Pragmatic Turn And Entrepreneurship: Part two

In my previous post, “Pragmatic Turn and Entrepreneurship: Part One,” I provided an overview of the recent development of the Pragmatic Turn in the domain of entrepreneurship. In this post, I will discuss some of my thoughts on the current status of the Pragmatic Turn project in entrepreneurship.

The pragmatic turn in entrepreneurship has begun with scholarly works like Sarasvathy(2009), Kraaijenbrink(2012), Rubleske and Berente(2017), Shepherd(2015), Taatila(2010), Watson(2013), Zellweger and Zenger(2021), Sergeeva et, al(2021), etc. All of these works used pragmatism to advance entrepreneurship scholarship by initiating insightful debates and also by introducing their own interpretations concepts and solutions. In an obvious case, anyone who looks at these myriads of solutions and interpretations will immediately get to feel total chaos or endorsement of some extreme versions of post-modernism. Most scholarly work in entrepreneurship in my view never started with a deep understanding of pragmatism, instead, is the result of an attempt to fit their preexisting ideas, tools, and conceptions with pragmatism. This partially answers the question, how can a single philosophical perspective produce this many variations, even those that take contradictory positions? 

My issue with this is not that they all produced myriads of solutions and interpretations, but as a community collective, no one addressed this true nature of pragmatism. Instead, most scholars went on with using extreme levels of certainty statements about the nature of pragmatism. This might convey the wrong idea that pragmatism is a monolithic project. 

What Pragmatism?

The “Pragmatic Turn Project” in entrepreneurship till now lacks a keystone work that genuinely discusses the true nature of pragmatism, its early influences, varied interpretations/misinterpretations, possible limitations, etc. If we look at the historical evolution of pragmatism, it will become evident that the evolution of pragmatism was never smooth and was marked by countless debates, disagreements, and conflicts between various scholars. There was not much of an agreement even between the two of the originators of pragmatism, Peirce, and James. As James’s popular version of pragmatism spread, Peirce was so outraged that he renamed his own doctrine of meaning “pragmaticism”, which according to Pierce is a name “ugly enough to be safe from kidnappers”, intended to be a jab at James. According to Bernstein(2006), “there is the famous quip that pragmatism is the movement that was founded on James’s misunderstanding of Peirce”.

William James himself articulates the chaos in the following way; There never was such confusion. The tower of Babel was monotony in comparison. …Dewey is obscure; Schiller bumptious and hasty; James’s doctrine of radical empiricism … has been confounded with pragmatism; pragmatism itself covers two or three distinct theories … the upshot has made one despair of man’s intelligence. But little by little the mud will settle to the bottom…. James (1907, As cited by Haack, 2004)

Philosopher of science, Ian Hacking(1983) who was hugely influenced by Dewey, writes a review of pragmatism in the following way;  “There is, however, in James and Dewey, an indifference to the Peircian vision of inquiry. They did not care what beliefs we settle on in the long run. The final human fixation of belief seemed to them a chimaera. That is partly why James’s rewriting of pragmatism was resisted by Peirce. This same disagreement is enacted at the very moment”.

With this short take, Hacking(1983) brings his attention to neo-pragmatists. According to him, “Hilary Putnam is today’s Peircian. Richard Rorty, in his book Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature(1979) plays some of the parts acted by James and Dewey. He explicitly says that recent history of American philosophy has got its emphases wrong. Where Peirce has been praised, it has been only for small things. Dewey and James are the true teachers, and Dewey ranks with Heidegger and Wittgenstein as the three greats of the twentieth century. However Rorty does not write only to admire. He has no Peirce/Putnam interest in the long run nor in growing canons of rationality. Nothing is more reasonable than anything else, in the long run. James was right. Reason is whatever goes in the conversation of our days, and that is good enough. It may be sublime, because of what it inspires within us and among us. There is nothing that makes one conversation intrinsically more rational than another. Rationality is extrinsic: it is whatever we agree on. If there is less persistence among fashionable literary theories than among fashionable chemical theories, that is a matter of sociology. It is not a sign that chemistry has a better method, nor that it is nearer to the truth”. 

Hacking(1983) then goes on to make some categorical statements. He adds, Thus pragmatism branches: there are Peirce and Putnam on the one hand, and James, Dewey and Rorty on the other. Both are antirealist, but in somewhat different ways. Peirce and Putnam optimistically hope that there is something that sooner or later, information and reasoning would finally result in. That, for them, is the real and the true. It is interesting for Peirce and Putnam both to define the real and to know what, within our scheme of things, will pan out as real. This is not of much interest to the other sort of pragmatism. How to live and talk is what matters, in those quarters. There is not only no external truth, but there are no external or even evolving canons of rationality. Rorty’s version of pragmatism is yet another language-based philosophy, which regards all our life as a matter of conversation. Dewey rightly despised the spectator theory of knowledge. What might he have thought of science as conversation? In my opinion, the right track in Dewey is the attempt to destroy the conception of knowledge and reality as a matter of thought and of representation. He should have turned the minds of philosophers to experimental science, but instead his new followers praise talk” . 

