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Charles Peirce
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F.C.S. Schiller
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Edward Ames
Alain Locke
Charles Morris
C. I. Lewis
W. V. Quine
Sidney Hook
Hilary Putnam
Richard Rorty
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Larry Laudan
Joseph Margolis
Paul Kurtz
Mark Johnson
Susan Haack
Cornel West


Society for the Advancement of
American Philosophy

Institute for American Thought

Charles S. Peirce Society

Arisbe: The Peirce Gateway

Grupo de Estudios Peirceanos

Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism

William James Society

William James Cybrary

John Dewey Society

Center for Dewey Studies

The Mead Project

Centro de Estudos em Filosofia Americana

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Pragmatism's History


Inquiry into classical pragmatism's history should begin with H. S. Thayer's panoramic treatise, Meaning and Action: A Critical History of Pragmatism, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1981). Max Fisch, "American Pragmatism Before and After 1898," reprinted in Peirce, Semeiotic, and Pragmatism (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), pp. 283-304, should also be consulted. Herbert W. Schneider, A History of American Philosophy (New York: Columbia University Press, 1946), and Elizabeth Flower and Murray Murphey, A History of Philosophy in America (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1977) situate pragmatism in American thought and give helpful references. Other important surveys include S. Morris Eames, Pragmatic Naturalism (Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1977); Charles Morris, The Pragmatic Movement in American Philosophy (New York: George Braziller, 1970); Charlene Haddock Seigfried, Pragmatism and Feminism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); Philip Wiener, Evolution and the Founders of Pragmatism (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1949). More specialized studies of the history of pragmatism are given below, selected for their comprehensiveness, diversity of viewpoint, and ability to guide the reader to other studies.


A. Cambridge

The quasi-official story of pragmatism's inception as a philosophical movement is well-told by Max Fisch. It finds Harvard professor William James in Berkeley in August 1898, where he addressed the Philosophical Union of the University of California. His paper, titled "Philosophical Conceptions and Practical Results," announced his chosen direction "to start upon the trail of truth": the principle of "pragmatism," as enunciated by >Charles S. Peirce. James described how Peirce used the term in philosophical conversation with the Metaphysical Club in Cambridge, Massachusetts back in the early 1870s, and he mentioned Peirce's 1878 publication of an essay, "How To Make Our Ideas Clear." In that essay is found, not the term "pragmatism," but Peirce's method to maximize a concept's clarity: "Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object" [CP 5.402].

James's philosophical efforts were hardly founded on only and exactly this principle. His psychological and metaphysical inquiries (resulting in "radical empiricism") and religious and moral interests (represented by the "will-to-believe" doctrine) complemented his unique version of pragmatism.

William James
William James


Pragmatism asks its usual question. "Grant an idea or belief to be true," it says, "what concrete difference will its being true make in anyone's actual life? How will the truth be realized? What experiences will be different from those which would obtain if the belief were false? What, in short, is the truth's cash-value in experiential terms?"
--Pragmatism (1907)


More William James

By the time of his death in 1910, James had aroused a public interest in philosophy in general, and pragmatism in particular. He had also influenced a generation of philosophers, who repaid their debt to James by developing selected aspects of his philosophy into principles for their own independent thought. The exploration of other aspects of Peirce's multi-faceted philosophy, sparked by James's enthusiasm, accelerated through the 1910s and 1920s. His place alongside James in the pantheon of American philosophers was firmly established after his Collected Papers were edited in the 1930s.

Among the many philosophers indebted to Peirce and James, several can arguably be called "pragmatic." Josiah Royce profited from the study of both Peirce and James. He incorporated several pragmatic tenets into his system of absolute idealism, which has often been termed "pragmatic idealism" or "absolute pragmatism." John E. Boodin studied under James and Royce. His treatises on epistemology and metaphysics develop a realistic pragmatism in the context of an evolutionary theism. Harvard also nurtured Horace M. Kallen, who advocated pragmatism for decades, and C. I. Lewis, whose "conceptual pragmatism" synthesized many pragmatic strands. And while George Santayana may not have enjoyed the label, many scholars comprehend his thought in a pragmatic context.

