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  • Can a Pragmatist Recite a Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note?Or Insurrectionist Challenges to Pragmatism—Walker, Child, and Locke
  • Leonard Harris

alain locke's version of pragmatism, critical pragmatism, provides a way to see how a philosophy contributes resources for the abused, subjugated, and humiliated facing existential crisis and impossible odds of relief. That is, it provides reasoning methods, terms, words, depictions, explanations, queries, dispositions, spirit, and conceptual categories as resources. I will argue that a viable philosophy should provide resources and reasoning methods that make the management of abjection and existential crisis viable, given impossible odds of relief; it should be encoded with, among other features, the sort of spirit needed to recite a Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note,1 that is, a philosophic orientation that gives credence to epideictic rhetoric, imagination, and insurrection. To this end, using Locke as a starting point, I argue against Socratic reasoning methods. I argue for an insurrectionist conception of philosophy, namely, a philosophy born of struggle. I leave open the question of whether a pragmatist can recite a Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note.


I consider Locke a sojourning creator of American pragmatism, namely, critical pragmatism, although he has not been considered a founding member of pragmatism and thereby a "classical" pragmatist. I first suggest conceiving of classical pragmatism in a way that would include Locke, and then explore the reasoning methods and conceptual resources of special value provided by Locke's critical pragmatism.

Locke was a resident of Hertford College, Oxford University, as the first African American Rhodes Scholar from Harvard, 1907–10. One of his tutors was F. C. S. Schiller. Schiller's Studies in Humanism (1907) had established [End Page 1] him as a follower of William James's approach to knowledge. The Hibbert Lectures by James, titled "On the Present Situation in Philosophy," at Manchester College, Oxford, from 4 to 26 May 1908, were the basis of James's 1909 work Pluralistic Universe: Hibbert Lectures at Manchester College on the Present Situation in Philosophy.

Locke and Schiller attended at least one of James's lectures together; Locke was admonished by Horace Kallen to organize an audience of American students at Oxford to attend James's lectures. From his notes, we know Locke was in the audience at the third of the lectures, on 18 May. That lecture heard James reject Hegelian absolutes.

Between 1910–11, Locke left Oxford and enrolled at the Universität zu Berlin, Friedrichstrasse to pursue his interest in the Austrian school of value theory, a school of value theory that was not considered a worthy philosophic approach at Oxford, and to get away from the racially pejorative academic culture of Oxford. Locke took a class under Georg Simmel; he was at the University with Hugo Münsterberg (director of the Amerika-Institut), having been among Münsterberg's coterie of students at Harvard. Locke's address in 1910 was c/o Thomas Cook and Son, Unter den Liden, 5; in November, c/o Frau Haupt, Grossbeerenstr. 5 III, Berlin S.W. German; and in January 1911, Karlsdad 22 II. Taking a class with Simmel and working with Münsterberg while managing dwindling funds and constantly changing addresses may have made the sojourn in Germany a bit too arduous. He joined Howard University in 1912.

Under the auspices of the NAACP, Locke delivered a series of lectures at Howard University, Washington, DC, Race Contacts, 1915–16, prior to completing his dissertation at Harvard in 1917.2 Franz Boas had offered one of the most radical views about race of his time, namely, that the existence of races could not be established by scientific methods. However, Boas tended to remain committed to the existence of races as biological kinds. Locke, however, contended that races are not biological kinds nor are cultures caused by race; rather, races are social, historical civilization types and transitory cultural categories. Returning to Harvard to complete his doctoral degree, Locke was a student in Alfred Hoernlé's Logical Theory class in 1916, a class focused on logic and value theory.3 One of Locke's papers was "Logical and Epistemological Theories," which focused primarily on Bradley...


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