About pragmatists and idealists
When I read Scott Peck’s book on community-building “A different drum”, I experienced something incredibly reassuring in the first chapter. In this first chapter (“Stumbling into community“), the author describes his own first encounters with community-building processes. And right in his very first contact with this subject, he described a phenomenon that I too, in fact, perceive in all human gatherings – and that’s why I am very pleased that one of the most prominent representatives of the “community-building idea” was directly confronted with it himself.
Of course Scott Peck’s experience was about a group-building process (in which he himself participated in those days). During this process, he describes how a taking of sides occurred between two groups, which initially hampered the flow of the event considerably:
>> This way it didn’t take long for someone to say, “Hey guys, we messed it up. We’ve lost the good spirit. What’s going on?”
“I can not speak for all of you,” one answered, “but I was angry. I do not know why. It seems to me that we have lost ourselves in elusive discussions about human destiny and spiritual growth.” Some participants nodded vigorously to signal their approval.
“What is so elusive about talking about human destiny and spiritual growth?” countered another. “That’s something crucial. That’s how it works. That’s what life is all about. That’s the basis, for God’s sake!” Now others participants nodded vigorously.
“If you say ‘for God’s sake’, in my opinion, you are exactly pointing out the problem,” said one of those who had nodded first. “Me, for example – I do not believe in God. You chatter about God and destiny and spirit, as if these things were real. None of this is verifiable. That’s why it leaves me unimpressed. What I’m interested in is the here and now, that is, how I earn my living, the measles of my children, the increasing weight of my wife, how to cure schizophrenia, and whether I will be conscripted to Vietnam next year.”
“One might think that we are apparently divided into two factions,” another member said modestly.
Suddenly the whole group burst out laughing because he had framed his interpretation so mildly.
“One might think that – that’s the way it is – you’d think so,” someone called out loud and slapped his thighs. “Yes, it might seem that way,” said another and roared with laughter.
That way we finally cheerfully continued our work and analysed the division between us. We were divided into two equal sized factions.
The faction to which I belonged referred to the other six participants as “ Materialists“.
The Materialists, on the other hand, called us “ Knights of the Grail“. <<
Now, if you feel the same way as Scott Peck and me – and you often perceive in human communities, for example in conversations or concerning the course of action, that there are two quite different approaches competing with each other – this could be due to the difference between “Pragmatists” (materialists) and “Idealists” (Knights of the Grail).
are people who focus predominantly on factual circumstances. Pragmatists are less guided by principles, but rather consider which tangible situation they are in and then use a procedure that is shaped – you never would have guessed – by pragmatism.
To quote Wikipedia: “Pragmatism (from Greek πρᾶγμα pragma, “action”, “thing”) considers words and thought as tools and instruments for prediction, problem solving and action, and rejects the idea that the function of thought is to describe, represent, or mirror reality. Pragmatists contend that most philosophical topics – such as the nature of knowledge, language, concepts, meaning, belief, and science – are all best viewed in terms of their practical uses and successes. The philosophy of pragmatism emphasizes the practical application of ideas by acting on them to actually test them in human experiences“.
Thus, Pragmatism is a specific approach, where it is considered what is feasible and what impact (your own) actions will have.
Therefore, one of the pragmatists’ strengths is that they think and act in a very result-oriented way, or more precisely, goal-oriented. When pragmatists say “intention“, they almost always refer to a tangible chain of action.
Accordingly, if pragmatists recommend “Don’t ponder so much, just do it…” or “Don’t be overly intellectual, just live your life…“, then their statement corresponds in a sense to their inner nature because it is easy for them to (re)adjust their internal compass very quickly in accordance with the respective circumstances and thereby allowing them to proceed already towards the next goal or the next potential solution.
As a result pragmatics exist in their view in a universe where “Being determines consciousness” – and thus are deriving theories or procedures predominantly from existing facts.
A variant of the pragmatists are the “Materialists” who ultimately trace back all processes to the physical workings of tangible and measurable matter and personally assign this specific aspect the highest priority. These include, therefore, the “Utilitarians” as well who judge actions or objects according to a concept of appropriateness or suitability.
[Also among the pragmatists are often numbered the philosophical movements of “Hedonism” (based on the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Aristippus of Cyrene) or “Epicureanism” (named after the teachings of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus).
However, this ascription or self-attribution must be carefully considered, since “Hedonism” and “Epicureanism”are often paraphrased in social contexts with the “maximization of pleasure and the avoidance of pain”– but actually are complex life-philosophies in terms of balance and serenity.]
are people who – you never would have guessed – predominantly strive for ideals. “Ideals” are thereby usually perceptions of an accomplished or perfected state that they want to approximate in their approaches. The “ideas”, “maxims” or “principles” of a “highest possible XYZ” can also be based on a philosophical, spiritual or esoteric context to which Idealists feel committed.
