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The Promise of Pragmatism, by John Patrick Diggins

- Abstract

Pragmatism and politics—for most people this phrase states a natural enough connection. Politics, after all, is the “art of the possible,” involving the necessity of practical compromise, and in this common sense of the word, all politicians are pragmatists.

But pragmatism is also the name given to America’s only homegrown philosophical movement, which encompasses figures like William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, George Herbert Mead, John Dewey, and, in our own day, Richard Rorty. Once upon a time, pragmatism in this sense was also intimately associated with politics. Indeed, in the early part of this century, the philosophical pragmatism of John Dewey was the leading non-Marxist theoretical inspiration for legions of liberals and progressives. Having been in eclipse since World War II, pragmatism has been much talked about recently as the basis for a rejuvenated liberalism.

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