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  • Introduction:A Collaborative Critical Conversation on Philip Kitcher’s Preludes to Pragmatism
  • Judith Green

Philip Kitcher, Ethics, Etiquette, Democratic Philosophical Conversation, Philosophical Discourse, Pragmatism

On April 26, 2013, Philip Kitcher met with a line-up of six critics at the New York Pragmatist Forum to learn what they thought about his latest large book, Preludes to Pragmatism: Toward a Reconstruction in Philosophy (Oxford University Press, 2012). The following contributions, as well as Kitcher’s reply, originated in this meeting, with each author taking into account Kitcher’s initial responses while further developing his or her arguments.

As S. Joshua Thomas notes below, our purpose as critics has been two-fold: first, to offer fair criticisms that avoid the kind of “tribalist” response Philip Kitcher often receives as an internationally well-known philosopher moving between two philosophical traditions that often see themselves as embattled rivals, analytic philosophy and pragmatism; and second, to offer well-informed criticisms on some of the wide array of topics Preludes addresses from younger scholars who know and value the texts by C. S. Peirce, William James, John Dewey, and other classical and contemporary pragmatists on which he draws in expressing his own distinctive view, which he calls “pragmatist naturalism.” As readers will note, Kitcher has modified the views he expressed in Preludes to Pragmatism somewhat in light of our comments, and all of us critics have come to see the particular issues and philosophical domains on which our essays focus somewhat differently, even if we continue to disagree with him in important ways.

Such willingness to adjust his own views in light of what he learns from critics is nothing new for Philip Kitcher, as readers [End Page 1] who have been following his work over many years are well aware. This made our challenge as younger critics enormous: Kitcher has written so many earlier books and essays in which he has progressively developed his views on the topics on which he focuses in Preludes, and even the essays in this volume are “inconsistent,” having been written over a period of twenty years during which his views were changing. Kitcher acknowledges this in his Introduction to Preludes, in which he outlines his “current” view on each of these topics while noting that some of the essays express views he no longer holds.

Before proceeding to summarize the conclusions we have reached about various topics Philip Kitcher addresses in Preludes, and his response to them, I want to offer some proposals about how to “think like a pragmatist” about the responsibilities and opportunities of diverse voices of unequal seniority who are engaged in this kind of democratic conversation about philosophical topics and issues of mutual concern. My proposals fall under two headings: ethics and etiquette. My hope is that these proposals will help not only readers of the present exchange of ideas, but also those who undertake similar exchanges in the future to move beyond the unkind, exclusive, and silencing method and manners of “philosophy as blood sport” that are still too-often practiced in some philosophical circles today, which we believe “block the way of inquiry.”

On the Ethics and Etiquette of Democratic Philosophical Conversation

When engaging with Philip Kitcher in democratic philosophical conversation about any of the topics he takes up in his wide-ranging Preludes to Pragmatism, it is difficult to determine how much of the enormous body of work he created in the last forty years one’s own reflections must encompass and consider. Clearly Kitcher’s thinking on any of the many topics he addresses in this challenging and important book’s seventeen chapters is intertwined with his thinking in all the others—from realism and truth to ethics, meaning in living, and international capitalism—which he wrote over a period of twenty years during which his vision of “pragmatist naturalism” was developing. Moreover, each of these chapters includes extensive footnotes to earlier works in which he addressed these issues at greater length in conversation with a host of other contemporary thinkers. Furthermore, as John Rawls did in his Introduction to the paperback edition of Political Liberalism, Kitcher advises his readers that his Introduction expresses his current views on these topics...


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