Here Hacking clearly considers Putnam as a neo-Peirceian pragmatist and Rorty as aligned with James and Dewey. But complication comes when we consult huge number of works that demonstrates this is not the case at all. For example Vincent Colapietro(2011) see Richard Rorty as Peircean Pragmatist, a position that goes totally against that of Hacking. According to Pihlström(2004), “as soon as Richard Rorty started to wave the flag of pragmatism in the late 1970s and early 1980s and saw his own work as a continuation of William James’s and John Dewey’s philosophy, he began to receive critical comments from dedicated James and Dewey scholars who wanted to show that he had got these classics of pragmatism completely wrong”. Pihlström(2004) further argues that, “For Putnam, James is clearly the central classical pragmatist (although Dewey is highly important for him, too, and Peirce should not be forgotten, either), whereas for Rorty Dewey is clearly number one and Peirce is relatively unimportant, simply the one who gave the tradition its name and made the further developments of the tradition possible by stimulating James”. He adds, “both Putnam and Rorty reject Peircean pragmati(ci)sm (which, they seem to agree, amounts to metaphysical realism in the end) and turn to James and Dewey instead”.

But, if we consider a philosopher a Dewean pragmatist the complication is still not ending. According to Alven Neiman(1996), “We need to ask which Dewey we ought to appropriate. Should it be Cornel West’s vision of Dewey as prophetic pragmatist (West, 1989) or Nancy Fraser’s feminist pragmatist (Fraser, 1990) or Robert Westbrook’s communitarian Dewey (Westbrook, 1991) or the neo-Aristotelian Dewey postulated and praised by Father Richard John Neuhaus (Neuhaus, 1992) or Stephen Rockefeller’s quasi-Buddhist, ecologically-minded Dewey (Rockefeller, 1991)? For all their disagreements, these writers(above) share an antipathy toward Richard Rorty’s Dewey”. 

In her paper, “Pragmatism, Old and New”, Susan Haack(2004) quotes a variety of philosophers who understood and articulated this point in the following way; “Long ago, A. O. Lovejoy complained that there were thirteen pragmatisms; Ralph Barton Perry suggested that pragmatism was the result of James’s misunderstanding of Peirce; and British pragmatist F. C. S. Schiller cheerfully acknowledged that there are as many pragmatisms as pragmatists. More recently, Rorty writes that “‘pragmatism’ is a vague, ambiguous and overworked word,” while H. O. Mounce argues that there are two pragmatisms: the honorable, descending from Peirce, and the dishonorable, descending from James and Dewey to Rorty et al. Each of them has a point; but it’s really more complicated, and more interesting, than any of them allows — more like the old joke about soldiers passing a message down the line: first man to second, “send reinforcements, we’re going to advance”; next-to-last man to last, “send three and fourpence, we’re going to a dance.’”

As we have observed, the true nature of pragmatism is not monolithic, but pluralistic. Most scholars who endorsed and used it, used it for various purposes in their own unique way. This is also empirically observable in the pragmatic turn in entrepreneurship as a domain. Though this might be interpreted as a bad thing, leading contemporary pragmatists were very well aware of this key feature. They never shied away from acknowledging it, and they often celebrated this as a good thing. Discussing the origins of American pragmatism, Richard Bernstein(2015) argues that, “the philosophers that inspired these thinkers were very different. Peirce claimed to know Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason practically by heart. James always felt a closer affinity with the British empiricists and dedicated his book on Pragmatism to J.S. Mill. And Dewey started as a Hegelian. Consequently, there was a diversity of philosophical orientations woven into classical pragmatism”. Hilary Putnam(1995) is another neo-pragmatist who pointed out this aspect. He states, “What I find attractive in pragmatism is not a systematic theory in the usual sense at all. It is rather a certain group of theses, theses which can be and indeed were argued very differently by different philosophers with different concerns, and which became the basis of the philosophies of Peirce, and above all of James and Dewey”.

Bernstein endorsed this claim by Putnam. He believed that pragmatism has always been a contested notion, which accounts for the richness, diversity, and ongoing vitality. The primary reason for this richness is the variety of perspectives and narratives that constitute it, even when these are strongly dissenting from the dominant narratives of the time.

