Brayden's Reviews > Pragmatism: A New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking

Pragmatism by William James
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Apr 22, 2012

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Read in April, 2012

I'd read a lot about this book but hadn't yet read it for myself. The book is a series of lectures that James gave about the philosophical paradigm, and for that reason it doesn't have a traditional book structure. It literally feels like you're taking a peek into a lecture hall. The cadence of the narrative, the way the argument develops, etc. has a very different flow than you'd get with a more traditional book. Still, it's interesting and boils down pragmatism to its core ideas very simply.

So of the philosophy itself - I'm not convinced. It's strange because as a sociologist I'm heavily influenced by a couple of scholars that see themselves working out of Dewey's version of pragmatism (e.g., Selznick, Meade), but I don't find pragmatism to be very useful in helping me to understand the world. Perhaps it is simply too practical and not explanatory enough. Not sure.

If you know very little about pragmatism as a branch of philosophy, I wouldn't start with James. Instead, I'd turn to Louis Menand's incredibly interesting The Metaphysical Club, which follows the evolution of the perspective from Peirce to its application in modern social psychology. It's very well written, engaging, and gives a very nice historical overview of the perspective.
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