Friday, June 1, 2012
Pragmatism: An American Social Philosopy
Pragmatism: An American Social Philosophy: When pragmatist philosopher William James (pictured above) wrote the essay "What Pragmatism Means" in 1904, he had already been thinking about the topic for about 30 years. In 1872, James and a few of his Harvard-related colleagues (Charles Sanders Peirce and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.) formed The Metaphysical Club, which sought to resolve a variety of metaphysical disputes altogether. Such metaphysical disputes included the purpose of religion, the meaning of reasoned judgment, and the nature of justice. For the most part, early pragmatism developed as a social philosophy with the primary intention of undermining traditional metaphysics. And as such, it can be viewed as the American response to European existentialism. Ultimately, however, pragmatism centered on linking theory with practice. The pragmatic method shunned absolutist thinking (especially ideologies and dogmas) and embraced uncertainty (anti-foundationalism). For James, pragmatism was not a new philosophy. Its roots extended as far back as Socrates. But what was new about pragmatism involved its universalistic impulse toward inclusion (inclusion of ideas, viewpoints, peoples, etc.), which had an array of practical consequences for any modern democratic society.