American Philosophy since 1860

Fall 2006

Professor: P.D. Magnus

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

[pmagnus at fecundity dot com]