Rethinking Pragmatism: From William James to Contemporary Philosophy

Rethinking Pragmatism: From William James to Contemporary Philosophy

Rethinking Pragmatism: From William James to Contemporary Philosophy

Rethinking Pragmatism: From William James to Contemporary Philosophy

Synopsis

Rethinking Pragmatism explores the work of the American Pragmatists, particularly James and Dewey, challenging entrenched views of their positions on truth, meaning, instrumentalism, realism, pluralism and religious beliefs. It clarifies pragmatic ideas and arguments spelling out the significant implications they have for present-day philosophical controversies.

  • Explores the work of the American Pragmatists, especially James and Dewey, on the issues of truth, reference, meaning, instrumentalism, essences, realism, pluralism and religious beliefs.
  • The only available publication to provide a detailed commentary on James's book, Pragmatism, while exploring the implications of the American Pragmatists' ideas and arguments for contemporary philosophical issues
  • Challenges standard readings of the American Pragmatists' positions in a way that illuminates and questions the assumptions underlying current discussions of these topics.
  • Coherently arranged by structuring the book around the themes discussed in each chapter of James's original work.
  • Provides a new analysis and understanding of the pragmatic theory of truth and semantics.

Excerpt

We live forwards, a Danish thinker has said, but we understand
backwards
.

William James endorsed Kierkegaard’s idea and cited it often. I too endorse the view and adopt it as an exegetical strategy in rereading the work of the American Pragmatists and in rethinking pragmatism. Obviously, to understand the writings of earlier authors it is necessary to keep in mind the intellectual environment of the time, the proponents cited, the opponents criticized, and the audience intended. But I also believe that an understanding of older works can benefit from reflecting on them in light of subsequent developments in the field. This does not require seeing the author as attempting to deal with the very same problems disputed in today’s philosophical journals. Nor is it to suggest that there is profit in substituting a fictive author of the same name who could, would, or should have espoused positions on these issues. The point is that current tools and theories can often be employed to better elucidate the past. They provide a perspective that can help clarify what issues were really at stake, what unnoticed obstacles had to be faced, and why with the tools then available certain questions could not be answered and others not asked. At the same time, studying the history and evolution of issues of current interest can be edifying and liberating. It can help us better understand the nature of problems now being debated as well as provide a context in which to re-examine the assumptions underlying them. I believe a study of the Pragmatists’ main theses about inquiry, language, and truth can have just such effects.

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