By ANTHONY GOTTLIEB
Published: June 28, 2012
"What of the idea that Americans are inherently practical? Many of the country’s best-known intellectuals have certainly liked to think of themselves that way. America’s principal homegrown school of philosophy is, after all, the pragmatism of C. S. Peirce, William James and John Dewey, which was born at Harvard in the 1870s. According to pragmatism, our theories should be judged by their practical value rather than by their accuracy in representing the world. The ultimate fate of this idea was neatly put by a great American philosophical wit, Sidney Morgenbesser, who said it was all very well in theory, but didn’t work in practice. He meant that pragmatism sounds like a good ruse, but it emerges as either trivial or incoherent when you try to flesh it out. There are weaker strains of philosophical pragmatism, which investigate the meaning of our concepts by looking at how we use them. But this idea is mainly the property of Wittgenstein, who may have been gay but was certainly not American."
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This is one of the most ill-informed paragraphs I have ever had the misfortune to read.
To say that pragmatism was born in the 1870s without giving exclusive attribution to Charles Sanders Peirce is simply false.
To fail to explain that Peirce renamed his philosophy pragmaticism after it was widely misunderstood is understandable but adds to the ineptitude of this text.
Noting that Peirce was explicitly barred from a career at Harvard would be too much to expect.
But the most idiotic thing above is the careless statement that pragmatism ranks practicality above accuracy. It is clear the reviewer has no acquaintance with Peirce, who may well have had an over-reliance on scientific method. Accuracy was hardly absent as Peirce's goal. And practicality was not among his virtues.
This review is insignificant in the scheme of things. But it demonstrates yet again that when it comes to America's greatest intellect smaller minds continue to enjoy an evident feeding frenzy.