Pragmatism is American’s home-grown philosophy, but it is not widely understood. This partly is due to the fact that pragmatism emerged out of deep philosophical disputes among its earliest proponents: Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. Although it is agreed that they are the founders of Pragmatism, they also held opposing views about meaning, truth, reality, and value. A further complication emerges in that it is widely believed that Pragmatism was purged from the philosophical mainstream and rendered dormant sometime around 1950, and then recovered only in the 1980s by Richard Rorty.
In her new book, The American Pragmatists (Oxford University Press, 2013), Cheryl Misak presents a nuanced analysis of the origins, development, and prospects of Pragmatism. She shows that Pragmatism has always come in a variety of flavors, ranging from the highly objectivist views of Peirce and C. I. Lewis to the more subjectivist commitments of James and Richard Rorty. More importantly, Misak demonstrates that Pragmatism has been a constantly evolving philosophical movement that has consistently shaped the landscape of English-language philosophy. On Misak’s account, Pragmatism is the philosophical thread that runs through the work of the most influential philosophers of the past century. Her book will be of interest to anyone with interest in Pragmatism or twentieth-century philosophy.