(Philosophy 230)

Spring 2003, MW 2:30-3:55

Pols House Conference Room

P.D. Magnus

Campus phone x3982


Modern philosophy, beginning in the 17th-century, addressed questions of epistemology - questions of what and how we can know. `Knowledge' meant theoretical knowledge rather than practical knowledge, so epistemology had no obvious connection to practice. Many philosophers insisted that it had no essential connection to practice at all. It was about how things are rather than about what we can do.

In the United States in the 19th-century, some thinkers challenged this neat division between the theoretical and the practical. Belief involves a commitment to act in a certain way and so too, they argued, does knowledge. This challenge came first from transcendentalists, like essayists Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. And the challenge was made again by philosophers who would come to be called pragmatists: Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, and John Dewey. According to the pragmatists, beliefs involve commitments to act- the theoretical and the practical cannot be kept apart.

In this course, we'll be concerned with the relation of belief and practice, as it plays out in some of the classics of American philosophy. We'll also try to figure out what pragmatism is.




The schedule is approximate. It will require some revision along the way.

M 1/26
W 1/28
The modern tradition


M 2/2
Theodore Parker
read Pkt 1
W 2/4
Ralph Waldo Emerson
read `Self Reliance' from RWE

M 2/9

Charles Sanders Peirce

W 2/11
Fixation of belief
read LM pp. 4-25

M 2/16
How to make our ideas clear
read LM pp. 26-48
W 2/18

William James

M 2/23
Will to believe
read LM pp. 69-92
W 2/25
read WJ lecture I

M 3/1
What pragmatism means
read WJ lecture II
W 3/3
Some metaphysical problems
read WJ lecture III

M 3/8
Common sense
read WJ lecture V
W 3/10
The conception of truth
read WJ lecture VI


M 3/29
read WJ lecture VII
W 3/31
read WJ lecture VIII

20th-century pragmatism

M 4/5
John Dewey
read Pkt 3
W 4/7
read Pkt 4

M 4/12
Peirce strikes back
read Pkt 2
W 4/14
C.I. Lewis
read Pkt 6

M 4/19
Jane Addams
read LM pp. 272-286
W 4/21
George Herbert Mead
read LM pp. 287-299

M 4/26
American realism
read Pkt 5
W 4/28
The analytic/synthetic distinction
read Pkt 7

M 5/3
Willard Van Orman Quine
read Pkt 8
W 5/5

M 5/10
Later pragmatism
reading TBA
W 5/12
Concluding thoughts