WASEDA ONLINE

RSS

The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

Home > Opinion > Society

Opinion

Society

An Idea of Hope - Pragmatism

Yuki Ohga
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

"Give me the strength to believe in God." This phrase was once sung in the trembling voice of a musician named Kenji Ozawa, at the climax of a 13 minute and 31 second-long song entitled A Scene of Angels. It may indeed be true that in these modern times, in order to believe in something - whether God or anything else - and to keep hope alive, it is not weakness, but rather strength that is required. The world is moving in the right direction. A wonderful tomorrow is about to arrive. All people can have a life full of happiness. Any dream can be fulfilled. Such statements all seem to be false and empty, with the grim reality being that nothing has changed in society despite shifts of political power, and that the outlook for the future continues to darken. Everyone knows all too well that those who can actually achieve success in this world number only a small handful. "Being encouraged to have dreams, but being ridiculed for believing in them." These words were once used in a commercial for liquor, but many people today come to terms with reality over nightly drinks and conversation. Daring to believe and hold onto hope despite all of this must surely require no small degree of strength.

A single truth

Traditionally, philosophy has pursued the discovery of a single truth that can be accepted as correct by everyone. However, after Nieztsche and his famous statement "God is dead", a large number of European philosophers argued instead that there was no such thing as a single truth. In the Anglo-Saxon philosorhy at the same time, analytic philosophers used stricter techniques in their search for truth, eventually reaching the conclusion that attaining this single truth was nothing short of impossible. Since the beginning of history, all people have identified themselves with the universal beliefs of rightness, and have sought to define the meaning and purpose of life along with a framework of morals, without doubting the validity of such practices themselves. However, in modern society, where no single truth can be accepted by all, people are unable to discover the foundations of their own belief, and it is becoming more and more difficult to believe in anything at all without some skepticism.

On the other hand, in America there exists an independent branch of philosophy known as pragmatism. Pragmatism is characterized by the belief that although it is impossible to search for and arrive at a single truth, it is instead possible to achieve a roughly rightness that can be used to solve problems successfully. A philosopher named Richard Rorty who is descended from the analytic philosophy, the subject of my research, revived this idea of pragmatism, which has been almost forgotten even in its home country of America, from a contemporary viewpoint.

Why are freedom, democracy, and human rights good?

In the past, the philosophical single truth guaranteed the foundation of belief reflected in the question of why the system found in modern society, which assures the rights of free and democratic equality, is desirable not only for the West but for all of mankind. In today's world, however, where belief in the single truth has been lost, it has become extremely difficult to provide a clear answer to that question. If there were something, whether a philosophy or an ideology, for which it could be stated with conviction that this is right, active political participation in order to put it into practice would be conceivable; but in the present day where the ideals of modern society are looked on with doubt, it may be natural that indifference to politics spreads.

What is intriguing about pragmatism and Rorty's ideas is their belief that, although modern society is undeniably not perfectly right for it's peoples, in fact displaying a number of serious flaws, at the present time it is the most viable mechanism available and it only needs to be adjusted so that problems may be solved on a case-by-case basis - and therefore, based on the thinking that if ideas can be generated for corrective measures to successfully resolve individual problems, possibly more successfully than with the current system, then those ideas should be implemented, leading to the active confirmation of the contemporary ideas of freedom, democracy, and human rights, though by no means perfect, to be roughly right for the time being.

The left-wing should be patriotic

Rorty furthermore affirms active political participation in modern times with his unique perspective of the left-wing. By Rorty's thinking, the political right-wing refers to those who believe that the situations of the past were better than those of the present, while the political left-wing attempts to improve the current situation while looking toward the future; however, both of them share the mindset of considering what should be done in order to better our country, and therefore both should in actuality have a patriotic viewpoint. Rorty states that today's left-wing, though, is leaning more towards the ideological, or is not constructive, with its members merely criticizing modern society and by extension also criticizing their country, and he even asserts that those people who have lost their patriotism are also those people who have already abandoned the left.

Looking back at the history of politics in the twentieth century, the left-wing has long acted with an ideological basis. Yet if even this ideology itself begins to lose its credibility as a single truth, the stability of the very foundation of its political activities would be jeopardized. In modern Japan, where only the right-wing possesses any political power, it is believed that this is one of the reasons the political left-wing, in comparison, is in such a devastated condition. Still, what is necessary to improve our country is not a regression to traditions or the past, but the birth of ideas to resolve the problems of today in a modern fashion. To do this, would it not be better for those of the left-wing, from the perspective of sustaining a hope for advancing their own country in a better direction towards the future, to hold a more patriotic stance?

Yuki Ohga
Assistant Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

[Career Summary]
1980: Born

2010: Withdrawal from doctoral program of Graduate School of Social Sciences, Waseda University, after full credit earning term
2010: Doctor (Academic) (Waseda University) 2010: Part-time professor, Faculty of Political Science & Economics, Seigakuin University
2011: Assistant professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, Waseda University

[Written Works]
Richard Rorty: Liberal Ironist, Fujiwara Shoten, 2009 (sole author)