3. The Earth Must Resume Its Rights: A Jamesian Genealogy of Immaturity
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I. 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 of truth.”1 More than two centuries after Kant, maturity and immaturity retain currency as terms of debate in characterizing one’s relation to Enlightenment. In the lively collection of papers and responses gathered together as Rorty and His Critics (2000), accusations of “juvenile arrogance,” “infantilism,” and other modes of immaturity fly fast and furious. At one point, Rorty, one of the most famous pragmatists, finds a lack of “seriousness, decency, and trustworthiness”—immaturity in short—in the “cultural chauvinism” of “scientism” that he sees animating analytical philosophy’s scorn for postmodern relativists. “The religious chauvinism we loathe when it appears in national politics should not be mimicked by a scientistic chauvinism in academic politics”—the belief that analytic philosophy and natural science “have a special relation to ‘Truth’ (valuing it more, for example, or having more faith in it) that their more ‘literary’ colleagues lack.”2 Analytic philosophy, Rorty warns, “will never become mature enough to make a contribution to the conversation of the intellectuals” until it gets over its “jejune self-image as ‘more scientific,’ and therefore more morally virtuous, than non-analytic philosophy.” In this clever reversal, Rorty saddles scientistic chauvinists with the “arrogant frivolity” that they decry in postmodernists. The implied correlation Rorty makes between the immature “chauvinism” of religion and science is elaborated by John McDowell later in the volume. He cites The Earth Must Resume Its Rights: A Jamesian Genealogy of Immaturity Ross Posnock 3.   .   .   .   . 58  •  Ross Posnock John Dewey’s “narrative of Western culture’s coming to maturity,” a narrative rooted in Dewey’s personal struggle to shake off the sense of sin inculcated in him by his God-fearing mother. “A religion of abasement before the divine Other” demands a posture “infantile in its submissiveness” before a non-human authority. But a humanism that would abolish this “humanly immature conception of the divine” is incomplete if it does not include a “counterpart secular emancipation as well,” a liberation from scientism’s sanctification of objective truth. As Rorty sees things, this non-human idol replaced God, a “secular analog to a religion of abasement.” McDowell describes Rorty’s logic: “[P]articipating in the discourse of objectivity merely prolongs a cultural and intellectual infantilism, and persuading people to renounce the vocabulary of objectivity should facilitate the achievement of full human maturity.” Replacing objectivity with human solidarity would banish trans-human authority and contribute “to world history that is, perhaps surprisingly, within the power of mere intellectuals.”3 McDowell is unpersuaded that the “vocabulary of objectivity reflects an intellectual and cultural immaturity ,” and concludes that “the boot is on the other foot. If there is a metaphysical counterpart to infantilism anywhere in this vicinity, it is Rorty’s phobia of objectivity . . . . Acknowledging a non-human external authority over our thinking, so far from being a betrayal of our humanity, is merely a condition of growing up.”4 In response, Rorty confesses that he is “chastened” by the reminder that “the charge of infantilism is a two-edged sword.”5 The persistence of maturity and immaturity to describe and assess the contemporary pragmatist’s relation to Enlightenment is notable in itself but takes on new significance when the example of William James is invoked. For he disrupts the binary configuration that organizes these terms into stable meaning— maturity equals achieved self-authorization, immaturity equals a worship of false gods—by denying the exclusively intellectual or “metaphysical” tenor of the terms. Instead, James turns them into modes of being redolent of the visceral “personal flavor” that in Pragmatism he will call “temperament” (P, 24). Indeed, flight from the visceral, the messily human, is the very meaning of “refinement,” a quality at once the signature of temperamental maturity, and its philosophic equivalent, rationalism, and also the marker of genteel social prestige. These modes of maturity—of temper and thought and cultural distinction—comprise three of James’s basic targets. Hence Rorty’s commitment to “the achievement of full human maturity” sounds closer...