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Something has been bothering me about pragmatism for a while now. Although the hubbub around analytic philosophy's appropriation of pragmatist themes has subsided, one defect I perceive in classical pragmatism has never, to my knowledge, been addressed: the hypostatization of the self in order to treat the "external world". Specifically, Peirce's classic treatments of belief suffer from the presupposition of a fully-formed, non-object-dependent sense of self to do the work of determining what counts as real.

The problem manifests itself as follows: Peirce determines the object as the point where a person's dispositions to act coalesce: "Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object" ("How to Make Our Ideas Clear"). So objects, including abstract objects, are defined in terms of our practical involvements with them. But is this not a bit regressive? How our practical involvements are themselves constituted is not a topic that interests Peirce, but he seems to be requiring a subjectivity that is already fully-developed to address the question of what counts for real in the world. So where does the tribunal that judges the "tribunal of experience" come from? It might be retrograde to say, but I think it comes only from a pre-Freudian understanding of internal life, where the will operates without any internal or external cues other than right reason and the dictates of morality.

Of course, there's the bit where you say it and the bit where you take it back, and it would be easy to point to Mead as an example of someone who systematically develops the sense of self along pragmatist lines. But the problem I developed in Peirce persists in James' philosophical writings. Of course, James famously defined the self as located in the back of the throat or thereabouts in his Principles of Psychology. But James' pragmatist writings make use of the same voluntarist tropes as Peirce. The example where the party chases a squirrel around a tree and has to determine whether the squirrel circumnavigated them is a case in point; attention to "practice" removes reality as a constitutive source of our ability to judge. It seems like someone could write something aligning this tendency of pragmatism with the other voluntaristic currents of the time.

Hello, and welcome to The Fortunes of the Dialectic. This blog is intended to foster a constructive discussion of those theoretical matters which interest me, a category which includes some of the more philosophical aspects of literature, science, mathematics, and politics. My ideal reader is a dogged amateur in intellectual matters: the discussions here will maintain an accessible tone. (If you had problems with school, I assure you mine were still greater.) However, I will attempt to avoid the "journaling" that sometimes brings blogs down to the level of chronicling the minutiae of everyday life; in my opinion chain-letter "memes" are only interesting from a sociological standpoint, and my views of current events are probably better expressed by others. So, here it is. There may not be something for everybody, but I hope there is somebody for everything.