10. Reflections on the Future of Pragmatism
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Reflections on the Future of Pragmatism Ruth Anna Putnam 10.   .   .   .   .   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 survive, though perhaps, again, not under that name. In any case, I am no more audacious than James himself , who, on January 2, 1907, wrote to his friend Théodore Flournoy, I want to make you all enthusiastic converts to “pragmatism” (—something not necessarily connected at all with “radical empiricism”) on which I gave 8 Lowell lectures to a fine audience in Boston this winter (these are the lectures which I shall repeat in N.Y.). I didn’t know, until I came to prepare them, how full of power to found a “school” and to become a “cause,” the pragmatistic idea was. But now I am all aflame with it, as displacing all rationalistic systems,—all systems in fact with rationalistic elements in them—and I mean to turn the lectures into a solid little cube of a book which I hope to send you by next October, and which will, I am confident, make the pragmatic method appear, to you also, as the philosophy of the future. Every sane and sound tendency in life can be brought in under it. (CWJ, XI, 299) While I don’t believe that pragmatism is or should be a “school” or that it is or will be a philosophy in the sense of a system, I do believe that the pragmatic attitude is so fruitful, both in philosophy and in life, that it will continue to have its enthusiastic proponents. Pragmatists, by which I mean those who have this attitude (or at least some of its key features), take themselves to be agents in the world rather than spectators; that is, experiencing is not a passive receiving of impressions but an interacting 186  •  Ruth Anna Putnam of an organism with its environment. Sometimes acting predominates on the side of the organism—the organism does something to the physical or social environment ; at other times, undergoing predominates—the organism is being done to by the environment; at yet other times, there seems to be activity on both sides. Contrary to the older empiricists as well as twentieth-century analytic philosophers , pragmatists do not restrict “experience” to sense experience; enjoying and suffering, feeling angry or afraid, making an effort, and so on, are also experiences . Moreover, as James points out repeatedly, we experience relations. But this last detail does not concern us here. In what follows I hope to make clear how the agent point of view shows itself in various aspects of the pragmatic attitude, precisely in those aspects that are of enduring value. Pragmatism as Public Philosophy Since we are celebrating the centenary of James’s Pragmatism, I shall draw attention particularly to features of the pragmatic attitude emphasized by James. The very fact that Pragmatism was given as lectures to large audiences, most members of which were not philosophers, signifies, I believe, that pragmatism is more than an academic philosophy. Thus, it is important to notice that both James and Dewey, and later Rorty and West were/are public philosophers addressing matters of public concern in language and venues accessible to the public. Indeed Dewey wrote, “Philosophy recovers itself when it ceases to be a device for dealing with the problems of philosophers and becomes a method, cultivated by philosophers, for dealing with the problems of men.”1 I believe Dewey meant, and in any case I mean, that philosophy needs to avoid a scholastic selfabsorption in self-generated problems. Taking the agent point of view “evades” that sort of philosophizing; I borrow the term from Cornel West. Philosophy deals most immediately with the problems of human beings when philosophers apply philosophical thinking to areas of human activity other than philosophy itself. Dewey’s Democracy and Education (1916) is an early example. Indeed I see the influence of pragmatism in the proliferation of philosophies-of- (some field or other) even when that influence is not acknowledged. But I rejoice when I see explicit references to pragmatism, for example, in works by Elizabeth Anderson and Larry Hickman. Pragmatism as Meliorism When, in his first lecture, James read the...