This does not mean that we adopt an anything goes approach to pragmatism that might come closer to extreme relativism. Bernstein(1995) clarifies his position in this way:

“I am not suggesting that it is inappropriate to try to specify—as James, Peirce, Dewey, Rorty, Putnam, and even I have done—what one takes to be the primary characteristics of a pragmatic orientation. This is essential for our “argumentative retellings.” Rather I am calling for a more self-reflective attitude about this endeavor—an awareness that in doing so “we” are making a claim about what “we” think is (or ought to be) taken as most central and important in pragmatism. We should be wary of anyone who claims that there are fixed criteria by which we can decide who is and who is not a pragmatist. Such boundary setting is not only unpragmatic, it is frequently used as a power play to legitimize unexamined prejudices. And those of us who identify ourselves with the pragmatic tradition should be especially alert to the abuse of such boundary fixing—for it has been used to marginalize pragmatism. . . . The only point on which we should insist is that the pragmatist’s concern should be with continuing the argument—to continue our argumentative retellings of the pragmatic legacy which will be in conflict with other argumentative retellings” Whitehead(2016).

With the humility derived from the above analysis, I would, first of all, like to withdraw the Tweet I made. Following the lead of Bernstein, I will instead try to challenge ZZ and SBD with my own arguments; not by making judgments about what constitutes pragmatism.  

Pragmatism in Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is a naturally pragmatic domain. Every action made by an entrepreneur is made with practical consequences in mind. Since I have completed my agenda to highlight the heterogeneous nature of pragmatism, and the lack of entrepreneurship works that address it, in this part I will list down some of the key dimensions of pragmatism applied in entrepreneurship. As Bernstein has suggested even while we accept the diverse ways to understand and use pragmatism, it is important to clarify “what one takes to be the primary characteristics of a pragmatic orientation“. “Even I have done” it, says Bernstein because it is “essential for our ‘argumentative retellings”. I will do this with reference to the recent debates that I have touched on in Part one of this blog post. While I will use several key themes that Bernstein and others touched on, I will add several of my own ideas.

1) Consequences: Whose Pragmatism and pragmatism for what?

In the big chunk of the previous part, I have attempted to address the question of “what pragmatism” are we talking about? There, I was trying to draw some light on the multifarious understandings and interpretations of pragmatism. Here I would like to highlight one of the primary concepts in pragmatism. The “consequences”. An emphasis on consequences can be seen as the starting point for almost any pragmatic analysis. This can be traced to Peirce’s pragmatic maxim itself. Peirce introduced pragmatism in 1878 with this famous pragmatic maxim, i.e. “Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object” (Peirce, [1878]. 

In light of the consequences, here I would like to highlight the fact that, when an entrepreneurship scholar works on academic pragmatism, there are conflicting levels of interest that he/she might encounter. All of them will have different consequences. There might be;

  • The pragmatism of the scholar; Here the stress is in the individual outcome or success.
  • The pragmatism of a tool/instrument; Here the stress might be on the successful application of a particular idea, tool, or instrument.
  • The pragmatism of the academic group/project; Here the stress is on the individuals who form part/dependent on a particular academic project.
  • The pragmatism of the academic community: Here the stress might be to make a particular project interesting for the academic community.
  • The pragmatism of the academic publication; Here the stress might be to make it suitable for the journal’s official goals and criteria. Or/and make it suitable for politics, if any.
  • The pragmatism of the end user(entrepreneur); Here the stress is on the entrepreneurial action or success.
  • The pragmatism of the society; Here the goal is the positive social outcome.

Note that, here, I’m not implying anything against the existing scholarly works, but just highlighting an important perspective that might need some scholarly reflection. It is possible that pragmatism of personal success can come into conflict with pragmatism of the end user/entrepreneur or society. It is possible that someone sells their own parochial version of a solution that might go against the end-user good or collective good William James(1890) responds that such a person is, “Merely insisting on an aspect of the thing which suits his own petty purpose, that of naming the thing; or else on an aspect which suits the manufacturer’s purposes, that of producing an article for which there is a vulgar demand. Meanwhile the reality overflows these purposes at every pore”. So, even though I endorse the spirit of Bernstein’s “argumentative retellings”, I think pragmatism at least in entrepreneurship must not just be about winning arguments, but about supporting entrepreneurial action and its social consequences. I think he himself will agree with that as an ideal goal for the domain of entrepreneurship(Nor did he say anything against that). 

2) Engaged Fallibilistic Pluralism

Engaged Fallibilistic Pluralism is an idea developed by Richard Bernstein combining 4 key ideas that can be traced in the pragmatic mainstream; Engagement, Fallibilism, Anti-foundationalism, and Pluralism. According to Bernstein(2015), “Pragmatic pluralism is not to be confused or identified with a self-defeating relativism. It is engaged fallibilistic pluralism. Such a pluralistic ethos places new responsibilities upon each of us. For it means taking our fallibility and finitude seriously—and resolving that, however much we are committed to our own biases and styles of thinking, we are willing to listen to others without denying or suppressing the otherness of the other”. 

