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The Promise of Pragmatism

Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority

For much of our century, pragmatism has enjoyed a charmed life, holding the dominant point of view in American politics, law, education, and social thought in general. After suffering a brief eclipse in the post-World War II period, pragmatism has experienced a revival, especially in literary theory and such areas as poststructuralism and deconstruction. In this critique of pragmatism and neopragmatism, one of our leading intellectual historians traces the attempts of thinkers from William James to Richard Rorty to find a response to the crisis of modernism. John Patrick Diggins analyzes the limitations of pragmatism from a historical perspective and dares to ask whether America’s one original contribution to the world of philosophy has actually fulfilled its promise.

"Diggins, an eminent historian of American intellectual life, has written a timely and impressive book charting the rich history of American pragmatism and placing William James, Charles Peirce, John Dewey, George Herbert Mead, Sidney Hook, and Richard Rorty in their times and in the light of contemporary concerns. The book also draws on an alternative set of American thinkers to explore the blind spots in the pragmatic temper."—William Connolly, New York Times Book Review

"An extraordinarily ambitious work of both analysis and synthesis. . . . Diggins’s book is rewarding in its thoughtfulness and its nuanced presentation of ideas."—Daniel J. Silver, Commentary

"Diggins’s superbly informed book comprises a comprehensive history of American pragmatic thought. . . . It contains expert descriptions of James, John Dewey and Charles Sanders Peirce, the first generation of American pragmatists. . . . Diggins is just as good on the revival of pragmatism that’s taken place over the last 20 years in America. . . . [A] richly intelligent book."—Mark Edmundson, Washington Post Book World

528 pages | 6 x 9 | © 1994

History: American History, General History, History of Ideas

Philosophy: American Philosophy, Philosophy of Society

Table of Contents

1. The Disenchantment of the World
The Flowering of Intellect and the Decline of Knowledge
Politics and Ethics
The Cunning of Irony
Science: Experimentation, Rationalization, or Acceleration?
The "Thirst for the Deed," the Bolshevik Revolution, and "Romantic" Pragmatism
History: Evolution or Alienation?
2. Who Bore the Failure of the Light: Henry Adams
The Hand of the Father
The Failure of Classical Ideals
History and the Problem of Consciousness
Science and the Fate of the Universe
Four Problems of Modernism: Authority, Faith, Art, Love
3. The Pragmatic Affirmation: William James and the Will to Believe
James and Adams’s "Serial Law Fallacy"
The "Murdered Self" and the Riddle of Consciousness
Beyond Rationalism and Empiricism
The Right to Choose One’s Own Beliefs
"Towards Action and Towards Power"
Truth as Pleasure, Knowledge as the Disposition to Believe
Pragmatism and Its Paradoxes
4. Doubt and Deliverance: Charles Sanders Peirce and the Authority of Science
"Proud Man/His Glassy Essence"
"Thought Is More Without Us Than Within": Peirce versus James
Between Realism and Nominalism: Adams and Peirce
Synechism, Tychism, and the Dialectic of Doubt and Belief
The Objectivity Question
Truth as Consensus
5. "The Flickering Candles of Consciousness": John Dewey and the Challenge of Uncertainty
"Imagination in Action": Dewey in Love
"An Inward Laceration": The Tension between Religion and Science
The False Quest for Certainty
Alienation and the Origins of Mind
The Authority of Scientific Inquiry and the Problem of "Truth"
Empirical Method and Moral Knowledge
6. Focusing on the Foreground: Dewey and the Problem of Historical Knowledge
World War I and the Dewey-Bourne Debate
The Appeal to the Future
The Trotsky Inquiry and the Debate over Means and Ends
World War II and the Double Irony of Philosophy and History
7. Pragmatism and the Problem of Power
The Challenge of Fascism
The Obscure Object of Power: Reinhold Niebuhr and Original Sin
Dewey and the Classical Tradition
The Great Community: Politics as Contro
The Child and the Curriculum: Education as Freedom
8. "The Acids of Modernity": Walter Lippmann and Oliver Wendell Holmes
The Odyssey of a Political Moralist
Science and the Legitimacy of Government
From Pragmatism and "The Phantom Public" to Natural Law
The Battle for America’s Political Mind: Lippmann versus Dewey
Holmes’s Quarrel with the Pragmatists
Legal Realism and Poststructuralism
9. Self and Society
The Socialization of Authority and the Fate of the Individual
Charles H. Cooley and George H. Mead
Classical and Christian Morality and the Disappearance of the Self
The Opposing Self: Lionel Trilling
10. The Decline and Revival of American Pragmatism
"The Corruption of Liberalism"
"The New Failure of Nerve": Sydney Hook’s Response to Mortimer J. Adler and Allan Bloom
Communism and the Vietnam War
Epistemology Is Dead, Long Live Pragmatism: Richard Rorty’s Quarrel with Philosophy as Theory
In Defense of the Enlightenment: Jurgen Habermas and the Promise of "Communicative Action"
The Case of the Progressive Historians
11. Conclusion: Poststructuralism and America’s Intellectual Traditions
Philosophy as "Prophylactic": The Lost Legacy of the American Founders
Niebuhr and the Illusions of Poststructuralism
The Limits of Communication: Habermas
Rorty’s Political Thought and the Deweyan Legacy
Against Theory and the Limits of Redescription: Thorstein Veblen
Emerson, Silence, and the Limits of Persuasion
The Return to History and the Temptation of "Agreeable Tales"Index


American Society of Indexers: H.W. Wilson Company Indexing Award

Association of American Publishers: PROSE Book Award
Honorable Mention

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