Progress and Pragmatism: James, Dewey, Beard, and the American Idea of Progress

By David W. Marcell | Go to book overview

2
The Heritage of Progress

The revolt against formalism signaled a major turning point in the protracted debate over the idea of progress that had raged on both sides of the Atlantic since the eighteenth century. Particularly in the United States, progress found rich soil, for there the newness of the land and the excitement of creating a new civilization furnished a fund of historical experiences uniquely appropriate to a progressive interpretation. In succeeding years, the idea took on the coloration of shifting climates of opinion. By the time Henry Adams and William James gave their interpretations, progress had gone through at least three fairly distinct phases: rationalist ( 1750-1815), romantic ( 1815-1860), and evolutionist ( 1860-1900). 1

The idea of progress that dominated early American thought directly reflected the demythologized, mechanistic, natural-law universe projected by Enlightenment rationalists in the century after the appearance of Descartes' Discourse on Method in 1637 and Newton Principia Mathematica in 1687. 2 Newton's discovery that the laws governing the behavior of natural bodies

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Progress and Pragmatism: James, Dewey, Beard, and the American Idea of Progress
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Acknowledgments xiii
  • 1 - Formalism, Degradation, and Pragmatism 3
  • 2 - The Heritage of Progress 52
  • 3 - The Evolutionary Dialogue 93
  • 4 - William James: Experience and Meliorism 146
  • 5 - John Dewey: The Experimentalist Criterion 196
  • 6 - Charles Beard: Civilization in America 258
  • 7 - Progress, Experience, and History 322
  • Notes 335
  • Selected Bibliography 373
  • Index 395
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