requiem for certainty

Posts Tagged ‘pragmatism

Dewey’s Problems of Publics (1927)

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“There are too many publics and too much of public concern for our existing resources to cope with” (Dewey 1927, 126).

The starting point of Dewey’s argument in The Public and Its Problems is Walter Lippmann’s thesis, expounded in his 1922 Public Opinion and 1925 The Phantom Public, that the public is today, in Dewey’s phrase, “lost” and “bewildered” (116).  The public finds itself midst multiple gluts of misinformation.  It cannot cope.  Inquiry and deliberation are hardly capable of being intelligent.  This can be seen as a serious insult to democracy.

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Written by Colin Koopman

May 3, 2011 at 12:00 am

Dewey on Method in Political Theory (1927)

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In his Public and Its Problems (1927) John Dewey adopts a four-component methodological strategy that is more or less implicit in his earlier broadly philosophical contributions, such as Reconstruction In Philosophy (1920) and Experience and Nature (1925).  Dewey often referred to this method as “instrumentalism” and as “historical-empiricism” but it’s probably best known these days as “pragmatism”.  The method, in short, involves four methodological distinctions, which Dewey lays out in Chapter One.  A proper understanding of his methodological apparatus prepares us to understand the way in which Dewey addresses himself to the pressing problem of pluralism that was his lifelong obsession with respect to liberal democratic theory (as argued in posts from the last two weeks here and here).  Herein a brief review of these four methodological decisions, followed by commentary.

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Written by Colin Koopman

April 26, 2011 at 3:27 am

Philosophical Divides: a little story

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Picture the following.  Camps of philosophers cordon themselves off from one another by drawing lines in the still sands of a breezeless desert.  There they entrench, staring each other down from opposite sides of the line for a decade or two.  Eventually they tire of looking across the divide, and so begin to fraternize with only those philosophers in their proximity.  Later they forget about the philosophers on the other side of the line, and when the occasional hawkeyed upstart or pesky defector announces the existence of a whole country of philosophers not too far away, they retort that those on the other side of the line are not ‘real’ philosophers.  They are, the upstart and the defector are told, philosophical poseurs at best, or philosophical perverts at worst.  The language that is used, in fact, is exactly that contemptuous and contentious. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Colin Koopman

January 12, 2011 at 2:58 am

Where is all the pragmatist historiography?

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It’s a truism to anyone who has bothered to think even just a little bit about it that philosophical pragmatism is thoroughly invested in locating ideas, practices, activities, and judgments in their historical context. Here is one way to think about this. A key pragmatist commitment is to contextualism (in a generic sense) according to which we can discern the meaning of an idea only by tracing out its effects in the context in which it operates including importantly its historical and temporal (but also its cultural, geographical, etc.) contexts.

One can see this historical contextualism quite clearly across the full range of pragmatisms from Deweyan classicopragmatism to Rortyan neopragmatism. Many of the best books in the pragmatist canon are best read as intellectual histories which do they work they do by ably putting certain philosophical themes into the historical streams in which they flowed. I am thinking of Dewey’s Quest for Certainty or Rorty’s Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (and there are countless other works by Mead, Addams, Du Bois, &c.).

If historical contextualism is so central to pragmatism, however, one would have expected pragmatists to have turned their attention to the philosophy of history or what some of us like to call historiography. Yet there is surprisingly little work in this area. Dewey wrote almost nothing sustained on the topic (cf. a few pages in the 1938 Logic). Rorty wrote an article in 1984 (cf. the Philosophy in History volume he co-edited). Harvard intellectual historian James Kloppenberg has a nice piece on this in Metaphilosophy in 2004. Rutgers intellectual historian James Livingston (cf. his blog) gives some sustained attention to broader meta- questions impacting these issues in his 2001 Pragmatism, Feminism, and Democracy.

This is all great work, but none of it represents a full-fledged pragmatist historiography. This is not a criticism of this work, because that is not its goal.