In the frame of Engaged Fallibilistic Pluralism, “to be engaged demands actively seeking to understand what initially strikes us as strange and different. And whether we are talking about different philosophic orientations, traditions, cultures or ethnic groups, this takes hard work. It requires learning how to listen—to really listen and hear what the other is saying” Bernstein(2014)

Fallibilism is the idea that no beliefs, theories, or perspectives(or any) can ever be considered totally rational or justified conclusively. There always remains a possible doubt as to the truth of the belief. This idea is very much connected to the critique of foundationalism(or anti-foundationalism)

Bernstein(2015) argues, “If inquiry is a self-corrective activity that can put any claim into jeopardy, then this means that all knowledge claims—indeed all validity claims—are fallible, in the sense that we can never claim that we know anything with a type of certainty that cannot in principle be questioned. This position should not be mistaken for some sort of extreme relativism. Bernstein(2015) argues for example that, Peirce never doubted that we can and do know a reality that is independent of us, but we are never in a position to claim that we know this with absolute certainty”. In this regard, Bernstein embraces a  statement made by Wilfrid Sellars when he wrote, “For empirical knowledge, like its sophisticated extension, science, is rational, not because it has a foundation but because it is a self-correcting enterprise which can put any claim in jeopardy, though not all at once” DeVries (2011).

Pluralism is mostly influenced by William James who argued for a radical pluralism of perspectives. We human beings can never achieve a God’s-eye perspective. In A Pluralistic Universe, James(1977) wrote, “It is curious how little countenance radical pluralism has ever had from philosophers. Whether materialistically or spiritualistically minded, philosophers have always aimed at cleaning up the litter with which the world is apparently filled. They have substituted economical and orderly conceptions for the first sensible tangle; and whether these were morally elevated or only intellectually neat, they were aesthetically pure and definite, and aimed at ascribing to the world something clean and intellectual in the way of inner structure. As compared with all these rationalizing pictures, the pluralistic empiricism which I profess offers but a sorry appearance. It is a turbid, muddled, gothic sort of affair without a sweeping outline and with little pictorial nobility”. 

I argue that both Zellweger and Zenger(ZZ)and Sergeeva, et al.(SBD) never emphasized any of these ideas with necessary importance. ZZ made their scientific approach(act like scientists) the absolute foundation of their pragmatic philosophy. The fallibility of the framework is not discussed. While SBD discussed fallibility, they imported and appropriated/adapted a lot of conceptual models from various areas, like Analogical abduction, Searle’s philosophy of language, Single-Double-Triple loop learning, etc. It is not clear if they consider these ideas as foundational to their pragmatic philosophy, Or consider it just provisional. This needs some more clarity.

3) Organism-environment system(Indivisible process Vs Spectator Theory)

American pragmatists believed that the organism-environment relationship was key to understanding human behavior and development. This was “the outgrowth of a rich conversation between late nineteenth century philosophers, biologists and social scientists”. It was primarily concerning the inseparable bond between organisms and their environments, including humans and their social environments (Pearce, 2020). They embraced naturalism’s ecological emphasis on the interactive and interdependent relationship between individual organisms and their environments. This contradicts the dominant contemporary representational cognitive paradigm.

They argued that individuals cannot be understood in isolation, but rather as part of an interconnected system of relationships with their environment, which is constantly changing. They viewed all knowledge to be a product of the purely historical relationship between organisms and the environment. Dewey for example held the position that the unit of explanation is not the biological individual, the body by itself, or the brain, but the entangled organism-environment system. Organism and environment are not two self-sufficient or easily distinguishable items. Instead, they are always found together in a dynamic transactional relationship. They are, in effect, coupled in a way such that to pull them apart is to destroy them or to treat them as theoretical abstractions. An organism can never exist apart from some environment; an environment is what it is only in conjunction with a particular organism that defines it (Gallagher, 2014).

Indivisible process Vs Spectator Theory: We are part of the organism-environment system which is a dynamic process than a static concept or object. Spectator theory insists that the world is observed from a single fixed point of reference. We human beings are not spectators. We move and act in the world. The organism-environment system is an inseparable unity system or part of a single process; the organism cannot exist without the environment, and the environment has no descriptive properties without being connected to the organism. This was very well articulated by Ian Hacking(1983) as part of his Deweyan analysis. According to him, “Dewey despised all dualism- mind/matter, theory/practice, thought/action, fact/value. He made fun of the ‘spectator theory of knowledge’. He said it resulted from the existence of a leisure class, who thought and wrote philosophy, as opposed to a class of entrepreneurs and workers who had not the time for just looking“. The spectator theory of knowledge thus can be interpreted as the result of the quest for certainty that deflects the powers of intelligence toward problems that cannot possibly be solved. By viewing knowledge as a passive reception rather than a unified process, spectator theory treats acting, making, and valuing as external to knowing and as the source of the problem. According to Antonio and Kellner(1992), through the use of spectator theories, “a feeling of certainty is produced by the belief that a stable reality lies beyond the instrumental realm of appearances”. On the other hand “Because of their existential uncertainty, instability, and dependence on human practices, social phenomena are treated as inferior objects of knowledge or are put completely outside the reach of inquiry”

