Introduction To Philosophy – pragmatism, positivism, realism

Introduction To Philosophy

In Sahakian & Sahakian (2005) the authors write, “If all men thought alike, their intellectual and material progress would slow down or cease altogether” (p. 147). Thank goodness then, that we do not. Measured argument and calculated discourse are at the heart of human development on every continent and in every age.


We start with Pragmatism not because it is the “beginning,” but because something must be. As the recognized father of modern Pragmatism (Charles Peirce, 1839-1914) would have wanted, we are starting our discussions of Philosophy with the goal trying to define the meaning of truth in practical, realistic, and pragmatic terms. In a general sense, Pragmatism insists that any theory which can prove itself truer than its competing theories is nearer the truth. Of course, it is, it said so… But Pragmatism explains that the value (truth) of any theory is dependent upon the plausible use or practical consequences of however it is employed. In everyday language that means that Pragmatism tells us to be practical about forming opinions and making choices.

Throughout this course, you will be asked to be pragmatic about your judgments formed during the Philosophical Discourse in the Discussion Forum in the Written Assignments. While your “truth” may be the closest to the truth you can imagine, a Pragmatist accepts that other people may have a more practical explanation of the truth or phenomena. Whether we are discussing truth from a single point of view or exploring the dimensions of truth cultural approaches, Philosophy requires we attempt to remain patient and practical while arriving at conclusions.


Positivism confuses new students of Philosophy because it sounds like the result of a Self-Help Book. It is not. Positivism is closer to “Are you positive about that?” than it is to “think positive!” It is the view that the avenue to authentic knowledge is via testing and proving it; what some would call scientific knowledge. It was coined by the 19th century, French sociologist and philosopher named Auguste Comte (1798 – 1857).

In the epistemological sense, “positive” means “value-free.” For Philosophers, Positivism is an objective approach to the study of humanity in that it withholds judgment until “proof” (at some level) is accepted. To Comte, this meant treating Philosophical discourse with much the same rigor as one would treat scientific inquiry. He viewed the scientific method as replacing the less-structured Metaphysics and Theology which necessarily required a certain level of faith in truths to move forward. Comte wrote:

“It must be understood that I advocate simply a suspension of judgment where there is no ground for either affirmation or denial. I merely desire to keep in view that all our positive knowledge is relative; and, in my dread of our resting in notions of anything absolute, I would venture to say that I can conceive of such a thing as even our theory of gravitation being hereafter superseded. I do not think it probable, and the fact will ever remain that it answers completely to our present needs. It sustains us, up to the last point of precision that we can attain. If a future generation should reach a greater, and feel, in consequence, a need to construct a new law of gravitation, it will be as true as it now is that the Newtonian theory is, in the midst of inevitable variations, stable enough to give steadiness and confidence to our understandings. It will appear hereafter how inestimable this theory is in the interpretation of the phenomena of the interior of our system. We already see how much we owe to it, apart from all specific knowledge which it has given us, in the advancement of our philosophical progress, and of the general education of human reason. Descartes could not rise to a mechanical conception of general phenomena without occupying himself with a baseless hypothesis about their mode of production. This was, doubtless, a necessary process of transition from the old notions of the absolute to the positive view; but too long a continuance in this stage would have seriously impeded human progress. The Newtonian discovery set us forward in the true positive direction. It retains Descartes’ fundamental idea of a Mechanism but casts aside all inquiry into its origin and mode of production. It shows practically how, without attempting to penetrate into the essence of phenomena, we may connect and assimilate them, so as to attain, with precision and certainty, the true end of our studies,—that exact prevision of events which à priori conceptions are necessarily unable to supply.”

The positive philosophy of Auguste Comte freely translated by Harriet Martineau (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1896), p.198-199


Realism, in the simplest and most general terms, is the view that all phenomena and entities have an objective reality. That is, a reality completely independent of our understanding of it/them. Your vocabulary, religious background, personal theories, schemas, etc. have no effect on reality. This sounds simple enough, but when understood as a factor defining “truth” one is forced to reconcile that the truth he or she holds may not be the ultimate real truth of the matter.

Sahakian, W, & Sahakian, M. (2005) The Ideas of Great Philosophers. New York: Fall River Press.


For this PART 1:

  • Give a personal example of where you’ve seen or experienced each of the basic schools of thoughts for Philosophy.
  • Which of the three basic schools of Philosophy is most in line with your decision processes on a day-to-day basis? Why?
  • Include a bullet or two about the ‘value’ of these schools of thought in everyday

Please write an essay of complete and well composed paragraphs (250 word minimum for the entire essay) Be sure to use in text citation and provide references for your sources. Wikipedia is not a source.

For this PART 2:

Pick one of the six listed Realist thinkers and present a 3- page Research Paper on them, their views, and its presentation of Realism as a Philosophical Discipline from their era using the rubric below.

  • Sun Tzu (Ancient China)
  • Thucydides (Ancient Greece)
  • Machiavelli (Medieval Italy)
  • Thomas Hobbes (civil war-torn England)
  • Mao Tse Tung (Communist China)
  • Hans J. Morgenthau (USA 1950s)

In the paper, identify your Philosopher of choice and give a short biographical paragraph describing him, another for the era and culture within which they lived, and a third reason he is interesting to you

From there:

  • Describe their Philosophical view as it directly reflects their espousal of Realism
  • Give several examples of this view from their point of view
  • Close with your opinion about their viewpoint and if you believe it was valid at the time
  • Could it withstand the test of time?
    • That is, given the cultural underpinnings of your chosen person, it may have been true back then but if he lived in your town today would his views still remain as valid? Why, why not?
  • There is no right or wrong in opinion questions

Assignment Guidelines

Write a fully APA-compliant 3-page paper for this Unit:

    • You should include a reference page, with APA citations, at the end of your paper. This page is in addition to the 3-pages of written work, for a total of 4-pages
    • Standard margins, 12-point font, New Times Roman or similar
    • Do not write less, do not write more
    • Be sure to read the assessment criteria before you begin writing

For more information on APA formatting:

Assessment Criteria

  • Does the paper clearly identify the chosen Philosopher and why he fits into the topic of Realism?
  • Does the paper consider the historical and cultural context of the chosen Philosopher’s thoughts in Realism?
  • Does the writer give meaningful examples (plural) of the Philosopher’s view on realism? Is it presented in an understandable way that paints a clear picture of the scholar and their culture?
  • APA and overall look and feel of the paper is college-level work

For this PART 3:

Please reflect on an area covered that surprised you most about Pragmatism, Positivism, or Realism.

Please write an essay of complete and well composed paragraphs (250 word minimum for the entire essay) Be sure to use in text citation and provide references for your sources. Wikipedia is not a source.