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Reviewed by:
  • Pragmatism and the Reflective Life by Stuart Rosenbaum
  • Robert E. Innis
Pragmatism and the Reflective Life. Stuart Rosenbaum. Lanham: Lexington Books, 2009.

Pragmatism as a living philosophical tradition has at its very core the demand not to merely contemplate the world, but to reflect upon our modes of relating to it with an eye to doing something about “it.” It is this complex “it” of world, reflection, and action that raises for us a hornet’s nest of issues that Stuart Rosenbaum’s book engages. Rosenbaum does not deny that pragmatism, in its various forms, surely gives us theses to ponder. Nevertheless, these theses are developed with a practical and existential intent, even if the working out of such intent remains dependent on conceptual clarity and (re)construction. On Rosenbaum’s conception, pragmatism offers us tools for exercises in self-reflection, engaged attempts to get clear about specific frames, be they conceptual, moral, political, interpersonal, religious, and so forth, and to find ways of living consonant with Emerson’s dictum, which he has taken to heart, that “character is higher than intellect,” even if we need intellect, rightly conceived so as to avoid the paradigmatic tyranny of abstract knowledge, to build the “right” kind of character. It is precisely this kind of intellect that Rosenbaum proposes to explore by offering not just theses to ponder but also by employing a method that combines a concern for generality with deep respect for exemplifying instances.

Such an intertwined set of tasks make up the focal points of Rosen-baum’s appropriation and continuation of some of the pivotal concerns of pragmatism. It is not a book “about” pragmatism and the reflective life in a reportorial sense. It is not a work of exegesis or historical reconstruction. It is itself a pragmatist reflection. Or perhaps it is better characterized as a reflection inspired by, or deeply informed by, pragmatism. Rosenbaum speaks in his own voice and not in the name of any “official” line that belongs to an interpretative tradition. In this sense, one cannot predict exactly just what “positions” Rosenbaum will or “should” take on the topics he presents for our consideration. Nor does he attempt to impose them. These topics include pragmatism as a coherent notion and model for doing philosophy (chaps. 1 and 2), the movement, exemplified most in Dewey’s ethics, from a concern for moral theory to the practices of a reflective life (chaps. 3 and 4), the nature and role of ideals (chap. 5), the forms of deliberation grounded in our powers of anticipatory rehearsal (chap. 6), the nature and scope of education (chap. 7), and “ecumenism,” a culminating notion or immanent telos of the book with deep existential and religious resonance [End Page 119] not just for the reader but for the author himself (chap. 8). The reason for this culmination, as well as the path to it, is indicated in the preface of the book. Its motivating goal, Rosenbaum writes, is “to revisit the submerged dimensions of sentiment I had reluctantly come to believe irrelevant to real philosophy. I had deluded myself into believing that the pursuit of truth was an intellectual pursuit that would tolerate no interference from the heart” (ix). The kind of truth Rosenbaum is first and foremost concerned with is a “truth to life that transcends individuals’ idiomatic efforts to give their lives form and substance” (x). It is the “reflective life” that arrives at such a truth, which is not about life as some object or set of processes outside ourselves but as a way of being, if not “in” truth as some kind of possession, as a set of propositional contents that we have, but rather at least as a way of being within problematic frames that possess and perpetually unsettle us and keep us from lapsing into the dogmatic slumbers of received opinion and keeping company with those wanting to make “their own ‘ideological hay’” by appropriating the pragmatist label.

Rosenbaum writes against the background of the whole pragmatist tradition, but does not try to reproduce it in its entirety as background to his own discussions, although James’s and Dewey’s thought, with Peirce playing...


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pp. 119-123
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