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Native Pragmatism

Rethinking the Roots of American Philosophy

Scott L. Pratt

Publication Year: 2002

Pragmatism is America's most distinctive philosophy. Generally it has been understood as a development of European thought in response to the "American wilderness." A closer examination, however, reveals that the roots and central commitments of pragmatism are indigenous to North America. Native Pragmatism recovers this history and thus provides the means to re-conceive the scope and potential of American philosophy. Pragmatism has been at best only partially understood by those who focus on its European antecedents. This book casts new light on pragmatism's complex origins and demands a rethinking of African American and feminist thought in the context of the American philosophical tradition. Scott L. Pratt demonstrates that pragmatism and its development involved the work of many thinkers previously overlooked in the history of philosophy.

Published by: Indiana University Press

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pp. ix-x

My sense of place and history begins in a stretch of prairie on the south edge of the flood plain of the Rock River in northern Illinois where I grew up. From my grandfather, who farmed this land, I gained a sense of the way a place makes a person; from my grandmother, a storyteller, I learned how history makes a place and how retelling the past makes...

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pp. xi-xviii

Pragmatism is America’s most distinctive philosophy. In the received history, it has been understood as a development of European thought in response to the “American wilderness.” A closer examination, however, reveals that the roots and central commitments of pragmatism are grounded not just in European intellectual traditions, but also in ways...

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One: The Problem of Origins

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pp. 1-16

In most histories of American thought in general and in histories of American philosophy in particular, people indigenous to America are viewed as having made no contribution to the intellectual, moral, and social progress of immigrant European peoples. From this perspective, the immigrants invariably viewed America as an obstacle to be...

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Two: American Pragmatism

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pp. 17-38

The problem of the origins of American pragmatism provides reasons for reconsidering its history through an approach that focuses on the process of influence in lived experience. In order to take up the history, however, it is necessary at the outset to shift one’s usual expectations of what counts as philosophy. An alternative conception can be...

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Three: The Colonial Attitude

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pp. 39-55

Cotton Mather, a Puritan preacher and descendant of two of New England’s founding families, was renowned as a religious leader, historian,and philosopher. His works were widely read, and his 1702 history of New England, Magnalia Christi Americana, was an important reference for later historians. The opening lines indicate the tenor of Mather’s...

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Four: American Progress

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pp. 56-77

While Mather’s work sets the stage for understanding the shape of the colonial attitude, his version of it was framed in terms of Puritan theology. A more influential version of the attitude, developed in the work of Thomas Jefferson, came to dominate American thought at the turn of the eighteenth century. Jefferson’s version is particularly...

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Five: The Indigenous Attitude

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pp. 78-106

In August 1682 a comet appeared in the night sky of New England. Two years earlier, preaching on the appearance of another comet, Increase Mather, Cotton’s father, declared that “Such Sights are Heaven’s Alarm to a sinful World, to give notice that God hath bent his Bow, and made his Arrows ready, and that if Sinners turn not, the Arrows of Pestilence and...

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Six: Welcoming the Cannibals

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pp. 107-132

Had Miantonomi told Williams a cannibal story as they sat across the fire on that cold January night, the contrast with Williams’s own cultural notions of cannibalism may have helped explain to him the significance of the Narragansett’s hospitality. After all, Williams was clearly an outsider and an outcast...

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Seven: The Logic of Place

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pp. 133-162

Williams’s vision of a pluralist community was formed in a context where the problem of coexistence was shaped by the conflicts between radically different but also well-established communities. Although young, the New England colonies increased and grew stable with the help of their Native neighbors and a constant influx of immigrants...

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Eight: “This Very Ground”

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pp. 163-188

In the spring of 1757, a Delaware leader, Teedyuscung, whose name means “one who makes the Earth tremble,” was in Philadelphia to demand that the citizens of Pennsylvania respect the boundaries of Native lands along the north fork of the Susquehanna River. One evening during his stay, Teedyuscung visited the home of a Quaker...

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Nine: Science and Sovereignty

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pp. 189-215

Although Franklin was largely self-educated, he nevertheless became quite familiar with a version of the new science developing in Europe as a result of the work of Isaac Newton. I. Bernard Cohen has argued that this new science should be seen not as a single monolithic approach to experimental science but one conditioned by two different works by...

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Ten: The Logic of Home

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pp. 216-243

In the summer of 1827, fifty-two years after Franklin proposed the Articles of Confederation recognizing the political and cultural sovereignty of Native people, the prophet Wabokieshiek led warriors of several nations from the region between the Wisconsin and Rock Rivers in what is now Wisconsin in an attack on a flatboat transporting people and...

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Eleven: Feminism and Pragmatism

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pp. 244-271

The narrative strategies that made the work of Child and Sedgwick distinctive were already a part of the Algonquian narrative traditions. Traditional Algonquian stories embody a logic of home of the sort illustrated by Child. In doing so, they also show that with the logic of home comes an understanding of women’s roles and status within a...

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Conclusion: The Legacy of Native American Thought

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pp. 272-289

I have argued that Native American thought contributed to European American philosophy at key moments in its development. At each of these moments, the principles that came to characterize classical pragmatism emerged in Native American responses to European-descended ways of understanding and acting. In time, these Native responses were...


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pp. 291-303


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pp. 305-316

E-ISBN-13: 9780253108906
E-ISBN-10: 025310890X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253340788

Page Count: 336
Illustrations: 1 index
Publication Year: 2002