To quote Wikipedia: “In philosophy, Idealism (from Greek ἰδεῖν idein , meaning “to see”) is the group of metaphysical philosophies that assert that reality, or reality as humans can know it, is fundamentally mental, mentally constructed, or otherwise immaterial. According to this view, consciousness exists before and is the pre-condition of material existence. Consciousness creates and determines the material and not vice versa. Idealism believes consciousness and mind to be the origin of the material world and aims to explain the existing world according to these principles.”
Ethical idealism even assumes that we can and should justify and regulate our actions through reasonable, reliable and binding considerations.
Therefore, one of the idealists’ strength is that they think and act in a very process-oriented way, or more precisely, process-accompanying. When idealists say “intention“, they almost always refer to a maxim that – like a distant star to a helmsman – indicates the optimal course without actually being physically “attainable”.
Thus, if idealists say that “… an action or an effect is made up of many causes and therefore every approach must first be thoroughly considered… (“Think/Reflect first – then act”) “, then that statement corresponds in a sense to their inner nature because it is self-evident for them to bestow a similar careful consideration to all accompanying circumstances in order to come up with the best possible course of action.
The latter implies that idealists, from their point of view, are existing in a universe where “Consciousness determines being” – because they mostly act out of inner intuition and after thorough reflection of an idea.
However, a variant of the idealists are therefore the “Fanatics” (in a moderated form also known as “Perfectionists“) who want to subdue everything and everyone uncompromisingly to the fulfilment of their ideal of perfection.
[Among the idealists often the “Romantics” (named after the cultural-historical epoch of the Romantic era) are numbered as well.
However, this ascription or self-attribution must be carefully considered, since “Romaticism” is often paraphrased in social contexts with a backward-sentimental state of overflowing emotional affinity – but is actually based on a complex philosophy of altruism and awareness of the transience.]
pragmatists and idealists conflicts are prone to flare – like in
the example of Scott Peck – especially regarding shared
relationships, since mindset and approaches differ severely and the
behaviour of the “opposite side” can easily be misconceived.
The result is often incomprehension and criticism.
For pragmatists, idealists sometimes can be cumbersome and even aloof from the world to a degree of pointless peanut counting. “Idealists are looking too long in the dark room for the black cat that is not there“, pragmatists might say.
On the other hand, pragmatists can sometimes seem unbelievably dull and unimaginative to idealists. Idealists might say: “Pragmatists have no interest in looking behind the curtain. They like the curtain.“
Nevertheless, both approaches are equally important to most human projects: idealists think about what is desirable, pragmatists deal with what is feasible.
If pragmatists have no ideals, they are threatened with shallowness and banality.
Idealists, in turn, who believe that they can dispense with a grip on reality, either will have their heads in the clouds and accomplish nothing, or will falter in endless quarrels concerning some exaggerated ambition.
Therefore pragmatists and idealists can face each other quite unforgivingly, or the attempt of cooperation leads to a fruitless “juxtaposition”.
Or they have the opportunity to take the best of both worlds and unify them into a synthesis, complementing each other – thereby mitigating their more extreme manifestations.
Incidentally, Scott Peck’s community-building process turned out lucky thanks to the general mood of hilarity and goodwill described above:
>> We realised that the “Materialists” wouldn’t be able to “bring us to reason” and keep us “Knights of the Grail” from pursuing our ideals. At the same time, we accepted that we couldn’t dissuade the other faction from their down-to-earth materialism. <<
The group as a whole even managed to come up with a creative solution to “build a bridge between two (perceptual) worlds”, which combined the strengths of both kinds of mentality:
>> We considered creating a common, identity-establishing myth for all of us. We did not want to conceptualise the organism of our relationship-process as neither “purely materialistic” nor “super-spiritual.” Accordingly, each participant contributed own ideas, and together we designed a somewhat bizarre parable, a metaphor to which each participant could relate:
We compared our relationship process with a sea turtle that went ashore to lay its eggs and is now dragged itself back to the ocean to die. How many descendants might hatch and would reach the saving ocean despite many dangers was left to fate. <<
Scott Peck summarises his experience:
>> The termination of the friction between the “Materialists” and the “Knights of the Grail” was my first experience of conflict resolution in a group. I hadn’t known before that it was possible for a group of people to acknowledge their differences, set them aside and still love each other. In that short period of time, I saw people creatively using – and thereby overcoming – their differences of opinion. <<
As an explorer of
oligoamorous territories, I would like to add that this group of
special people had voluntarily engaged in a community-building
process. Their unifying strength was that, in spite of contrasting
mindsets, they gave the “mutual we” – beyond all
separating differences – the highest priority until they reached
And since idealists and pragmatists in everyday life can still speak quite different languages and understanding does not always prevail easily, it could probably be more important in oligoamorous multiple relationships – especially concerning the choice of partners or constellations – not so much to look for harmonious FFM, MMF, MFMF…¹ etc. but rather for IPP, PPI, IPIP …
¹ The letters refer to abbrievations that are oftelly used on dating-sites to designate certain configurations of “social activities” Female/Female/Male, Male/Male/Female etc.