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Yael Gazit

Abstract

This article suggests a change of perspective on philosophy’s engagement with its past. It argues that rather than the putative purport of giving life to the past philosopher’s work, philosophical engagement with the past gives life to one’s own. Drawing on the neo-pragmatist thesis of Robert Brandom, it suggests looking to what philosophers do when they attribute meaning to concepts and considering their engagement with the past as appropriation in consequence. By scrutinizing Robert Pippin’s opposing thesis of philosophical engagement with the past as dialogue, and carefully examining Brandom’s, the article suggests an account for appropriation that shows it to be non-dialogical, and hence unable to yield the fruits associated with this conception, but also insightful and rich with other philosophical values. Brandom and John McDowell’s dispute over the interpretation of Wilfrid Sellars provides an illustration of the proposed perspective and of those values.

Elizabeth Portella

Abstract

“Philosophers,” Dewey writes, “are parts of history, caught in its movement; creators perhaps in some measure of its future, but also assuredly creatures of its past” (Dewey 1927, 2). The question of the philosopher’s embeddedness in either her own or some earlier historical moment constitutes an important theme in Dewey’s account of pragmatism, in particular his account of politics. In lieu of a formal treatise on history, this paper focuses on Dewey’s claims about history as they are enacted in his political analyses. Drawing on texts such as Liberalism and Social Action (1935) and Freedom and Culture (1939) as well “The Role of Philosophy in the History of Civilization” (1927), I hope to elucidate in greater depth the function and meaning of the term “historic relativity” as a central concept in Dewey’s philosophy of history (Dewey 1935, 42). Further, I evaluate Dewey’s criticisms of both classical liberalism and Marxism on historical grounds, where he employs what I call political obsolescence claims. From these texts I reconstruct and critically assess what I refer to as Dewey’s implicit philosophy of history. I conclude that the presuppositions of Dewey’s political reconstruction represent the very mode of uncritical historical reproduction which his philosophy ostensibly cautions against. To suggest one possibility for addressing these tensions, I gesture toward non-coincidence as a critical historical category through which we might articulate the historic present with the hope of transforming it.

Serge Grigoriev and Robert Piercey

Corey McCall

Abstract

This essay examines various intellectual affinities between Dewey and Baldwin, including their pragmatic and tragic conceptions of history. I argue in the first section that Dewey’s attention to the precarious dimensions of experience and his critique of dominant modes of inquiry that prioritize the stable over the precarious pay insufficient attention to race, though this focus on the precarious over the stable aspects of experience is enough to show that pragmatism does acknowledge the tragic dimension. The subsequent section argues that this insufficiency might be rectified through a reading of Baldwin’s work. While Dewey and Baldwin both acknowledge that existence is finite and precarious (and hence the tragic), Baldwin shows that racism and the promotion of white identity is essentially an attempt to disavow the precariousness of existence. Baldwin’s writings should supplement Dewey’s theory of experience and his account of history because we find in them an acknowledgement of the deep institutional roots of racial oppression and various forms of resistance to this oppression as a key dimension of American history.

Marnie Binder

Abstract

Spanish Philosopher José Ortega y Gasset advanced a number of strong criticisms of American pragmatism, yet some pragmatist notions can also be detected in his own philosophy. Within Ortega’s pragmatist perspectivism one can locate the possibility of overcoming one of the principal perceived problems of pragmatism: namely, its tendency toward relativism. This paper focuses on the ways in which Ortega’s discussion of pragmatism pertains to history and historiography. Ortega’s position that history is written from a select number of perspectives is congenial to pragmatist pluralism. What is recorded and continues to thrive in the annals of history is, within a pragmatist framework, whatever continues to be interesting, relevant, useful, and meaningful because it makes a difference – from and for these perspectives. The more of these perspectives we study, the closer we approach what, on Ortega’s view, constitutes the “eternal truth which every period has lived,” because materials initially gathered and framed for pragmatic reasons can later on provide important opportunities for the reflexive analysis of historical knowledge.

Joseph Margolis

Abstract

This paper provides a straightforward argument that demonstrates the irreconcilability of pragmatism and transcendentalism, by way of Darwin’s failure to account for the emergence of the human self or person and the existential and historied import of the human invention and mastery of language. On the Darwinian issue, I examine the implications of Darwin’s having neglected the most important phase of the evolution of Homo sapiens – the invention and mastery of natural language, which account for the self-transformation of the human primate into a self or person (with the acquisition of competences that appear nowhere else in the animal world); and which signify a novel transformation of the evolutionary process itself – the hybrid entwining of biological and cultural forces in the formation of the self. It’s a consequence of the invention of language that accounts for the historied nature of the human form of life. I treat history and historicity as existential constraints on the human form of cognition, which introduces an ineliminable but benign form of skepticism, which I show to be incompatible with Husserl’s transcendentalism and his attempt to accommodate historicity. I take pragmatism to be committed to an existential treatment of history and historicity, in the context of reviewing George Herbert Mead’s analysis of history and historical time. The two arguments converge on the incompatibility of pragmatism and transcendentalism.

Bonnie Sheehey

Abstract

Philosophers generally recognize pragmatism as a philosophy of progress. For many commentators, pragmatism is linked to a notion of historical progress through its embrace of meliorism – a forward-looking philosophy that places hope in the future possibility of improvement. This paper calls pragmatism’s progressivism into question by outlining an alternative account of meliorism in the work of William James. Drawing on his ethical writings from the 1870s and 1880s, I argue that James’s concept of hope does not imply an embrace of historical progress, but remains detached from such a notion precisely insofar as it relies on a non-progressive temporality that encourages a rethinking of historical change. This form of hope is significant, I suggest, for the work of conceptualizing a non-progressive pragmatist approach to history and historiography.

Bruce S. Bennett and Moletlanyi Tshipa

Abstract

The Many-Worlds Interpretation (MWI) is a theory in physics which proposes that, rather than quantum-level events being resolved randomly as according to the Copenhagen Interpretation, the universe constantly divides into different versions or worlds. All physically possible worlds occur, though some outcomes are more likely than others, and therefore all possible histories exist. This paper explores some implications of this for history, especially concerning causation. Unlike counterfactuals, which concern different starting conditions, MWI concerns different outcomes of the same starting conditions. It is argued that analysis of causation needs to take into account the divergence of outcomes and the possibility that we inhabit a less probable world. Another implication of MWI is convergent history: for any given world there will be similar worlds which are the result of different pasts which are, however, more or less probable. MWI can assist in thinking about historical causation and indicates the importance of probabilistic causation.

Georg Gangl

Abstract

In this paper I argue that historiography employs causal narrative explanations just as other historical sciences such as evolutionary biology or paleontology do. There is a logic of explanation common to all these sciences that centers on causal explanation of unique and unrepeatable events. The explanandum of historiography can further be understood as mechanism in the sense developed by Stuart Glennan and others in recent years. However, causal explanation is not the only way historiography relates to the past. Arthur Danto has given us the theoretical tools to differentiate between causal narratives and conceptual colligations, with both playing a pivotal role in historiography even though Danto himself has not expressed that thought clearly.