I have many labels for my philosophies, deontogological, utilitarian, virtue ethicist, ethical intuitionist, and so forth. Those are all true and more than those are true. Yet, the etiology of my philosophies is, in large part, pragmatic. Pragmatism was once the great American philosophy. Now, I’m very much against moral relativism but everything that serves a moral purpose is fair game for relativism. For an example I don’t like, was Al Franken guilty of sexual assault? I would say ‘no’. He may have groped a few women over the years but affording to him the label of sexual assaulter and taking down his political career is counterproductive to the feminist movement. Other people who did the exact same thing should get that label, especially if they contribute to a culture of misogyny and are predatory in their behavior.
I’ll forget the actus rea and even the mens rea and even stare decisis because for practical purposes calling what he did sexual assault impedes feminism and since humans construct and invent language we have the power to define anything as we want and if the purpose of labelling something sexual assault is women’s safety and their dignity and we lose a powerful ally in that fight over a relatively benign behavior then we can, as a species, exempt Al Franken from that label. Humans have the power to make any changes to defnitions we want, even on a case by case basis without setting precedent.
The ends are minimizing human suffering, maximizing human happiness, having a cultured, educated, kind, gracious, humble, and all good things siblinghood of humanity. The moral ends are solid and immovable but we shouldn’t be picky about how we get there. That is the essence of philosophical pragmatism. It is similiar to Bentham’s utilitarianism except that utilitarianism focusses on happiness almost exculsively while other objects are of concern here. Yet, Jeremy Bentham’s idea that rights are a social construct that serve the purpose of human happiness and are not inherrent is fairly close to philosophical pragmatism. Rights, in his view, are a useful fiction that we use because abiding by them increases happiness and decreases suffering therefore we can make exceptions, additions, subtractions as much as we want for the purpose of human welfare since they’re just tools for that ultimate end.
People are happier and suffer less when their possessions are protected and insofar as the invention of property rights makes people happy then we should live by them but if someone hoards to the point that it decreases the happiness of most people and increases suffering then, because the right is made-up, then we make adjustments to the imaginary rule in such a way that increases happiness and decreases suffering. Recently, there has been a gun debate about whether the right to bear arms does or does not outweigh the right to life. Humans made-up the idea of rights in the 17th century and if a particular right mostly serves to cause massive human suffering such as the right to bear arms then humans can just stop imagining it.
In a few senses, I believe human rights are inherrent to the universe but, truthfully, God is older than the Enlightenment and I would say I believe, in the words of Fr. Bartolomé las Casas from the 16th century, in human dignity. The Aristotelian ideal of the full citizen made universal by God who made humankind in His image. From that, we can derive what are, in effect, inherrent human rights. Still, that is “in effect” and the 17th century idea of rights is a useful fiction that, if followed, mostly increases human happiness, decreases human suffering, and defends human dignity. In the end, rights are social constructs that serve a moral end but if certain ones don’t they can be de-imagined. Just like words and concepts in the example of Al Franken.
Philosophical pragmatism is, in summation, the idea that all things are relative except the moral teleology to which we strive. That is absolute and everything else is fair game. Most of our rules from language to ethics are imaginary and should bend themselves to moral law whenever there is a conflict. You can’t really go wrong much if you do things like use science to determine what will increase happiness and decrease suffering as opposed to going down a rabbit hole of deontological moral calculus. Some of that is real but a lot of it is not. In the end, the end is the end and the way we get there needs to be guided by pragmatism or the philosophical game of Oregon Trail will have many needless tragedies.