Universal pragmatism and the play triad

The importance of the evaluation problem can be justified phenomenologically because a fundamental characteristic of human behaviour is that it is value-oriented. Phenomena in our surroundings (e.g. in the form of toys) and actions (e.g. in games) are consciously or unconsciously apportioned value and we make a conscious choice between norms and values - without giving categorical judgements expressed as positive statements!

The inclusion of some thing/object or other in a game (regardless of whether the thing/object has or has not been produced as a toy) will always be due to its own value and meaning because the person-at-play makes a subjective choice, constructs connections, conflict structures and lines of action within the fictional framework of the game.

In his linguistic-pragmatic and communication theoretical categories, Habermas’ (1976/1981) so-called universal pragmatism, the value criteria:

comprehensibility, truth, truthfulness and legitimacy - (will)

are central parameters because we presume that these criteria for value and meaning are always necessarily present in a dialogue and in any exchange of information between “parties in a conversation”, “good friends”, people who play together, etc. Without them, a dialogue is neither conceptually realistic, meaningful or authentic.

In this connection, “parties in a conversation” are:



and play understood as a message must also adhere to these principles.

The question is whether the parties agree on what is true/false, correct/incorrect - both re the toy, the game with it and the desire and way to play (the way to do it!) together.

This can be problematic in itself when play and games which are not reality involve cheating the principle of universal pragmatism - and preferably in a way which is both fun, serious and enjoyable.

But if the parties are to agree, the following demands must be met:

  • Toys and the person-at-play must express themselves clearly.
  • The case can be understood.
  • The interpretationhas to be comprehensible.
  • The parties have to agree on the legitimacyof it and of what they do.
  • The parties make an effort to understand each other (want each other).

As long as toys reflect society and play reflects a true problem, we have no difficulty in listing demands that the universal pragmatic theses must be evident. But the parties in a game do not always agree on how far the toys are false, that the game is a sham and that the dialogue is merely a game because both the toys and the game played with them are fiction and imagination.

There is also an existential question about whether “truth” in itself is really true or really false.

In any case, the concept of deception in this connection could legitimately be used by both parties in play as the parties can be equally good at testing each other’s truth threshold - or ability to cheat convincingly.

I question the wisdom of Habermas’ having given his pragmatics the adjective “universal” in order to confirm the legitimacy of the view that things have to be true to be confirmed.

It is actually also odd that Habermas does not mention the fact that “will” is needed if we “want to do something”.

“In addition, we note that the pragmatism is equally universal and valuable as long as it is used to confirm a lie or deception which the parties have used legitimately and together in order to achieve something in common, i.e. that they have found a universal common shortcut in the game through the labyrinth of lies”, states Johansen (1989). Play is not only profoundly serious but is also laughter, deception, tricks, funny toys, false objects and pretence - i.e. a legitimate pursuit of pragmatic universal untruth! But will is needed for all of it.

Thus there is not only a need to understand the concepts but also the will to a common conceptual understanding! (and this is why the concept of “will” (implying the will to want to act) ought to be included in Habermas’ universal pragmatism).



Peirce also covered conceptual realism in depth. At an early stage, Peirce states for example that:

observation and evaluation

are simultaneous and indivisible and interlocked. The human being sees entities and recognises and acts upon them. The human being sees truth and untruth as equally important - though not immaterial for the person who is evaluating them.

Peirce (1905) suspends the distinction between “a true world” and “a false world” not to improve on the chaotic lack of perspective nor to give up on creating order but rather to introduce a mode of thought which deals with the probabilities of the world around us.

He distinguishes between “a real world” and “an apparently real world”. He argues that several laws, opinions and conclusions can be considered equal as long as they have not been disproved or disallowed.

All persons-at-play and toy consumers are aware that there are lies and deceptions in conversations and play and that toys cheat, lie and deceive us about their uses - because toys and play are fiction. There is therefore widespread corruption, apparent or hidden.

The important thing is that the validity of the five (originally four) criteria is not questioned - despite the fact that they are (constantly) breached (wrongly interpreted).

If there is the least bit of doubt, then the dialogue or conversation will become impossible because the meaning of an utterance will then be blurred. See Dines Johansen (1989). However, completely unrestricted usage of the five fundamental criteria in all situations is also problematic because they will contradict each other.

We can consider a lie legitimate (e.g. as in play!). If, in any given situation, a lie is considered legitimate then it is understood as a motivated breach of the general norm of truth.

The dialogue is no longer oriented towards understanding but must be described as strategic in the broadest sense of the term - and be justified as such.

This is why both Buber and Habermas claimed that dialogue which is free for power and mastery and honest conversation is anticipated by the unavoidable basic tenets of human dialogue and speech.

From this point onwards, my perspective is that the five criteria are valid for comprehension-oriented communication, which includes toys and play.



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