ZZ’s key argument is that entrepreneurs are scientists. They, “depict entrepreneurs as engaging in causally inferential action by forming beliefs, testing these beliefs, and responding to the feedback received”. In response, SBD argues that “entrepreneurs are more than scientists”. They do not “merely seek to describe (predict), but are, in addition, engineers, designers, and artists, who seek to shape the future to “fit” their mind via their actions”.

To me, using categories like scientists, engineers, designers, artists, etc. are symptoms of spectator theory that Dewey warned us about. What this suggests is that you have to first become something else to become the real thing. You have to learn to be like scientists, learn the scientific method, then use that method to become entrepreneurs. Or you learn engineering to learn engineering techniques, and then use them to become an entrepreneur. The same goes for the case of the analogy of artists or designers. If this is what ZZ and SBD meant by these analogies I will call that the epitome of decontextualization. This to me is the product of an “industry of inadequacy“, a term I coined while thinking about this issue. Andrew Yang made a similar criticism about modern entrepreneurship education. Quoting him, “Young people have told me that entrepreneurship classes actually discourage them… because then they feel like there’s this massive checklist of things that they have to like have done or figure out to start a business; whereas in the old days someone would just start selling….t-shirts or tires, ‘whatever’ and then they’d have a business before too long. There will be like ,no….market sizing, and….business plan writing, and the rest of it”.

I argue that Yang here is targeting the “industry of inadequacy” and I think one of the most important uses of the pragmatic approach is the inherently powerful tools suited to fight against the “industry of inadequacy“. If we take a pragmatic perspective, an entrepreneurial agent is an entrepreneurial agent and the analysis should primarily be grounded in the unique and dynamic agent-environment context. I also prefer neutral languages like Organism-environment, agent-environment, etc., to reduce the impact of a priori conceptual models impacting contextual sense-making.

I conclude here with a quote from Dewey (1938), “It is more or less a commonplace that it is possible to carry on observations that amass facts tirelessly and yet the observed “facts” lead nowhere. On the other hand, it is possible to have the work of observation so controlled by a conceptual framework fixed in advance that the very things which are genuinely decisive in the problem in hand and its solution, are completely overlooked. Everything is forced into the predetermined conceptual and theoretical scheme. The way, and the only way, to escape these two evils, is sensitivity to the quality of a situation as a whole. In ordinary language, a problem must be felt before it can be stated”.

4) Instrumentalism (Coevolutionary instrumentalism).

Dewey distinguished his philosophy from earlier philosophical pragmatists by calling it instrumentalism, which indicated that knowledge, things, artifacts, tools, language, cognition, etc. are instruments that we use to act in the world. His instrumentalism was primarily inspired by evolutionary theory. According to Dewey, “The entire significance of the evolutionary method in biology and social history is that every distinct organ, structure, or formation, every grouping of cells or elements, has to be treated as an instrument of adjustment or adaptation to a particular environing situation. Its meaning, its character, its value, is known when, and only when, it is considered as an arrangement for meeting the conditions involved in some specific situation” Dewey(1903. p.15). 

In his work “The Development of American Pragmatism, Dewey maintains that a central difference between instrumentalism(or pragmatism) and traditional approaches is that the former is forward-looking i.e. looking at “consequent” rather than backward-looking at an unchanging antecedent. This consequences-based thinking leads us to take the future into consideration where exists a universe whose evolution is not finished, of a universe which is still, in William James’s term, “in the making”. For this conception, tools like language for e.g. arise from the interaction of organism and environment and, especially, from the capacity to make instrumental adjustments towards the consequences of actions. Dewey’s instrumentalism was also extended to his view of science. He believed that science should be used to solve practical problems. According to his instrumentalist view of science, scientific theories, laws, and methods are tools or calculating devices for acting in the world, organizing descriptions of phenomena, and drawing inferences from the past to the future. Theories and laws themselves have no truth in themselves; they are merely instruments, not to be understood as literal assertions. Further, Dewey’s instrumentalism was not proposed as a top-down authoritarian and imposing model of pragmatism. Instead, it is an active, plural, historical, and participatory way of living and acting in the world that contradicts the spectator theory of knowledge. His instrumentalism is inherently based on democratic ideals. This is why I prefer to view this instrumentalism as co-evolutionary and co-adaptive instrumentalism stressing the lack of imposing top-down order.

