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Pragmatist Politics

Pragmatist Politics: Making the Case for Liberal Democracy

John McGowan
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Pragmatist Politics
    Book Description:

    John McGowan suggests that, in our current age of cynicism, the time is right to take a fresh look at pragmatism, the philosophy of American democracy. In Pragmatist Politics, the combination of pragmatism and comedy takes us on a wide-ranging exploration of what American politics—and by extension American life—could actually be like if it truly reflected American values.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8253-9
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. A Note on References
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: Philosophy and Democracy
    (pp. xi-xxxii)

    Politics is the art of the possible. And a pragmatist, in everyday parlance, is someone ready to jettison prior convictions or commitments to get something accomplished. Neither the common saying about politics nor the common understanding of the pragmatist is meant as high praise. At best, they reflect resigned acceptance that the best is often deemed impossible, and thus getting something done is respectable in many cases, albeit admirable only rarely. The taint of the ideal haunts actual achievements.

    Pragmatism as the name of a philosophical movement stands in a complex relationship to the ordinary language meaning of pragmatist. The...

  5. 1. The Philosophy of Possibility
    (pp. 1-48)

    For a philosophy insistent upon keeping its eyes firmly on the future, pragmatism has an alarmingly wide range of creation stories: the Metaphysical Club of the 1870s, Peirce’s banishment of Cartesian doubt and enunciation of the pragmatic maxim, and Dewey’s abandonment of Hegel for Darwin in his 1896 essay “The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology” among them.¹ But William James’s famous diary entry of April 30, 1870, best captures my desire to present pragmatism in this chapter as the philosophy of possibility. Depressed in the aftermath of his cousin Minnie Temple’s death, James wrote: “I think that yesterday was a...

  6. 2. Is Progress Possible?
    (pp. 49-78)

    Nowhere do the pragmatist founders seem less our contemporaries than in their belief in progress. Politically, James and Dewey were aligned with a progressivist movement that worked to bring American democracy to full fruition. Philosophically, Peirce, James, and Dewey mostly adhered to the positivist faith in science’s ability to improve human life, a faith they derived from Auguste Comte and John Stuart Mill. In deploying the account of possibility from the previous chapter to reconstruct a convincing account of progress in this chapter, I wonder if it is not a matter of plausible arguments but of shadowing forth a new...

  7. 3. The Democratic Ethos
    (pp. 79-118)

    It is time to move from the tight focus on James and Dewey to pursue a vision of a possible liberal democracy in the spirit of their work. The next three chapters follow Dewey in thinking of democracy as “a moral idea” and a “way of life.” So I do not attend here to institutional and procedural considerations pertinent to liberal democracy, which is not to deny their crucial importance. They are just not the questions I want to pursue in this text. Instead, I consider the intimate connection between politics and morality, where both are understood as efforts to...

  8. 4. Human Rights
    (pp. 119-148)

    The interactional pragmatic account of morals described in the last chapter also provides the core elements of a pragmatist theory of rights. But it is worth spending some time here on rights because the topic raises a number of interesting problems and, thus, offers an opportunity to consider the resources pragmatism affords for addressing those problems. In the broadest sense, rights, for the pragmatist, pertain to thetermsof our relationships with others and with the ways those terms are produced, articulated, adjudicated, and enforced. For clarity’s sake, we can start with Maurice Cranston’s influential definition of rights (although what...

  9. 5. Liberal Democracy as Secular Comedy
    (pp. 149-186)

    To be schematic about it, comedy presents a world in which human desires are satisfied, while tragedy tells us, in Nietzsche’s words, that there is a “contradiction” between human needs and what the world will afford us.¹ For Northrop Frye, “tragedy seems to lead up to an epiphany of law, of that which is and must be…. [T]he overwhelming majority of tragedies do leave us with a sense of the supremacy of impersonal power and of the limitations of human effort.”² Not surprisingly, then, the connection of tragedy with Necessity or Fate has led various writers to associate comedy with...

  10. Appendix: Martha Nussbaum’s List of “Central Human Functional Capabilities”
    (pp. 187-188)
  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 189-192)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 193-224)
  13. Index
    (pp. 225-231)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 232-232)