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  • ISBN: 9780226148786
  • ISBN10: 0226148785

The Promise of Pragmatism Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority

by John Patrick Diggins

  • List Price: $44.00
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Univ of Chicago Pr
  • Publish date: 04/01/1994
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Description: For much of our century, pragmatism has enjoyed a charmed life, holding the dominant point of view in American politics, law, education, and social thought in general. After suffering a brief eclipse in the post-World War II period, pragmatism has enjoyed a revival, especially in literary theory and such areas as poststructuralism and deconstruction. In this sweeping critique of pragmatism and neopragmatism, one of our leading intellectual historians traces the attempts of thinkers from William James to Richard Rorty to find a response to the crisis of modernism. John Patrick Diggins analyzes the limitations of pragmatism from a historical perspective and dares to ask whether America's one original contribution to the world of philosophy has actually fulfilled its promise. In the late nineteenth century, intellectuals felt themselves in the grips of a spiritual crisis. This confrontation with the "acids of modernity" eroded older faiths and led to a sense that life would continue in the awareness, of absences: knowledge without truth, power without authority, society without spirit, self without identity, politics without virtue, existence without purpose, history without meaning. In Europe, Friedrich Nietzsche and Max Weber faced a world in which God was "dead" and society was succumbing to structures of power and domination. In America, Henry Adams resigned from Harvard when he realized there were no truths to be taught and when he could only conclude: "Experience ceases to educate". To the American philosophers of pragmatism, it was experience that provided the basis on which new methods of knowing could replace older ideas of truth. Diggins examines how, in different ways, WilliamJames, Charles Peirce, John Dewey, George H. Mead, and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., demonstrated that modernism posed no obstacle in fields such as science, education, religion, law, politics, and diplomacy. Diggins also examines the work of the neopragmatists Jurgen Habermas and Richard Rorty and their attempt to resolve the crisis of postmodernism. Using one author to interrogate another, Diggins brilliantly allows the ideas to speak to our conditions as well as theirs. Did the older philosophers succeed in fulfilling the promises of pragmatism? Can the neopragmatists write their way out of what they have thought themselves into? And does America need philosophers to tell us that we do not need foundational truths when the Founders already told us that the Constitution would be a "machine" that would depend more upon the "counterpoise" of power than on the claims of knowledge? Diggins addresses these and other essential questions in this magisterial account of twentieth-century intellectual life. It should be read by everyone concerned about the roots of postmodernism (and its links to pragmatism) and about the forms of thought and action available for confronting a world after postmodernism.
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