Friday, August 22, 2008

Hildebrand, David. "Review of Robert Talisse's A PRAGMATIST PHILOSOPHY OF DEMOCRACY." NDPR (August 2008).

Talisse, Robert B. A Pragmatist Philosophy of Democracy. London: Routledge, 2007. A Pragmatist Philosophy of Democracy comprises an epilogue, preface, and six main chapters. Preface and epilogue offer Talisse's motivations. These frame the book and Talisse uses them to explicate the "pragmatist roots and motivations" (vii) of democracy he first offered in his recent Democracy After Liberalism. He also intends to expose (and shame) contemporary pragmatists who, Talisse claims, promulgate "conspiracy stories" about an "eclipse" of classical pragmatism (CP). Such stories are pernicious for cultivating "attitudes, habits, and scholarly practices" that foster "resentment" and "a regrettable and ultimately self-defeating intellectual insularity." (134) Chapter 1, "Pragmatism's Ambiguous Legacy," provides an acerbic potted history of how contemporary CPs have positioned themselves as "inheritors and stewards" of this tradition -- typically by contesting Richard Rorty's excesses or lamenting analytic philosophy's impoverished ambitions. Pace these pragmatists, however, Talisse claims, there is no such unified thing as CP, and he justifies this by pointing to deep differences between Charles S. Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. (Of particular portent here is Talisse's sense in Peirce of a distinctly "minimalist" view of inquiry; this interpretation provides the ground for his development, later, of a new pragmatist democracy.) "Can Democracy be a Way of Life?" (Chapter 2) elaborates on how Dewey and Peirce were significantly different, arguing that Deweyan democracy constitutes what John Rawls called a "comprehensive doctrine." Because any such doctrine must exclude other comprehensive (but nevertheless reasonable) views, Dewey's democracy proves self-refuting: since it is oppressive to pluralism it fatally contradicts Dewey's core democratic values. Chapter 3, "Peirce, Inquiry, and Politics," and chapter 4, "Pluralism and the Peircean View," ground an alternative pragmatist approach found in Peirce's two famous pragmatist papers. Those works, Talisse claims, show how Peirce's advocacy for the "method of science" already reveals his epistemic preference for certain basic political arrangements; they also provide an account of inquiry "thin" enough to both serve democratic theory and still be unobjectionable to all rational comers. This theory would be more than just procedural because it does promote a way of life; but its substance would be "thin" because its prescriptions align with what is already immanent in our best practices. Thus, this Peircean view avoids the problems with pluralism which doom Dewey. With the central argument made, chapter 5, "Posner's Pragmatic Realism," further ratifies the Peircean view by demonstrating its superiority to another contemporary pragmatist view by Richard Posner. Finally, chapter 6, "The Case of Sidney Hook," presents Talisse's interpretation of Hook's theory and practice. By highlighting Hook's under-appreciated Peircean affinities, Talisse aims to show why Hook deserves greater consideration as a first-rate philosopher of democracy. . . . Read the whole review here:

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