In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

six observers, participants, and agents in discourses: a consideration of pragmatist and constructivist theories of the observer Kersten Reich  In his provocative afterword to the well-known (neo)Pragmatist volume The Revival of Pragmatism, entitled ‘‘Truth and Toilets: Pragmatism and the Practices of Life’’ (Dickstein 1998, 418ff.), Stanley Fish makes a remarkable comparison. The plumber who tours Europe and observes ‘‘the primitive state of showers and the absence of copper piping’’ (427) comes back talking about nothing else to his friends. If there is a philosopher among them, the philosopher will supposedly laugh at his friend the plumber, who takes a highly specialized perspective as exclusive—a perspective, at that, which seems to be irrelevant to the philosopher. Why then should we not equally laugh at the philosopher who tours Europe and comes back talking about category mistakes, truth claims, warranted assertibility, or poststructuralism? ‘‘The answer is that while we don’t think that a focus on toilets is appropriate to any and all situations, we do think that a focus on philosophical puzzles can never be beside the point; but we think so only because we mistake a professional practice—and PAGE 106 { 106 } ................. 17147$ $CH6 01-07-09 14:26:02 PS kersten reich 107 a professional conversation we may decline to join and be none the worse for it—for life itself’’ (ibid.). This and similar relativizing propositions of Fish’s, though, have not won the approval of those contemporary Pragmatists who, following the early twentieth-century Pragmatists, wish to establish a modernist discourse of inquiry by way of scientific communities who try to solve relevant problems through the experimental testing of hypotheses. Although even in classical Pragmatism this testing of hypotheses is always seen in the context of cultural transactions, there is a remainder of belief in universalism here, at least in that finding such problems and looking for solutions is claimed to be equally valid for all humans. This belief in turn supports an attitude on the part of philosophers to emphasize their importance for all humans, their problems, and solutions. Even now there are Pragmatists who hold this claim; according to James T. Kloppenberg (1998, 84), such prominent thinkers as Hilary Putnam and Richard J. Bernstein belong to this group. And I guess that Larry Hickman would also position himself among them. On the other side, we find Pragmatists like Fish and Richard Rorty, the latter one of the best-known philosophers of the present. The seriousness of his comprehensive philosophical work notwithstanding, Rorty persistently suggests that philosophy today has lost its universal claim; we can expand his argument and equally apply it to other disciplines in the field of the humanities. From this point of view, the decrease of general efficacy characteristic of many contemporary philosophical approaches evinces this loss. The ‘‘hypothetical Dewey’’ that Rorty repeatedly refers to in order to characterize his own position stands after and beyond the linguistic turn. He ‘‘would have said, we can construe ‘thinking’ as simply the use of sentences ’’ (Rorty in Kloppenberg 1998, 93). What do I want to say by these introductory remarks? If, in this volume, we argue about Pragmatism, constructivism, and the subtle philosophical criticisms both approaches often elicit (together, against, or beyond each other), there are first of all two central questions at stake: Do we still, as philosophers, claim to have universal answers that the world ‘‘out there’’ must not ignore lest humanity, to PAGE 107 ................. 17147$ $CH6 01-07-09 14:26:02 PS 108 pragmatist and constructivist theories of the observer its own demonstrable detriment, lose secure truths? Or do we content ourselves with having only temporary answers—answers that nonetheless may be worth struggling for, since they can still warn us against possible detriments, even if we admit that an absolute security , by way of sufficiently universal warrant, is out of sight? These questions point to a controversy in present-day Pragmatism that is already settled for constructivism, because constructivism on principle takes an anti-universalist stance. This general account, though, is still too indeterminate. I will have to make it more precise and examine some important implications. Possibly taking the reader by surprise, I wish to begin with a constructivist interpretation of the well-known fairy tale ‘‘Snow White and the Evil Stepmother,’’ thereby introducing some basic concepts of interactive constructivism relevant for the discussion of universal claims. I start with a rather unconventional question—unconventional, that is, in connection with a discussion of the problems of...


Additional Information

Related ISBN
MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.