restricted access 1. James’s Pragmatism and American Culture, 1907–2007
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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” of the “general way of thinking” laid out in the book, and he characterized the overall cultural change as “something quite like the protestant reformation” (LWJ, III, 337–40). What did he mean? How does his prophecy look a century after the publication of Pragmatism ? Did the twentieth century witness the change he anticipated? A decade ago, scholars were attempting to make sense of the unquestionable presence of pragmatism in American intellectual life at the close of the twentieth century. In my own contribution to this conversation, I asked readers to consider which aspects of contemporary pragmatism preserved the central ideas of James and his colleague John Dewey, which aspects constituted new departures , and what difference the controversies made in our understanding of twentieth -century American intellectual history.1 The essay attracted some attention, particularly from those whom I characterized as having left behind James’s and Dewey’s crucial commitments to experience and democratic culture.2 The essay was also criticized from a different angle, by the philosopher Elizabeth Minnich, for having paid insufficient attention to the importance of social action.3 Since the article stressed my conviction that the truth-testing envisioned by James and Dewey requires democratic forms of cultural experimentation, at first I considered Minnich’s criticism surprising, but I do see her point. Inasmuch as I focused on the controversies over how we should understand James’s and Dewey’s ideas and those of their successors in the multifaceted and diverse traditions of James’s Pragmatism and American Culture, 1907–2007 James T. Kloppenberg 1.   .   .   .   . 8  •  James T. Kloppenberg pragmatism, I did pay less attention to social practices than I did to the ideas themselves. In part in response to that observation and in part in response to the division of labor for this volume envisioned by the editor, in this essay I concentrate less on how intellectual historians should interpret pragmatism old and new and more on the influence of James’s (and, to a lesser extent, Dewey’s) ideas on American history.4 But my focus will remain on the consequences of pragmatism for American thought, because I share James’s own conviction that thinking itself constitutes a kind of action and that ideas make a difference. I will discuss a number of different domains, including politics, law, race and ethnicity, gender, business management, architecture and urban planning, medicine, law, education, and environmentalism, and two different eras, the early twentieth century and the turn of the twenty-first. My goal in this essay is to sketch—because in the space of an essay it is not possible to do more than that— some indications of the immediate impact of pragmatism in the first half of the last century and some signs of its longer-term legacies as manifested in various contemporary practices. Two further introductory notes: First, James’s Pragmatism marked the blossoming of ideas germinating for thirty years, ideas first advanced in his 1878 essay “Remarks on Spencer’s Definition of Mind as Correspondence.” There James observed that thinking begins with “mental interests,” emotional or practical reasons that propel individuals to act and thereby “help to make the truth which they declare.” Already advancing a crucial argument that he believed would distinguish his pragmatism from wishful thinking, an argument his critics then and ever since have persistently misunderstood, James insisted in the essay, in the Journal of Speculative Philosophy, that “the only objective criterion of reality is coerciveness, in the long run, over thought” (EP, 21).5 In a later essay of 1885, “The Function of Cognition,” which James described to C. A. Strong in 1907 as the “fons et origo of all my pragmatism,”6 an essay he later reprinted as chapter 1 of The Meaning of Truth, James contended that theoretical speculation is idle unless it can be tested in the world beyond the mind. “These termini, these sensible things,” he wrote in an article from an 1885 issue of Mind titled “The Function of Cognition,” “are the only realities we ever directly know,” so disagreements about ideas should be settled according to their “practical issue...


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