The Disunity of Pragmatism

Russian Journal of Philosophical Sciences 7:143-157 (2018)
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Pragmatism is usually viewed as a unifed school, movement or tradition. Lists of its most important tenets typically include advocacy of open inquiry, pursued with an awareness of human fallibility, a view of justifcation that appeals to shared experience in all its manifestations – aesthetic, religious, moral, political and scientifc – and a conception of philosophy as a practice interwoven with problems of contemporary life. While disagreements among pragmatists are widely acknowledged, they are most often treated as easily resolved or of marginal importance given the substantial body of doctrine that pragmatists are thought to share. I argue that this view of pragmatism obscures important philosophical differences among its proponents, to the serious detriment of our understanding of the tradition. I point out that fgures most often credited with advancing pragmatism – Charles Peirce, William James, John Dewey, W.V. Quine, Hilary Putnam and Richard Rorty – defend signifcantly divergent views, views that are anything but easy to reconcile. Their differences go to the very heart of how pragmatism is to be understood and defended and present serious obstacles to any characterization of it as a tradition with a common philosophical method, purpose or core set of doctrines. Pragmatism is far more diverse, subtle and diffcult to come to terms with than contemporary accounts of what is living and dead in it commonly presume.



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Paul Forster
University of Ottawa

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References found in this work

Two Dogmas of Empiricism.W. Quine - 1951 - [Longmans, Green].
Two Dogmas of Empiricism.Willard V. O. Quine - 1951 - Philosophical Review 60 (1):20–43.
Epistemology Naturalized.W. V. Quine - 1969 - In Willard van Orman Quine (ed.), Ontological Relativity and Other Essays. Columbia University Press.
The roots of reference.W. V. Quine - 1974 - LaSalle, Ill.,: Open Court.
The Will to Believe.W. James - 1896 - Philosophical Review 6:88.

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