disease with a determinate etiology.

  • Dewey affirmed the logical force of this demonstration. It provides the logical

  • principle justifying induction, the possibility of which Popper denied.

  • With this logical principle, Dewey validated inductionpremise 3—as well as

  • his rejection of realms such as pure science capable of establishing

  • objective truths unknowable by applied sciencepremise 4. He argued that

  • warranted generalizations never exist apart from experience. They arise only

  • in the process of inquiry, making invalid any claim to truths "logically

  • prior to observation or recognition of similarities and differences."

  • But the dependence of warranted theories on situational factorsinductiondoes

  • not eliminate objective standards of judgment, as Popper feared. Both ends

  • and means have consequences that can be judged more or less instrumentally

  • efficientpremise 2. In summary, Dewey's reconstruction of

  • logic directly refuted Popper's argument for rejecting induction and for

  • maintaining the distinction between pure and applied science. His instrumentalism

  • requires hypothetical-deductive operations to establish warranted

  • assertions to solve problemsemploying all four premises.

  • Instrumentalism practiced Dewey and Popper never confronted their

  • differences. Consequently, the advocate's and the critic's

  • irreconcilable patterns of thought remain identified with the school.

  • Current use of the name embraces this incoherent legacy.

  • To exemplify this continuing ambiguity, this article examines recent practice by

  • significant people influenced by each philosopher's view of instrumentalism.

  • Economist Milton Friedman identified himself with the theory and practice of

  • Popper, while philosopher Larry Hickman and economist John Fagg Foster

  • identified themselves with Dewey. Should any of them be called adherents of

  • instrumentalism? = Milton Friedman's practice of

  • Instrumentalism= Milton Friedman was a Nobel laureate in

  • economics who contributed to the two branches into which economics is often

  • divided: a pure value-free sciencepositive economicsand an

  • applied normative sciencepolitical economy. He participated in the Mount

  • Pelerin Society to which Karl Popper belonged. In 1953 he published an

  • essay—"The Methodology of Positive Economics"—which came to identify him

  • with instrumentalism despite never mentioning that school, or Popper, or

  • Dewey. Friedman explicitly embraced premises 1

  • and 2 when he identified the task of positive economics as providing "a

  • system of generalizations or conjectures that can be used to make correct

  • predictions about the consequences of any change in circumstances." But his

  • position on premises 3 and 4 was ambiguous. Contrary to Popper, he

  • appeared to approve of basing theoretical conjectures on

  • facts-of-the-case provided by inductive observationspremise 3:

  • But he joined Popper in rejecting premise 4—that conjectures must derive

  • from descriptively true assumptions. This rejection appears to make

  • irrelevant the practice of relating theories to facts by induction.

  • In words close to Popper's praise of false conjectures, Friedman praised

  • purely mental hypotheses derived from inaccurate assumptions:

  • Friedman's 1953 essay provoked extensive criticism from both orthodox and

  • heterodox economists. In 1959, economist Lawrence Boland published "A Critique of

  • Friedman's Critics", in which he asserted that all critics were wrong

  • because they failed to understand that Friedman was an Instrumentalist.

  • The "coherent philosophy" which Boland identified with approval as

  • instrumentalism included premises 1 and 2, acceptable to both Popper and

  • Deweyusing theories as instruments to generate successful predictions. But

  • Boland left out of his definition premises 3 and 4—the premises Popper

  • rejected along with the name. Because Friedman downplayed inductive operations

  • and praised unrealistic hypotheses, Boland felt justified in praising him as

  • an instrumentalist, although the same logic would justify praising Popper as

  • an instrumentalist. Boland's paper generated further debate

  • over the meaning of instrumentalism and whether the school Popper rejected could

  • be made acceptable. In 1989, economists Abraham Hirsch and Neil De Marchi

  • published a detailed analysis of Friedman's professional work, which

  • found Friedman's practice inconsistent and Boland's interpretation misleading.

  • After analyzing Friedman's theoretical and practical writings, Hirsch and De

  • Marchi reached convoluted conclusions. They agreed that Friedman sometimes

  • practiced what Boland called instrumentalism, applying premises 1 and

  • 2. But they also found much of his work compatible with Dewey's instrumentalism

  • but not Popper's—applying premises 3 and 4.

  • Hirsch and De Marchi recognized the irreconcilability of Popper's "notions

  • of deductive explanations" which avoid induction and Dewey's "process-view of

  • inquiry" which requires both induction and deduction. They concluded that these

  • represent "two types of instrumentalism." While Boland placed

  • Friedmanwith approvalin the tradition of Popper, they placed Friedmanwith

  • approval but contrary to Bolandmore in the tradition of Dewey.

  • But rather than claim that a divided Instrumentalism embraces irreconcilable

  • premises, Hirsch and De Marchi yielded the Institutionalist title to the more

  • widely recognized interpretation of Popper. Still disagreeing with Boland's

  • interpretation, they considered it less ambiguous to call Friedman a pragmatist

  • in the tradition of Dewey. This decision leaves unresolved the

  • meaning and scientific legitimacy of both instrumentalism and pragmatism.

  • Boland found instrumentalism acceptable as long as it rejects premises 3 and 4,

  • while Hirsch and De Marchi found it unacceptable so defined.

  • = Larry Hickman's practice of Instrumentalism=

  • Larry Hickman, a professor of philosophy, became Director of the

  • Center for Dewey Studies at Southern Illinois University in 1993. In 1990, he

  • published John Dewey's Pragmatic Technology, expressing the current

  • meaning and relevance of Dewey's instrumentalism, despite his decision

  • not to use that label in his title. Hickman's study places Dewey's pattern

  • of thought in current philosophical context. He argues that it is best

  • understood as a "philosophy of technology" and a modern version of

  • pragmatism. Hickman's first chapter confirms Hirsch

  • and De Marchi's finding that multiple and irreconcilable meaning of

  • Instrumentalism are common. He labels meanings incompatible with Dewey's

  • thinking "naïve" and "straight-line" instrumentalism.

  • Straight-line instrumentalism separates means from ends by treating theories as