In Seth Vannatta (ed.), The Pragmatism and Prejudice of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. pp. 31-47 (2019)
AbstractScattered skeptical remarks and a general austerity that infused his writings have given Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes a reputation as some type of nihilist. Noted commentators such as Richard Posner and Albert Alschuler have claimed as much. This article seeks to correct this misunderstanding. Holmes was not a nihilist in the sense of being melancholy due to a belief that the world has no absolute moral values or gods. Instead, Holmes was a pragmatist in the spirit of William James and John Dewey. While Holmes had doubts about moral truth and deities, he ultimately thought that their existence (or non-existence) should have no bearing on our behavior or the law. We must, through our collective efforts, find values that work for us.
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