Most helpful positive review
74 of 79 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2001
This book is astounding! It manages to accomplish in around 500 pages the twin tasks of giving a functional outline of the rise and rise of pragmatic thought and also to give examples, old and new, of that same pragmatic thought. The three more well-known "founders" (popularisers) of this philosophical method slash attitude are here in C.S. Peirce, William James and John Dewey along with an interesting selection of more modern pragmatists, such as Richard Rorty (of course!), Cornel West and Hilary Putnam. One name that is missing from the contemporary selection is Stanley Fish, but since he seems to aim his sights indiscriminately he may be thought to be rather roguish for this sane and coherent selection of writings that the editor, Louis Menand, has pulled together.
In his introductory piece Menand charts Pragmatism's birth in the universities of north eastern America in the second half of the nineteenth century and points up some of its distinctives (of which there are very few and deliberately so). This piece is worth the price of the book itself for its clarity, insight and authority. The choices Menand makes in presenting the pragmatic thinkers will always be one of judgment and decision (Are the two writings he chooses from Richard Rorty's work, "Philosophy as a Kind of Writing" and "Postmodernist Bourgeois Liberalism" really more appropriate to this collection? I would choose others.) and we may quibble with one or two and suggest others but Menand has made his choices and given his rationale and we, as readers, can ask no more. What is served up is insightful and powerful (when taken together) as an example of pragmatic thoughts in practice and, as such, demonstrates the oft written thought of William James that Pragmatism "does not stand for any special results. It is a method only." James means that pragmatists don't have to agree to be pragmatic for being pragmatic is "trac[ing] out in the imagination the conceivable practical consequences.....of the affirmation or denial" (C.S. Peirce) of whatever belief, truth or proposal you have in mind. Thus, we realise that Pragmatism as a philosophy is at least contextual, subjective and case by case. As a reader in Pragmatism this book does a superb job of demonstrating this and Menand, as editor, is to be congratulated. Much recommended.