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Einstein’s Pragmatic Realism

Einstein finds Hume to be the greater thinker (in comparison with Kant). Why? I believe it is because he finds in Hume someone who does not attempt to state more than he can. Hume is the first to abandon reason as it turns cold in the history of Western philosophy. Kant did it as well, but only partially. If Kant had said, at the end of his Critique of Pure Reason, that his book was a cold piece of writing—as Hume had done about his own philosophy—then he would have taken the full step, as Hume did. Yet Kant did not want to do that, because he believed in his attempt to create a true foundation for science.

Einstein, in contrast to Hume and Kant, is a modern scientist and, as such, finds himself in a universe that he approaches through both intuition and new postNewtonian physics with its sophisticated mathematics. How he or any other scientist can gain understanding is, however, for him, ultimately mysterious. How does he know when he is on the right track as a scientist? His theories work better than earlier theories. In the end, there is nothing else to justify new scientific theories other than how well they work for our purposes. For Einstein, reason is not cold and tragic; it can be an instrument of joy that, when coupled with creative human minds, can magically bring us a pragmatically justified (Home and Whitaker 2007, p. 181) understanding of the universe.

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