Authors focusing on the Cambridge pragmatists are A. J. Ayer, The Origins of Pragmatism (San Francisco: Freeman, Cooper, and Co., 1968); Bruce Kuklick, The Rise of American Philosophy-Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1860-1930 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977).

Books concerning Peirce include Douglas Anderson, Creativity and the Philosophy C. S. Peirce (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1987); Joseph Brent, Charles Sanders Peirce: A Life (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993); Vincent Colapietro, Peirce's Approach to the Self (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989); James Feibleman, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Charles S. Peirce (Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press, 1969); Carl Hausman, Charles S. Peirce's Evolutionary Philosophy (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1993); Christopher Hookway, Peirce (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1985); Murray Murphey, The Development of Peirce's Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1961); Sandra Rosenthal, Charles Peirce's Pragmatic Pluralism (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994); Peter Skagestad, The Road of Inquiry: Charles Peirce's Pragmatic Realism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981).

For James, these studies can be consulted. Gay W. Allen, William James: A Biography (London: Rupert Hart-Davies, 1967); Graham Bird, William James (London and New York: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986); Gerald Myers, William James: His Life and Thought (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986); Ruth Anna Putnam, ed., The Cambridge Companion to William James (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Charlene Haddock Seigfried, William James's Radical Reconstruction of Philosophy (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1990); Ellen Kappy Suckiel, Heaven's Champion: William James's Philosophy of Religion (Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1996; John Wild, The Radical Empiricism of William James (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1969).

Other Cambridge philosophers are discussed by John Clendenning, The Life and Thought of Josiah Royce (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985); Bruce Kuklick, Josiah Royce: An Intellectual Biography (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972); Milton R. Konvitz, ed., The Legacy of Horace M. Kallen (Cranbury, N.J.: Associated University Presses, 1987); Henry Levinson, Santayana, Pragmatism, and the Spiritual Life (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992); John McCormick, George Santayana: A Biography (New York: Knopf, 1986); Mary Mahowald, An Idealistic Pragmatism: The Development of the Pragmatic Element in the Philosophy of Josiah Royce (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1972); Charles H. Nelson, John Elof Boodin: Philosopher-Poet (New York: Philosophical Library, 1987); Sandra Rosenthal, The Pragmatic A Priori: A Study in the Epistemology of C. I. Lewis (St. Louis: Warren H. Green, 1976); Paul A. Schilpp, ed., The Philosophy of C. I. Lewis (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1968); T. L. S. Sprigge, Santayana: An Examination of His Philosophy (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974).


B. Chicago

The development of John Dewey's "instrumentalist" or "experimentalist" version of pragmatism occurred largely during his ten years at the University of Chicago (1894-1904). Dewey was stimulated by James's novel approach to psychological inquiry and later dedicated his first major work in pragmatism in 1903 to James. This development was also nourished by the psychological research and theorizing of Dewey and four of his philosophy colleagues, George H. Mead, James H. Tufts, James R. Angell, and A. W. Moore. Challenging the dominant "structuralist" psychologies, they formulated the doctrines of "functionalism," in which mental entities are interpreted in terms of phases of purposive organic action in an environment. Dewey and Mead explored the philosophical consequences of this viewpoint: Chicago functionalism evolved into Dewey's naturalistic instrumentalism and Mead's social behaviorism. John B. Watson's behaviorism emerged from this atmosphere of psychological speculation while at Chicago. Moore's polemical defenses earned him the nickname, the "bulldog of pragmatism." Other members of the Chicago branch of pragmatism include Jane Addams in education and social theory, E. S. Ames in religion, H. Heath Bawden in psychology, Boyd H. Bode in education, and William Wright and Sidney Hook in philosophy. The 1930s saw Charles Morris's announcement of his "neo-pragmatism," which promised a collaboration of pragmatism with logical empiricism.