I argue that both ZZ and SBD came to embrace pragmatism as a philosophy with their own previously developed instruments. ZZ developed the “entrepreneur-as-scientist” perspective through many different works including Camuffo et al(2020), Felin et, al(2020). SBD developed their key idea of Analogical Abduction previously in Sergeeva and Bhardwaj (2020). This suggests a clear preference for one instrument over many instruments or instrumentalism.

Although this might go against the spirit of instrumentalism, both ZZ and SBD displayed clear openness to other instruments. ZZ(1) in their response to Ehrig and Foss (2022) suggested that they “refrain from suggesting that the scientific method is the only way to create value in entrepreneurship”. SBD on the other hand shows openness by suggesting that they provided “a conceptual tool inspired by the pragmatist conception of imagination and introduce analogical abduction as a – but not the only – mechanism through which entrepreneurs arrive at their conjectures about opportunities”. Problem is that it is not clear if they are using their own a priori instrument for a particular functional aspect or consider the instrument-function relation as part of open an emergent question, as I would conceive it.

5. Enactive Sense Making

At the fundamental level, the organism makes sense of the environment to act in that environment. I consider enactive sense-making as a key pragmatic idea, which is in the essence of Deweyan common sense(Gallagher, 2014). Dewey made the relationship between organism and the environment the foundation of his new theories of ethics, education, and scientific inquiry. His idea of commonsense is a direct extension of this idea of an organism being embedded in the environment, and the organism making sense(common sense) of the world to act in it. I differentiate sense-making with abduction and scientific-approach.

I consider Abduction as a specific type of sense-making ( or common sense) as developed by Pearcewhich can be understood as an inference to the best explanation derived only using incomplete information. According to Pearce, “Abduction is the process of forming an explanatory hypothesis. It is the only logical operation which introduces any new idea; for induction does nothing but determine a value, and deduction merely evolves the necessary consequences of a pure hypothesis. Deduction proves that something must be; Induction shows that something actually is operative; Abduction merely suggests that something may be“(Pearce 1958: 5.171). In another place, he states that “The abductive suggestion comes to us like a flash. It is an act of insight, although extremely fallible insight. It is true that the different elements of the hypothesis were in our minds before; but it is the idea of putting together what we had never before dreamed of putting together which flashes the new suggestion before our contemplation” (Pearce 1988: 227). While the Scientific approach also involves sensemaking or its much more defined version, “abduction”, it primarily involves a systematic search for truth and socially validating it via protocol methods like publication, peer-review, replication, etc. 

Dewey preferred common sense(sense-making) and he saw his work as a response to a crisis in modern culture, which is the result of disintegrating influence of modern science on everyday life (Biesta and Burbules, 2003). Dewey states, “I shall designate the environment in which human beings are directly involved the common sense environment or “world,” and inquiries that take place in making the required adjustments in behavior common sense inquiries. As is brought out later, the problems that arise in such situations of interaction may be reduced to problems of the use and enjoyment of the objects, activities and products, material and ideological, (or “ideal”) of the world in which individuals live. Such inquiries are, accordingly, different from those which have knowledge as their goal. The attainment of knowledge of some things is necessarily involved in common sense inquiries, but it occurs for the sake of settlement of some issue of use and enjoyment, and not, as in scientific inquiry, for its own sake” Dewey(1936).

Dewey further pointed out that, Modern science has completely changed our understanding of the world in which we live. To him, science, “has stripped the world of the qualities which made it beautiful and congenial to men ; has deprived nature of all aspiration towards ends, all preference for accomplishing the good, and presented nature to us as a scene of indifferent physical particles acting according to mathematical and mechanical laws” Dewey(1929). Here I have shown that sense-making or common sense is more fundamental than abduction, which is a more specific logic developed by CS Pearce. The scientific approach is more specific, in that, even though the real idea might be the result of sense-making or abductive sensemaking, it has more constraints and requires protocol processes and social validation. Hence, abduction must be followed by deduction or induction.

Here I must mention ZZ’s response to SBD’s critical response by quoting Dewey from his book Logic-The Theory Of Inquiry in the following way, “Consequently, any difference between real scientists and any other category of individual lies solely in the problems with which they are directly concerned, not in their respective logics”(Dewey, 1938, p. 81). The problem is that Dewey dedicated Chapter 4 of the book “Common Sense and Scientific Inquiry” to highlight the importance of common sense over science. The quote above, in my understanding, was meant to be a defense of common sense over science, instead, ZZ used it with an upside-down meaning. Dewey instead was suggesting that scientific discovery is also about commonsense. This is evident even from Pearce’s comment on abduction i.e.“Abduction….is the only logical operation which introduces any new idea; for induction does nothing but determine a value, and deduction merely evolves the necessary consequences of a pure hypothesis”.

