Pragmatism and the Problem of Race

Pragmatism and the Problem of Race

Pragmatism and the Problem of Race

Pragmatism and the Problem of Race


How should pragmatists respond to and contribute to the resolution of one of America's greatest and most enduring problems? Given that the most important thinkers of the pragmatist movement--Charles S. Peirce, William James, John Dewey, and George Herbert Mead--said little about the problem of race, how does their distinctly American way of thinking confront the hardship and brutality that characterizes the experience of many African Americans in this country? In 12 thoughtful and provocative essays, contemporary American pragmatists connect ideas with action and theory with practice to come to terms with this seemingly intractable problem. Exploring themes such as racism and social change, the value of the concept of race, the role of education in ameliorating racism, and the place of democracy in dealing with the tragedy of race, the voices gathered in this volume consider how pragmatism can focus new attention on the problem of race.

Contributors are Michael Eldridge, Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., Judith M. Green, D. Micah Hester, Donald F. Koch, Bill E. Lawson, David E. McClean, Gregory F. Pappas, Scott L. Pratt, Alfred E. Prettyman, John R. Shook, Paul C. Taylor, and Cornel West.


The idea for this volume originated in serious, mutually enriching conversation. We would walk and talk about jazz, philosophy, our families, ethical theory, and race. During these open and frank discussions we gradually developed the hypothesis that pragmatists should discuss racial questions. We continued discussion during the editing process. Each submitted paper forced us to grapple with concerns raised about the enduring problem of race raised by the contributor. We had to communicate.

Communication as we conceive of it is not an adversarial event wherein participants defend “positions” on contested “issues” such as affirmative action. It requires constructive engagement which addresses genuine difficulties and searches for the solution to them. The two of us, black and white persons, have time and time again been called upon to work together morally: to develop a working relationship and take on the task of shaping the contents of this volume. Our experience together has been and will continue to be a source of mutual enrichment.

We hope that the essays in this volume will initiate ongoing discussion of the problems of race by pragmatists as well as others and the search for resolutions to them. The proposed resolutions must emerge from our shared understanding of the ever-evolving American experience. They must be so rooted, or they accomplish nothing.

Unless otherwise indicated, references to Dewey are to the standard edition of his works, edited by Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1969–93), designated as The Early Works, 1882–1898 (EW), The Middle Works, 1899–1924 (MW), and The Later Works, 1925–1953 (LW).

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