- Pragmatism with Purpose: Selected Writings by Peter Hare
By Peter Hare. Edited by Joseph Palencik, Douglas R. Anderson, and Steven A. Miller. New York: Fordham University Press, 2015.
While the greater number of pieces collected for this volume address the professional audience of academic philosophers, anyone reading through its richly informed pages will find herself completely up to date on the pressing [End Page 235] concerns of that community and fluent in its language. This coupled benefit in itself speaks the value of Peter Hare’s Pragmatism with Purpose: Selected Writings. But there is so much more offered in these essays and overviews that the volume should be required reading for anyone interested in the significance of American pragmatism, and especially for readers of this journal, as this method—our culture’s defining philosophy—underpins the work of Wallace Stevens, a point first made persuasively by Richard Poirier in Poetry and Pragmatism (1992).
Indeed, the poignant utterance of the speaker of “The Man with the Blue Guitar”—“believe, // Believe would be a brother full / Of love, believe would be a friend . . .” (CPP 144)—is best understood in the context of a later letter by Stevens in which he observed that during his time at Harvard the atmosphere was laden with concern about what William James framed as “the will to believe” (L 443). Pragmatism—unfortunately, in this case, bearing the misleading -ism—was devised pointedly as a procedure to question any and all forms of dogma and to sort through beliefs in order to discover those sufficiently grounded in what Stevens called the “exquisite environment of fact” (CPP 904) that might serve as “platforms for action”—Alexander Bain’s definition of “belief” adopted by the pragmatists. Charles Sanders Peirce, the father of the method by James’s account, announced this aim in “How to Make Our Ideas Clear.” As Hare notes,
In the Popular Science Monthly for January 1878, appeared an article by Peirce entitled: “How to Make Our Ideas Clear.” In this particular article was the statement which afterwards became famous as the “pragmatic maxim” and which led to his reputation as the founder of that philosophical movement in America known during the past fifty years as Pragmatism.
Pragmatism, in layman’s language, is that philosophy particularly concerned with judging the meaning of any thought or experience in terms of its effect and results.(104)
This excerpt is from a chapter on the establishment of the Charles Sanders Peirce Society, for which Peter Hare served as president for many years until his sudden and untimely death in 2008; the page on which the passage appears is alone worth the price of admission, so lucidly does it lay out what was at issue and at stake in delineating what Hare calls the “principle of method” underpinning American pragmatism.
The editors of the volume have usefully organized the writings under seven headings: “The Ethics of Belief,” “Reflections on Classical Pragmatism,” “Naturalism, Holism, Contextualism,” “The Philosophy of Religion,” “Philosophy Past and Future,” “Poetry,” and “Social Critique.” Each part is introduced concisely with a paragraph or two setting the table for the discussions following; this parsing allows readers to move in and around the text easily, drawn by their particular concerns. And introducing the volume as a whole is an excellent and lucid essay by Vincent Colapietro, “Present at the End? Who Will Be There When the Last Stone Is Thrown?” that perfectly situates Hare within the Jamesian conviction that “there can be no final truth in ethics any [End Page 236] more than in physics, until the last man has had his experience and [on the basis of this experience] said his say” (James qtd. in Colapietro 16). This conviction is at the heart of Hare’s pragmatist naturalism. Following Colapietro’s general introduction and preceding the seven sections, the editors have also wonderfully provided three brief “Autobiographical Occasions”—“A Brief Autobiography,” “Editing American Philosophy,” and “Reflections on the Career of John J. McDermott”—in which we hear Hare’s voice in its “unprofessional,” simply descriptive mode, so that we feel we have gotten to know the man whose spirit will accompany us...