An Introduction to American Pragmatism


According to William James, the pragmatist “turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions, from bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems, and pretended absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and adequacy, towards facts, towards action and towards power”. William James, along with Charles Sanders Peirce and John Dewey, were the founders of the American philosophical movement which flowered during the last thirty years of the nineteenth century and the first twenty years of the 20th century. It took knowledge to be meaningful only when coupled with action. The function of thought was taken not to represent or “mirror” the world, but instead was considered an instrument or tool for prediction, problem-solving, and action. In this way, it was a philosophy deeply embedded in the reality of life, concerned firstly with the individual’s direct experience of the world they inhabit. How did pragmatism harness the huge scientific leap forward that had come with Charles Darwin’s ideas on evolution? And how did this dynamic new philosophy challenge the doubts expressed by the skeptics about the nature and extent of knowledge? Did pragmatism influence the economic and political ascendancy of America in the early 20th century? And how does it relate to relativism and post-modernism? Melvyn Bragg discusses some of these questions regarding pragmatism with A. C. Grayling, Julian Baggini, and Miranda Fricker.

This is from the BBC radio program “In Our Time”. For a more in-depth discussion of pragmatism, check out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjNypOXwsCM

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