100 Years of Pragmatism
William James's Revolutionary Philosophy
Publication Year: 2010
William James claimed that his Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking would prove triumphant and epoch-making. Today, after more than 100 years, how is pragmatism to be understood? What has been its cultural and philosophical impact? Is it a crucial resource for current problems and for life and thought in the future? John J. Stuhr and the distinguished contributors to this multidisciplinary volume address these questions, situating them in personal, philosophical, political, American, and global contexts. Engaging James in original ways, these 11 essays probe and extend the significance of pragmatism as they focus on four major, overlapping themes: pragmatism and American culture; pragmatism as a method of thinking and settling disagreements; pragmatism as theory of truth; and pragmatism as a mood, attitude, or temperament.
Published by: Indiana University Press
Series: American Philosophy
Dee Mortensen at Indiana University Press provided unwavering enthusiasm for this project, as well as good judgment and substantial patience. Jason Aleksander’s research and bibliographical assistance and attention to manuscript details were first-rate and nothing short of astonishing. Emory College of Arts and Sciences deans Robert A. Paul and Cristine Levenduski provided crucial...
List of Abbreviations
Introduction: 100 Years of Pragmatism
In 1907, William James published Pragmatism. The book was based most directly on public lectures at the Lowell Institute and Columbia University, but its major ideas and lines of thought had been evident in James’s lectures and publications, and in debates and discussion in philosophy journals, for some three decades. James dedicated the book to John Stuart Mill, “from whom I first learned the pragmatic openness of mind and whom...
1. James’s Pragmatism and American Culture, 1907–2007
William James usually tended more toward self-deprecation than self-aggrandizement. In a letter to his brother Henry dated May 4, 1907, however, William characterized his new book Pragmatism with uncharacteristic enthusiasm. It was “an unconventional utterance,” William conceded, but after the passage of a mere ten years, he wrote, it might be considered “epoch-making.” Even more boldly, he predicted “the definitive triumph”...
2. The Enemies of Pragmatism
For those students exposed to pragmatism in the customary way, in survey courses in modern philosophy or American intellectual history, it is easy to overlook one of the functional and diverting aspects of its early development. Apart from Charles Sanders Peirce’s programmatic essays from the 1870s, the most common assigned texts date from the first decade of the twentieth century...
3. The Earth Must Resume Its Rights: A Jamesian Genealogy of Immaturity
For Kant, famously, maturity was the short answer to his momentous question of 1784, “what is Enlightenment?” “Have the courage to use your own understanding!” he insists, for only by thinking for himself does man emerge from his “self-incurred immaturity.” “It is so easy to be immature,” remarks Kant; all one need do is rely on the panoply of authorities that surround one—starting with the books one reads. But maturity requires, says Kant, that one always “look within oneself . . . for the supreme touchstone...
4. Pragmatism and Death: Method vs. Metaphor, Tragedy vs.the Will to Believe
My analysis of Pragmatism begins with an observation, perhaps with a detour of sorts. The “manifest content” of Pragmatism concerns its image as a method and as a theory of truth. Both of these are important. However, there is also a “latent content” to Pragmatism. The method and the theory of truth are “situated” in a more nebulous “context.” That context can be found in the first and last lectures of the text. Both of these turn to the...
5. William James’s Pragmatism: A Distinctly Mixed Bag
William James is a tragic figure. I will try to fully explain what I mean by that. But right off the bat, we can point out a feature of this tragic stance. It’s fairly widely believed that James is a major philosopher. Yet in no other such philosopher’s work, I believe, are great strengths so vividly mixed with major defects. His famous, often read—too often read, I think...
6. The Deconstruction of Traditional Philosophy in William James’s Pragmatism
William James’s Pragmatism was intended to effect a revolution in philosophy, a radical reorientation in the way philosophy is to be done. Like Hume before him and the later logical positivists, James views the history of philosophy with horror, as a scandal, since it consists of disputes that are not only perennial but apparently intractable as well since the disputants cannot even agree upon any decision-procedure for resolving their disagreements...
7. James on Truth and Solidarity: The Epistemology of Diversity and the Politics of Specificity
Given William James’s thoroughgoing individualism, it may seem peculiar—even implausible—to use his philosophy to bring together the notion of truth and the notion of solidarity. James’s philosophy seems oriented toward the individual and her experiences, but not so much toward interpersonal relations. However, despite his recalcitrant and unqualified individualism, I want to argue that there is a strong social element in...
8. Pragmatism, Nihilism, and Democracy: What Is Called Thinking at the End of Modernity?
I have elsewhere argued that the original American pragmatists revolutionized twentieth-century European philosophy by determining or reshaping the intellectual agendas of Edmund Husserl, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Emile Durkheim, Georges Sorel, Jean Wahl, and Alexandre Kojeve. I have also argued that the “critique of the subject” proposed by post-structuralist feminists—particularly by Judith Butler—becomes more coherent...
9. Active Tension
James’s insistence on the relationship between an individual’s philosophy and his temperament urges us to ask, first of all, how can we understand the connection of pragmatism to James’s own “essential personal flavor” (P, 24)? And second, if pragmatism is not idiosyncratic to James but applicable and appealing to others, as well, then how does it account for the myriad varieties of individual perspectives, needs,..
10. Reflections on the Future of Pragmatism
James said that pragmatism is a new name for some old ways of thinking. Taking pragmatism as a way of thinking, an attitude toward one’s self, the physical and social world in which one happens to live, and toward, or at any rate in, philosophy, I maintain that pragmatism has survived, though often not under that name, and, perhaps audaciously that it will...
11. Looking toward Last Things: James’s Pragmatism beyond Its First Century
In “What Pragmatism Means,” William James told his audience, and later his readers, that his pragmatism would be a “conquering destiny” (P, 30). In 1907, the year Pragmatism was published, he told his brother, Henry, that he would not be surprised if a decade later...
List of Contributors