General works describing philosophy at the University of Chicago are Andrew Feffer, The Chicago Pragmatists and American Progressivism (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993); Darnell Rucker, The Chicago Pragmatists (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1969).

Studies of Dewey include Raymond D. Boisvert, Dewey's Metaphysics (New York: Fordham University Press, 1988); James Campbell, Understanding John Dewey: Nature and Cooperative Intelligence (LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court, 1995); George Dykhuizen, The Life and Mind of John Dewey, ed. Jo Ann Boydston (Carbondale, Ill.: Southern Illinois University Press, 1973); Ulrich Engler, Kritik der Erfahring: Die Bedeutung der asthetischen Erfahrung in der Philosophie John Deweys (Wurzburg: Konigshausen und Neuman, 1992); Christopher B. Kulp, The End of Epistemology: Dewey and His Current Allies on the Spectator Theory of Knowledge (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1992); Steven Rockefeller, John Dewey: Religious Faith and Democratic Humanism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1991); Alan Ryan, John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism (New York and London: W. W. Norton and Co., 1995); John R. Shook, Dewey's Empirical Theory of Knowledge and Reality (Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press, 2000); R. W. Sleeper, The Necessity of Pragmatism: John Dewey's Conception of Philosophy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986); J. E. Tiles, Dewey (New York: Routledge, 1988); Jennifer Welchman, Dewey's Ethical Thought (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1995); Robert B. Westbrook, John Dewey and American Democracy (Ithica, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991).

Concerning other Chicago pragmatists and their influence, see Edward Scribner Ames, Beyond Theology: The Autobiography of Edward Scribner Ames, ed. Van Meter Ames (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1959); Gary Cook, George Herbert Mead: The Making of a Social Pragmatist (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1993); Emily Cooper Johnson, ed., Jane Addams, A Centennial Reader (New York: Macmillan, 1960); J. David Lewis and Richard Smith, American Sociology and Pragmatism: Mead, Chicago Sociology, and Symbolic Interactionism (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1980).


C. Great Britain

F. C. S. Schiller recognized a kindred spirit in James, linking his similar rebellion against rationalism with the "will-to-believe" principle. Preferring the term "humanism" to pragmatism, Schiller centered his philosophy on the fundamental reality of the personal self. Throughout the first two decades of this century, European philosophers perceived Schiller and James as the leaders of the pragmatic movement. At his post as Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Oxford, Schiller assigned himself the task of dogging the British idealists' every published word, probing for evidence of their failures and of pragmatism's superiority. Ready assistance was found in Alfred Sidgwick, Howard Knox, and Henry Sturt; together they provided "Bradley and Co." with a more than ample barrage of polemical attacks. Schiller's constructive efforts awaited his later years, focused on the effort to systematically elaborate the principles of voluntaristic logic. In the 1920s the brief career of F. P. Ramsey was marked by his occasional expression of agreement with several pragmatic themes.

Further research into Schiller and Ramsey can profitably start with Reuben Abel, The Pragmatic Humanism of F. C. S. Schiller (New York: King's Crown Press, 1955); Kenneth Winetrout, F. C. S. Schiller and the Dimensions of Pragmatism (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1967); Nils-Eric Sahlin, The Philosophy of F. P. Ramsey (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1990).


D. Italy

When William James traveled to Rome in the spring of 1905, he spent an afternoon with a small band of enthusiastic pragmatists who made quite an impression on their famous American mentor. For his part, James memorialized that afternoon and lionized its leader, Giovanni Papini, in a publication of his own on returning to the United States, "G. Papini and the Pragmatist Movement in Italy." The key figures in the Italian movement besides Papini are Giuseppe Prezzolini, Papini's close friend and intellectual collaborator, and the two "Peircean" members of the circle, Giovanni Vailati and his student and colleague, Mario Calderoni. The movement was quite short-lived, however. Papini and Prezzolini had shed their pragmatism by 1907, moving on to the next stage of their complex intellectual itineraries. Vailati and Calderoni produced only a modest literary output, and both were dead by the outbreak of the Great War. Giovanni Amendola, who would later suffer tragically and fatally at the hands of the fascists, is an interesting minor figure in the movement. A significant later thinker who identified himself with pragmatism is Antonio Aliotta.