Note that I have no issue if ZZ can defend abduction as the foundation of their pragmatic analysis. ZZ in fact does exactly that by arguing that “pragmatist epistemology suggests that the entrepreneur’s mode of inquiry leads from abduction to deduction to induction, thereby combining cognitive, agentic and reflective inference, or belief formation, testing, and updating“. While this is a worthy position to take, I argue that abduction doesn’t equal to Deweyan common sense as suggested by ZZ in the argument they made against SBD’s criticism. Further for an entrepreneur operating in an emergent environment where ground realities change dynamically, induction and deduction are not useful in usual contexts. It will be counterproductive and ornamental. 

I also find an issue with Analogical abduction as proposed by SBD. This concept assumes that common sense or abduction doesn’t have an analogical component in it. I argue that both common sense and abduction have analogical thinking implicit in them. I believe that it is unnecessary to discuss analogy, but if we are using analogical thinking along with abduction, why not ask the counterfactual question? Why can’t we use abductive pattern recognition, abductive memory, abductive mental simulation, abductive mindset, abductive inquiry, etc.? Secondly, I also consider analogy and abduction as fundamental to living systems, especially lower animals. In that, analogical thinking can be easily understood as an extension of exaptation or Darwinian pre-adaptation, instead of a trained human faculty that is developed by classroom teaching. Thus I do not consider analogical thinking and abduction as human alone faculty. Analogical thinking has been observed widely in animals, particularly in comparative human-animal cultural studies, e.g. (Brand, 2021). Abductive thinking was also studied and understood in animals(Magnani, 2007).

 Like Dewey, I further argue for the celebration of common sense/sense-making over more intelligent-sounding ideas and concepts. I argue that common sense is the real foundational human intelligence that cannot be replicated by machines or decontextualized models. This makes it superior. I argue that academia should get out of its efforts to make people feel inadequate and thereby support the “inadequacy industry”. I believe that this is also one of pragmatism’s key messages. As Dewey commented in his Democracy and Education; “if it gets in the way of the individual’s own common sense (as it will surely do if imposed from without or accepted on authority) it does harm”.  

I conclude with a Deweyen quote; “Science takes its departure from common sense, but the return road into common sense is devious and blocked by existing social conditions”(Dewey, 1936)

