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American Philosophy

Introduction to American pragmatism through John Dewey and William James, and a peppering of Cornel West.

Amy Antoninka

on 19 March 2011

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Transcript of American Philosophy

James, Dewey, & American Philosophy Empiricism What is important to Dewey and James?
What you love,
What you hope for,
Your ambitions and goals,
Human experience  “one must begin …in the events and scenes that hold the attentive eye and ear of man, arousing his interest and affording him enjoyment as he looks and listens; the sights that hold the crowd

—the fire-engine rushing by; the machines excavating enormous holes in the earth; the human-fly climbing the steeple-side; the men perched high in air on girders, throwing and catching red-hot bolts.

The sources of art in human experience will be learned by him who sees how the tense grace of the ball-player infects the onlooking crowd…

He does not remain a cold spectator. …Happiness and delight…come to be through a fulfillment that reaches to the depths of our being—one that is an adjustment of our whole being with the conditions of existence.”
John Dewey, Art as Experience, 10-11 ,23 How is this different than Aristotle's empiricism? which lead to Truth
(and the god-like life of contemplation) which lead to universals which lead to deductions which lead to rules Aristotle uses experience to create generalizations Pragmatism's view empiricism Concerned with aesthetics of experience
Experience should expand us,
Generate a sense of community,
Deals with particulars – not abstractions
Deals with real people and their experience
No barrier to the world
Humans are fully in their environment – there’s an organic relation between who you are and what the world is like. Summary:
1. Empiricism (without skepticism)
2. Genealogy
3. Equal respect for science and art
4. Values are on equal footing with facts
5. Particulars favored over generalities
6. Communities play a central role Values and Facts Truth examined life (-3:05) Everyday People Democracy Dr. West not stagnant
happens, is made, becomes
validation and verification
it WORKS If I am lost in the woods and starved, and find what looks like a cow-path, it is of the utmost importance that I should think of a human habitation at the end of it, for if I do so and follow it, I save myself. "Truth is a leading that is worthwhile"
"...to be guided either straight up to it or into its surroundings, or to be put into such working touch with it as to handle either it or something connected with it..." "Experience, as we know, has ways of BOILING OVER, and making us correct our present formulas." "At the present time, the frontier is moral, not physical."

"...the task can be accomplished only by inventive effort and creative activity."

"working faith in the possibilities of humans . . . irrespective of race, color, sex, birth and family, of material or cultural wealth." (& some Cornel West too) William James, "Pragmatism's Conception of Truth" John Dewey, "Creative Democracy - the Task before Us" Genealogy What is important to you? Humans are embedded in human culture
Helps us see where we come from - and where we are going – our communities
How we come to think in particular ways
Result: deep respect for science, literature, art, music…different areas of human culture William James Father: Henry Sr. - well known intellectual
Brother: Henry Jr. - well known novelist
Sister: Alice - well known famous diarist
Friends of the family: Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Carlyle, Tennyson, and J. S. Mill

Wm. had a very liberal education
studied painting, literature, languages, physiology, medicine, psychology, philosophy
John Dewey (1842-1910) (1859–1952) Father: merchant with love of literature, soldier for Union Army
Mother: devout Calvinist

Boyhood jobs: delivering newspapers and working at a lumber-yard
First job: taught high school
Later: studied philosophy at Johns Hopkins University
Influenced: ethics, epistemology, politics, and education

"Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst. What is the right use? What is the one end, which all means go to effect? They are for nothing but to inspire. … The one thing in the world, of value, is the active soul. … In its essence, it is progressive..."
Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The American Scholar" •Values are as natural as facts
•Habit, creativity and imagination The "Textbook" View of Science Aristotle Copernicus Galileo Newton Einstein A more "pragmatic" View of Science Newton Aristotle Einstein Copernicus Galileo "Truth lives, in fact, for the most part on a credit system. Our thoughts and beliefs 'pass,' so long as nothing challenges them, just as bank-notes pass so long as nobody refuses them." William James, ""Pragmatism's Conception of Turth" change, growth, crativity valued over fixation, stagnation, intolerance
faith in human potential
optimism, not skepticism
expansive nature
engagement with community "The task of democracy is forever that of creation of a freer and more humane experince in which all share and to which all contribute."
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