Sunday, August 29, 2010

Perring, Christian. Review of John R. Shook, et al., eds. A COMPANION TO PRAGMATISM. MOR May 5, 2009.

Shook, John R., and Joseph Margolis, eds. A Companion to Pragmatism. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.

I'm starting to wonder whether "Pragmatism" any longer serves as a useful label for a branch of contemporary philosophy. (I'll use the capitalized word "Pragmatism" here to emphasize it is the philosophical theory I'm talking about.) Most of the Blackwell Companions to Philosophy address either individual philosophers, or areas of philosophy: Plato, Aristotle, and Heidegger; Ethics, Philosophy of Science, and Early Modern Philosophy, for example. Only 3 others address particular traditions of thought with a definite point of view, on Feminism, Rationalism, and Relativism. None of the Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy address particular traditions, The series of Cambridge Companions to Philosophy, Religion and Culture, numbering 117 at present, including ones on Postmodern Theology, German Idealism, and Critical Theory, does have one on Peirce, but none on Pragmatism. Christopher Hookway in his Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Pragmatism says in the introduction that, "The core of pragmatism was the pragmatist maxim, a rule for clarifying the contents of hypotheses by tracing their ‘practical consequences’. In the work of Peirce and James, the most influential application of the pragmatist maxim was to the concept of truth. But the pragmatists have also tended to share a distinctive epistemological outlook, a fallibilist anti-Cartesian approach to the norms that govern inquiry." He mentions Rorty, Putman and Brandom as modern pragmatists, but points out that Putnam denies that he is a pragmatist.

This collection edited by Shook and Margolis is a large volume with over 430 pages and 38 contributions. It is divided into three sections: "Major Figures," "Transforming Philosophy," and "Culture and Nature." The 12 major figures include, in addition to the obvious candidates, F.C.S. Schiller, Jane Addams, Alain Locke, Quine, Putnam, and Habermas. The essays in this section include some biographical information and vary in their scope. . . .

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