Books November 1997
A review of Pragmatism: A Reader by Louis Menand.
How quickly the visions of genius become the canned goods of intellectuals.
Perhaps you know the old joke about the soldiers passing a message down the line— first man to second, “send reinforcements, we’re going to advance”; next-to-last man to last, “send three-and-fourpence, we’re going to a dance.” Well, the history of pragmatism is like that—only more so.
C. S. Peirce, working scientist, pioneer of modern logic, and founder of pragmatism, envisaged a reformed, scientific philosophy which would use “the most rational methods it can devise, for finding out the little that can as yet be found out about the universe of mind and matter from those observations which every person can make in every hour of his waking life.” His philosophy was informed by the pragmatic maxim, identifying the meaning of a concept with...
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