Beth L. Eddy. Evolutionary Pragmatism and Ethics. Lanham, MD: Lexington, 2016. [Book Review]

Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 53 (3):495-498 (2017)
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This short book is a history of what might be called the Chicago school of pragmatist evolutionary ethics. It places John Dewey and Jane Addams in their late-nineteenth-century intellectual context, emphasizing in particular how they drew on the work of Herbert Spencer, Thomas Henry Huxley, and Peter Kropotkin. Eddy suggests in her introduction that because today’s “social climate” is similar in many respects to that of the United States circa 1900, pragmatism may offer “significant insights for our situation now” (p. xi). Her overall thesis is that although the ethical approach of Dewey and Addams was sometimes marred by a commitment to “teleological progress” (p. 38), at its best it defended a “melioristic hope” (p. 119): we try to make the world better, but there are no guarantees. Although the book provides some helpful context for the ethical work of the Chicago pragmatists, Eddy does not convincingly show that Addams and Dewey ever saw progress as “teleological,” in the sense of inevitable movement toward a specific end.



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