Crucial to the study of Italian pragmatism is the review Leonardo, launched, co-edited, and sometimes entirely written by Papini and Prezzolini from 1903 to 1907. Many of the seminal essays by these thinkers, as well as important contributions by Amendola, Calderoni, and Vailati, first appeared in its pages. Schiller and James both published in it, and James spared little praise for the review in his correspondence. The more political essays of these thinkers are to be found elsewhere, most notably in the review Il Regno. Both Papini and Prezzolini wrote autobiographical statements which, together with their correspondence and diaries, provide an excellent picture of these two extraordinary cultural figures, who for a brief time called themselves pragmatists.

Some studies of Italian pragmatism are Giovanni Gullace, "The Pragmatist Movement in Italy," Journal of the History of Ideas 23 (1962): 91-105; H. S. Thayer, Meaning and Action: A Critical History of Pragmatism, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1981), pp. 324-346; Antonio Santucci, Il pragmatismo in Italia (Bologna: Società editrice il Molino, 1963); C. P. Zanoni, "Development of Logical Pragmatism in Italy," Journal of the History of Ideas 40.4 (Oct-Dec 1979): 603-619.


E. France

Three interrelated schools of thought already making waves in French philosophy warmly greeted James's writings: the "school of action" inspired by Maurice Blondel, the scientific constructionism of Henri Poincaré and Pierre Duhem, and the neocritical school inspired by Émile Boutroux and Henri Bergson. The first, an important component of Catholic Modernism, came to a quick end with the condemnation of Modernism in 1907 by Pope Pius X. The second argued that scientific theories must be judged only with regard to their ability to account for experimental evidence and to solve practical difficulties. The third was exemplified by Édouard Le Roy, who termed his philosophy "pragmatisme." These schools never completely abandoned the notion of an absolute truth and reality, and they never fully agreed with James's or Schiller's tenet that truth should be identified with the practical. French interest in pragmatism quickly faded after James's death. One exception is Georges Sorel, who gave qualified approval to James's pragmatism and used pragmatic tenets to support his political syndicalism.

The Pragmatism Cybrary offers a bibliography of pragmatism in France, 1898-1940. The relations of pragmatism with French thought is described by Walter Horton, The Philosophy of the Abbé Bautain (New York: New York University Press, 1926); Richard Humphrey, "Pragmatism and a Pluralist World," chap. 5 of Georges Sorel: Prophet without Honor (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1951), pp. 117-142; H. S. Thayer, Meaning and Action: A Critical History of Pragmatism, 2nd ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1981), pp. 314-323.


F. Germany

Unlike France or Great Britain, Germany had no ongoing native movement struggling against rationalism, and accordingly it treated pragmatism with minimal respect at best. The reaction against absolutism had erupted four decades before and was already spent: neo-Kantianism presently reigned. Content to dismiss pragmatism as an undigested remnant of Fichte or Nietzsche, or as a crass utilitarian spin-off, most mainstream academics trumpeted the obvious inferiority of American thought. Wilhelm Jerusalem and GÜnther Jacoby prior to the First World War, and Arnold Gehlen and Eduard Baumgarten prior to the Second World War, figure as the significant sympathetic interpreters of pragmatism.

The best study of the German reaction to pragmatism is Hans Joas, "American Pragmatism and German Thought: A History of Misunderstandings," translated by Jeremy Gaines, in Pragmatism and Social Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), pp. 94-121.



-- Reprinted with additions from the "Introduction" to Pragmatism: An Annotated Bibliography, 1898-1940, by John R. Shook (Amsterdam: Editions Rodopi, 1998), pp. xiv-xx.