I find this curious. Nobody seems to have attempted to fully work out the ramifications of pragmatism for historiography. Where is that work? Where is all the pragmatist historiography? Where should someone like myself who is preparing some material on this topic go fishing around next? And, assuming I am correct in hunch that though there may be some more work in this area I have yet to find there is not much of it, why has all the pragmatist historiography gone missing? Why didn’t Dewey or Rorty or anyone else write a paper called “The Theory of History”? (Or did they and I am missing it?)

So far the best resource I have found is work by the mid-century pragmatist (some deny him this label) John Herman Randall, Jr., specifically his 1958 Nature and Historical Experience and 1963 How Philosophy Uses Its Past. I am working through it so more to report soon.

This topic has been of some interest to me for awhile so please comment or email with any thoughts. I have an article entitled “Historicism in Pragmatism” forthcoming in Metaphilosophy which addresses these issues from a general perspective but does not develop a detailed pragmatist historiography. I am also working on a second piece on John Herman Randall and pragmatist historiography in connection with an upcoming event I helped co-organize.

My hunch (unsurprising to anyone who knows me): the pragmatists here have a great deal to learn from the genealogists: pragmatist historiography ought to look like a history of problematization: go Dewey+Foucault!

Written by Colin Koopman

October 9, 2009 at 8:04 am

Book Cover, New Job, &c.

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It’s been awhile since I’ve updated anything here.  That’s a sign of business not laziness, of course.  (It’s also a function of the increasingly-useful way in which status updates are handled on facebook.)

Two main pieces of news.

First, I am now living up in Eugene, Oregon where I have a one-year appointment as a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department at the University of Oregon.  I am (if it’s not obvious) quite pleased to be up here: great colleagues, great graduate students, great program, and a great place to live.

Hunkering down for a solid year of solid work in Eugene should give me the opportunity to update the blog more often.  So I plan to start on that.

Second, it now appears as if my book Pragmatism as Transition: Historicity and Hope in James, Dewey, and Rorty will be out with Columbia University Press very soon (sometime next month, apparently).  I was quite pleased that Columbia was able to get the rights to an image of the painting that I have long hoped would grace the cover of the book, Ducham’s Nude Descending a Staircase, no.2.  You can read a little more about the book on Columbia UP’s website.

So, more soon I hope.  I’m investing lots of time in lots of projects right now.  Some of them will be bloggable in short order.

Written by Colin Koopman

October 1, 2009 at 11:45 pm

Obama: Pragmatism: etc.

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A few items of interest, re: Obama and Pragmatism.

Pragmatist scholar John Capps and a colleague at Rochester Inst of Tchlgy are teaching a course on Obama as Pragmatist this quarter entitled “Reading Obama”.  The course syllabus looks great (not only b/c of what’s on it but also as a model for how to put together a course on pragmatism and some theme or person of contemporary interest).

Another scholar of pragmatism, Michael Eldridge at UNCC, has put together a page that offers a nice selection of resources on Obama and pragmatism.  This is very helpful and should prove even more helpful going forward.

(Btw, if I haven’t posted much lately, here or elsewhere, it’s because I’m in Foucault-land this quarter.  I’m doing  a senior seminar on Foucault at UCSC right now with a bunch of really incredibly talented students.  Whoever doesn’t simply love teaching must have never had an opportunity like this.)

Written by Colin Koopman

April 13, 2009 at 8:00 am

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Pragmatism in Obama’s Inaugural

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We saw more pragmatism this week in Obama’s inaugural address (following up on earlier posts).  It was not quite the masterful literary piece that one might have expected given all that we have been hearing about how Obama wishes to position himself as the next Lincoln.  Lincoln was not only a president but also a poet: recall his “mystic chords of memory”.  Obama is not quite a poet, at least not yet.  But then again, I find the comparisons to Lincoln somewhat overstrained.  Obama is a pragmatist.  Lincoln was not (but perhaps the persident could not have been a pragmatist in those tumultuous years.)

In Obama’s inaugural address this Tuesday we heard his pragmatism once again.  It was forceful and proud, yet also humble and friendly.  This is as pragmatism should be: at once confident and inviting.

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Written by Colin Koopman

January 24, 2009 at 8:58 pm