Citation


  1. Antonio Robert J. and Douglas Kellner. “Communication modernity and democracy in Habermas and Dewey.” Symbolic
  2. Bernstein 2014. Engaged Fallibilistic Pluralism [Internet]. Engaged Fallibilistic Pluralism . Columbia Pragmatism group: [cited 2022Nov22]. Available from: https://columbiapragmatism.files.wordpress.com/2014/10/engaged-fallibilistic-pluralism.pdf
  3. Bernstein Richard J. “The pragmatic century.” The Pragmatic Century: Conversations with Richard J. Bernstein (2006): 1-14.
  4. Bernstein Richard J. Pragmatic encounters. Routledge 2015.
  5. Bernstein Richard J. The Pragmatic Turn Pragmatic encounters. Routledge 2015 P. 31.
  6. Bernstein Richard. “American pragmatism: The conflict of narratives.” Rorty and pragmatism: The philosopher responds to his critics (1995): 54-67.
  7. Biesta Gert and Nicholas C. Burbules. “Pragmatism and educational research.” (2003).
  8. Brand Charlotte O. Alex Mesoudi and Paul E. Smaldino. “Analogy as a catalyst for cumulative cultural evolution.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 25 no. 6 (2021): 450-461.
  9. Colapietro Vincent. “Richard Rorty as Peircean Pragmatist: An Ironic Portrait and Sincere Expression of Philosophical Friendship.” EDITORIAL & ADVISORY BOARDS (2011): 31.
  10. DeVries (2011) Wilfrid Sellars Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Available at: SEP logo Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  11. Dewey John. “Common sense and scientific inquiry.” Book; Logic-The theory of inquiry 1936.
  12. Dewey John. “The Philosophy of John Dewey ed. John J. McDermott.” (1981).
  13. Dewey John. “The quest for certainty.” (1929).
  14. Dewey John. Studies in logical theory. Vol. 11. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press 1903.
  15. Ehrig and Foss (2022); Why we need normative theories of entrepreneurial learning that go beyond Bayesianism.
  16. Gallagher Shaun. “Pragmatic interventions into enactive and extended conceptions of cognition.” Philosophical Issues 24 no. 1 (2014): 110-126.
  17. Haack Susan. “Pragmatism old and new.” Contemporary pragmatism 1 no. 1 (2004): 3-41.
  18. Hacking Ian. Representing and intervening: Introductory topics in the philosophy of natural science. Cambridge university press 1983.P.58-64
  19. James William and Ignas K. Skrupskelis. A pluralistic universe. Harvard University Press 1977.
  20. James William Frederick Burkhardt Fredson Bowers and Ignas K. Skrupskelis. The principles of psychology. Vol. 1 no. 2. London: Macmillan 1890.
  21. James William. “An Interview: Pragmatism — What It Is” New York Times (3 November 1907) conducted by Edwin Bjorkman; the last section of the interview carries the headline “CONFUSION WORSE THAN BABEL.” Reprinted in Thayer 1970 pp. 130-134. Pragmatism Old and New 37 Referred to in the text as James 1907a; page numbers in the text refer to the reprint in Thayer.
  22. Kraaijenbrink, Jeroen. “The nature of the entrepreneurial process: causation, effectuation, and pragmatism.” In New Technology-Based Firms in the New Millennium. Emerald Group Publishing Limited, 2012.
  23. Magnani Lorenzo. “Animal abduction.” In Model-based reasoning in science technology and medicine pp. 3-38. Springer Berlin Heidelberg 2007.
  24. McDermott John J. ed. The Writings of William James. Random House 2013.
  25. McVea, John F., and Nicholas Dew. “Unshackling Imagination: How Philosophical Pragmatism can Liberate Entrepreneurial Decision-Making.” Journal of Business Ethics (2021): 1-16.
  26. Menand Louis. The metaphysical club: A story of ideas in America. Macmillan 2002.
  27. Misak Cheryl. “Rorty pragmatism and analytic philosophy.” Humanities 2 no. 3 (2013): 369-383.
  28. Neiman Alven. “Rorty’s Dewey: Pragmatism education and the public sphere.” Studies in Philosophy and Education 15 no. 1 (1996): 121-129.
  29. Pearce Trevor. “Pragmatism’s Evolution.” In Pragmatism’s Evolution. University of Chicago Press 2020.
  30. Peirce C. S. (1958) The Collected Works of Charles Sanders Peirce Harvard University Press.
  31. Peirce C. S. (1988) Pragmatism as the Logic of Abduction in The Essential Peirce: Selected Philosophical Writings 1893—1913 Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  32. Peirce Charles S. “How to make our ideas clear. 1878.”
  33. Pihlström Sami. “Putnam and Rorty on their pragmatist heritage: Re-reading James and Dewey.” In Dewey: Modernism Postmodernism and Beyond pp. S-39. Routledge 2004.
  34. Putnam Hilary. “Pragmatism and moral objectivity.” Women Culture and Development (1995): 199-224.
  35. Rouse Joseph. Engaging science: How to understand its practices philosophically. Cornell University Press 2018.
  36. Rubleske, Joseph, and Nicholas Berente. “A pragmatist perspective on entrepreneurial opportunities.” International Journal of Innovation Science (2017).
  37. Sarasvathy, Saras D. Effectuation: Elements of entrepreneurial expertise. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2009.
  38. Sergeeva Anastasia and Akhil Bhardwaj. “Bounding Uncertainty: The Uses of Analogical Abduction in Entrepreneurship.” In Academy of Management Proceedings vol. 2020 no. 1 p. 12692. Briarcliff Manor NY 10510: Academy of Management 2020.
  39. Sergeeva Bhardwaj and Dimov(2021). “In the heat of the game: Analogical abduction in a pragmatist account of entrepreneurial reasoning.”
  40. Sergeeva Bhardwaj and Dimov(2022); “Mutable reality and unknowable future: Revealing the broader potential of pragmatism.”
  41. Shepherd, Dean. “Party On! A call for entrepreneurship research that is more interactive, activity based, cognitively hot, compassionate, and prosocial.” Journal of Business Venturing 30, no. 4 (2015): 489-507.
  42. Taatila, Vesa. “Pragmatism as a philosophy of education for entrepreneurship.” In Innovation and entrepreneurship in universities. The Proceedings of the 3rd International Finnish Network of Entrepreneurship and Innovation for Higher Education (FININ) 2010 Conference, Joensuu, Finland, pp. 52-63. 2010.
  43. Watson, Tony J. “Entrepreneurial action and the Euro-American social science tradition: pragmatism, realism and looking beyond ‘the entrepreneur’.” Entrepreneurship & Regional Development 25, no. 1-2 (2013): 16-33.
  44. Whitehead Deborah. William James pragmatism and American culture. Indiana University Press 2016. P.47
  45. Zellweger and Zenger(2021); Entrepreneurs as scientists: A pragmatist approach to producing value out of uncertainty.”
  46. Zellweger and Zenger(2022 1); Entrepreneurs as Scientists Bayesian Inference and Belief Revision
  47. Zellweger and Zenger(2022); Entrepreneurs as Scientists: A Pragmatist Alternative to the Creation-Discovery Debate.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s