The Genealogy of Pragmatism

Philosophy and Literature 10 (2):295-303 (1986)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Notes and Fragments THE GENEALOGY OF PRAGMATISM by Anthony J. Cascardi At SEVERAL POINTS in Philosophy and the Minor ofNature (1979) and in.the essays collected as Consequences of Pragmatism (1982), Richard Rorty mentions John Dewey as one of a group of "edifying" philosophers whose tutelary presence and audiority are invoked in the project which he elsewhere describes as die "circumvention" of Western metaphysics.1 Dewey joins the ranks of his fellow American pragmatiste James and Peirce as well as those of two odier rather disparate groups: on die one hand, those philosophers like Davidson, Sellars, and Quine, who demonstrate from within diat analytical philosophy eventually transcends and cancels itself; and on the other, those "continental" philosophers like Foucault, Gadamer, and Derrida, who comfortably accept the image of philosophy as a subgenre of "literature" or "writing," a discourse with no privileged insights into the nature of rationality or claims to truth. Rorty's own project is a blend of all diree. Widi James he claims that truth is simply "what is good in die way of belief," not the proper or even fruitful object of theoretical speculation ("truth is not the sort of thing one should expect to have a philosophically interesting dieory about.... Pragmatiste think that the history of attempts to isolate the True or the Good, or to define die word 'true' or 'good,' supports their suspicion that there is no interesting work to be done in this area.... The history of attempts to do so, and of criticisms of such attempts, is roughly coextensive wim the history of that literary genre we call 'philosophy' — a genre founded by Plato," Consequences ofPragmatism, pp. xiii-xiv). Yet he shares widi Davidson, Sellars, and Quine the will to demonstrate the limits of analytical phdosophy while framing his own propositions in the language ofanalysis. 295 296Philosophy and Literature Foucault and Derrida in their turn complete the image of life in a "postphilosophical " culture, where the designation of "post" indicates a final refusal to regard pragmatism as yet another metanarrative ofthe history of philosophy. In this case, die historicist part of the Hegelian teaching, which is dieir common inheritance, the assimilation of logic to history, is accepted, while the assimilation of history to logic, which completes the Hegelian syndiesis, is rejected on account of its totalizing designs and its reliance on die notion of Absolute Spirit. So seen, the genealogy of pragmatism is of considerably broader scope than die initial intentions of Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature would suggest. In diat book, Rorty claimed to be marshalling the various forces named above not so much in response to Platonism as in reply to a single episode in the history of philosophy — viz., that which begins in Descartes and receives its fullest expression in Kant, and considers truth as a matter of the accurate correspondence of ideas held inforo intemo to objects in the external world, and accordingly regards die world as a representation of the mind. Heidegger articulated a similar complaint when he spoke of the Cartesian age as that in which die world was first determined as a "picture" ("Die Zeit des Weltbildes") and noted diat from this time forward epistemology was determined as "first philosophy": "a dieory ofknowledge had to be erected before a theory of the world."2 Pragmatism is on mis more limited view primarily a response to the conditions of a technological age and to the conception ofreason as mathematical representation which sustains modern science. Thus Rorty should well be surprised at Dewey's claim to have applied a scientific and empirical method in die study of metaphysics, whose proper objects consist, in Dewey's description, of"die large and constant features of human sufferings, enjoyments, trials, failures, and successes together with the institutions of art, science, technology, politics, and religion,"3 for to have done so would have been to have countered the Cartesian division between science on the one hand and qualities and values ("experience") on die other. Instead, Rorty imputes a different claim to Experience and Nature and sees it as a way-station on the pam toward that hypothetical book called Nature and Culture, in which die idea of an empirical method...



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