The work of Charles Darwin dealt a body blow to the religious orientation of American speculative endeavor in the last third of the nineteenth century. The primacy of divinity schools in the scholarly world ended, and the explicit Christian thought that governed intellectual life all but disappeared. At the same time, in the space of thirty years, many colleges were transformed into larger, internationally recognized centers of learning, while new public and private universities commanded national attention. Students who a generation earlier would have sought 'graduate' training in Europe, especially Germany, or in an American seminary, would by 1900 attend a post-baccalaureate program in an American university to obtain the Ph.D., the doctoral degree. Many of these students now found in philosophy what previously had been sought in the ministry or theological education. The amateurs who had been a creative force in the nineteenth century vanished as professional philosophers took their place.
Among the first generation of university thinkers from 1865 to 1895, philosophical idealism was consensual. At the end of the nineteenth century, one form of idealism—pragmatism—came to dominate the discourse of these thinkers. Pragmatism won out not only because its proponents were competent and well placed but also because they showed the philosophy's compatibility with the natural and social sciences and with human effort in the modern, secular world. A rich and ambiguous set of commitments—thirteen according to one famous commentator—pragmatism associated mind with action, and investigated the problems of knowledge through the practices of enquiry, tinting the physical world with intelligence and a modest teleology.
There were two main variants of pragmatism. One was associated with Harvard and a tradition that eventually extended to the end of the twentieth century. It included Charles Peirce, William James, and Josiah Royce; and later C. I. Lewis, Nelson Goodman, W. V. Quine, Thomas Kuhn, and Hilary Putnam. The second variant was called 'instrumentalism' by its leading light, John Dewey. Dewey's vision inspired a school of thinkers at the