PHL 890 Readings in Pragmatism

Course Code: PHL 890


Instructor: Paul B. Thompson, (You know where to find me!)

Meeting Times & Venues: Variable

Course Content: Classical pragmatism is generally defined as Peirce, James and Dewey. Other figures that are sometimes included are Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., George Herbert Mead and Alfred North Whitehead. There are clearly other figures who contribute to the development of pragmatist ideas: F.S.C. Schiller, Chauncey Wright, C.I. Lewis, Roy Wood Sellars. There are also people who are part of this intellectual circle, but who are probably not “pragmatists”: George Santayana, W.E.B. Du Bois, George Howison. There are neopragmatists, too: W.V.O. Quine, Hilary Putnam, Donald Davidson, Richard Rorty, and maybe Wilfrid Sellars. There are European figures who adopt important elements of the pragmatist program: Frank Ramsey, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Jürgen Habermas. And finally there are important philosophical “precursors”: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Henry David Thoreau. We will concentrate on the three biggies, but I will also be inserting some readings from Josiah Royce and Jane Addams in the mix. I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to be including them, at least among a certain circle of historically oriented scholars, but they aren’t household names among the analytically oriented crowd that knows Quine, Rorty and Davidson. I hope you will come out of here having a slightly better grasp of pragmatism as a philosophical movement than you might have gotten from taking an undergraduate course on American philosophy (like I did) back in 1972. Such courses are hardly ever taught today.

Course Structure: This is a readings course, though we have a large enough group participating that it may feel like a seminar at times. Here is how a readings course differs from a seminar from my perspective: When I offer a seminar, I generally work on it for about a year in advance, considering what to read and how to link the readings thematically. I try not to travel during scheduled meetings of a seminar, and I do accept some responsibility to make each scheduled meeting go smoothly. None of these things are true for a readings course. I don’t agree to do a readings course unless I have prior familiarity with about 80% of what will be covered and I am interested in reading the remaining 20%. Both of these things are true for the schedule sketched out below. I expect students to do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the conversations (or what the Brits would call “tutorials”). I count on each participant putting some effort into making it work by being proactive about asking question, making claims and engaging others in discussion.

Since all of us will be far flung throughout the summer most of the interaction will happen through the MSU D2L site that I have created, though I may try to arrange one or two skype calls for the entire group, if we can get our heads around that. I expect to be creating one or two discussion rooms on D2L for each of the sessions listed below. Generally speaking, expect to be posting in those rooms after the date that is listed on D2L site, sometimes for one week, sometimes two. Please do respond to one another’s posts. Please feel free to initiate your own threads in the discussion rooms. Always feel free to ask any question you might have in relation to what we are reading, and feel free to do that even before the date listed on the schedule below. Please do respond to one another’s questions. I will take responsibility to intervene (though it sometimes will take me a day or two) if things get off track.

Grades: I will turn in grades for those of you who are taking this for credit based on two factors: 1) active participation in the online discussion rooms and 2) please turn in some kind of written work for me to evaluate. For 2, please work out with me a plan, probably following one of the following models: Model A, a pretty standard term paper, due at least a week before I have to turn in a grade for you, (N.B. this presumes that you have been making substantive written contributions through the D2L site all along). Model B, five shorter (e.g. 2-3 page) papers that provide analytic, comparative and/or critical discussions of readings as we go along. If you opt for Model B, please turn in something roughly every other session (as discussed below). If you have something else in mind, let me know. I would like to have heard from each of you about how you expect to handle 2 through a conversation or email before June 15, even if you will not receive a grade for doing this work until after the summer has turned to December’s cold. I would also like that you NOT defer completing your written work until then, as I will have largely forgotten what did during the summer by then.

Books: Louis Menand, Ed. Pragmatism: A Reader. New York: 1997, Vintage Books.

Cheryl Misak, The American Pragmatists New York: 2013, Oxford University Press.

Jane Addams, Democracy and Social Ethics, Urbana: 2002, University of Illinois Press.

Other material will be available through the course D2L site.

Schedule: What follows is a proposed schedule for our summer activity. In some cases there is one week between sessions, in others it is two. Some of us will be attending the Summer Institute in Eugene. I will set up a D2L discussion room to share and discuss reactions to what is going on there, though we’ll see whether that works for those of you who are not able to participate.

Session 1: James: Selections from Menand
Meet in person on May 15.
Discussion online to follow.

Session 2: Royce: Selections from Lectures on Modern Idealism
Meet online beginning May 29.

Session 3: Peirce: Selections from Menand
Meet online beginning June 5

Session 4: Peirce and James: Chapters from Misak’s The American Pragmatists
Meet online beginning June 19

Session 5: Dewey: Selections from Menand
Meet online beginning July 3
Interregnum: Pragmatist Institute, Eugene Oregon, July 10-14

Session 6: Dewey: “The Problem of Truth,” and selections from Logic: A Theory of Inquiry
Meet online beginning July 17

Session 7: Dewey: Chapters from Misak’s The American Pragmatists
Meet online beginning July 24

Session 8: Pragmatist Social Philosophy Part 1: James, “The Moral Equivalent of War,” selections from Jane Addams, Democracy and Social Ethics Meet online beginning July 31

Session 9: Pragmatist Social Philosophy Part 2: Dewey, “Social Inquiry,” from Logic: A Theory of Inquiry, and Human Nature and Conduct
Meet online beginning August 7

Session 10: Wrap up: Misak, Rorty? Putnam? Environmental Pragmatism?
Meet online beginning August 14