Saturday, August 28, 2010

Hildebrand, David L. Review of Colin Koopman, PRAGMATISM AS TRANSITION. NDPR (August 2010).

Koopman, Colin. Pragmatism as Transition: Historicity and Hope in James, Dewey, and Rorty. New York: Columbia UP, 2009.

Pragmatism as Transition (hence, Transition) aims to develop a new "wave" of pragmatism, "Transitional Pragmatism" or "Transitionalism." The need for such an alternative is justified, ostensibly, by an "impasse" or "holding pattern" which is paralyzing various contemporary pragmatisms and preventing them from doing "cultural criticism" and helping solve pressing (non-philosophical) ethical and political problems. Transition's basic strategy is to diagnose the impasse by showing a tension between two major historical roots (or "waves") of pragmatism and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of each. Each of these two historical waves of pragmatism reveal, it is argued, various "transitional" elements of their own which can be selectively salvaged for use in the new and improved pragmatism, Transitionalism.

More specifically, the "1st wave" of pragmatism includes American classical pragmatists (CP) C.S. Peirce, William James, and John Dewey, primarily; the "2nd wave" includes figures sometimes called neopragmatists or linguistic pragmatists (NP): Richard Rorty, Robert Brandom, and Hilary Putnam, mainly. Many other figures (pragmatists, non-pragmatists, and others) are enlisted to advance critical and constructive points, with special help coming from Pierre Bourdieu, Stanley Cavell, Bernard Williams, and Michel Foucault. Despite this large and diverse cast, Transition primarily addresses itself to scholars in the American pragmatist tradition; we conclude this because the majority of close analyses (when given) are spent interpreting or criticizing Dewey. (The extent to which we were persuaded by these analyses forms the core of this review.) Nevertheless, we believe that something of interest can be found here for anyone interested in the above mentioned figures, various pragmatisms, or theories regarding genealogy, sociology, or anthropology.

The book consists of seven chapters and an introduction, notes, a bibliography, and an index. The introduction outlines some key terms and then neatly encapsulates the structure and motivation for the book's argument. Chapter 1 explicates the core components of Transitionalism, namely meliorism, historicity, and temporality; chapter 2, called "largely an effort in quotation," seeks to show that "transitionalist" themes characterize "every major pragmatist thinker" (7) as it begins comparing classical and contemporary streams within pragmatism. Chapter 3 labors to establish the necessity of a 3rd wave (Transitionalism) by showing how and why an impasse exists between the first two waves. Arguing that CP is too foundationalist-leaning ("experience-centric") and NP is too narrowly focused on linguistic-practice ("language-centric") the chapter is "concerned to point out certain deficiencies that result from placing too much stress on experience or language rather than on the processes of transitioning in which both experience and language ought to be situated." (8) Chapters 4, 5, and 6 seek to utilize the previous chapters' material by demonstrating how seeing through a "transitioning" lens can relieve longstanding impasses in epistemology, ethics, and political theory (e.g., a solution to the utilitarian/deontology impasse in ethical theory is proffered). Finally, Chapter 7 pleads for much greater attention to genealogical approaches to criticism, such as found in Foucault. These approaches, Transition argues, supply two lacunae in pragmatism: (a) a method for identifying our problems' specific historical roots (rather than focusing too singularly upon consequences, which, it is argued, CP typically does) and (b) a better mechanism for creating problems which stir up thinking -- a.k.a. "problematization." The chapter (and book) ends with a plea for more cross-pollination between genealogical criticism and pragmatism. . . .

Read the whole review here:

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