“I suppose I ought to say something about the war”: William James, Pragmatism and the War with Spain, 1898
- Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society: A Quarterly Journal in American Philosophy
- Indiana University Press
- Volume 56, Number 1, Winter 2020
- pp. 81-104
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- Additional Information
Students of William James typically regard “Philosophical Conceptions and Practical Results” as the place where he introduces pragmatism to the intellectual world as a uniquely American approach to philosophy. There, James describes the lineage of pragmatism with its origins in the work of Peirce and provides his own variant on the original. James next proceeds to illustrate the method by applying it to traditional metaphysical problems. The current paper explores an additional reading of James’s address, one that places it within the context of the contemporary national debate surrounding the 1898 War with Spain and its emergent imperialist aftermath. This paper examines how the philosophical advantages that James claims for the pragmatic method when directed to the technical problems of philosophy can be read as addressing issues surrounding that war and the public debate that it aroused. In “Philosophical Conceptions and Practical Results” pragmatism emerges not only as a point of view for professional philosophers in their struggle with perennial technical problems of metaphysics, but also as a powerful tool for addressing the timely matters of national policy surrounding America’s imperialist adventure within the wider, non-technical public sphere of practical life.