A Philosophy of Culture

A Philosophy of Culture: The Scope of Holistic Pragmatism

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    A Philosophy of Culture
    Book Description:

    In this book, one of America's leading philosophers offers a sweeping reconsideration of the philosophy of culture in the twentieth century. Morton White argues that the discipline is much more important than is often recognized, and that his version of holistic pragmatism can accommodate its breadth. Going beyond Quine's dictum that philosophy of science is philosophy enough, White suggests that it should contain the word "culture" in place of "science." He defends the holistic view that scientific belief is tested by experience but that such testing is rightly applied to systems or conjunctions of beliefs, not isolated beliefs. He adds, however, that we test ethical systems by appealing to feelings of moral obligation as well as to sensory experiences.

    In the course of his lucidly written analysis, White treats central issues in the philosophy of science, of religion, of art, of history, of law, of politics, and of morality. While doing so he examines the views of Quine, Tarski, Goodman, and Rawls, and shows how they are related to the approaches of Peirce, James, Duhem, Russell, Dewey, Carnap, and the later Wittgenstein. He also discusses the ideas of the legal philosophers Holmes and Hart from a holistic standpoint.

    White demonstrates how his version of pragmatism bridges the traditional gulf between analytic and synthetic truth as well as that between moral and scientific belief. Indeed, the high point of the book is a brilliant presentation of his view of ethics, based on the idea that our scientific theories face the tribunal of observation whereas our ethical views face the joint tribunal of observation and moral feeling. Scholars and students of the history of ideas and of philosophy will welcomeA Philosophy of Cultureas the highly finished product of more than sixty years of philosophical reflection by an important thinker.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2535-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Prologue
    (pp. ix-xviii)
    Morton White

    I begin this book by making some remarks on how I came to write it, hoping that they will interest the reader and help clarify my aim in writing it. I began my serious philosophical thinking under the influence of several major currents of thought, among them the pragmatism of John Dewey and the analytic philosophy of G. E. Moore. I found Moore a persuasive advocate of the view that the philosopher should analyze extralinguistic concepts, attributes, or propositions, and arrive at truths that are analytic and not dependent on experience for their support; but I soon discovered that Moore...

  4. I Holistic Pragmatism and the Philosophy of Culture
    (pp. 1-6)

    My purpose in this book is to present A philosophical discussion of the main elements of civilization or culture such as science, law, religion, politics, art, and history, a discussion in which I expound and defend a holistic, empirical, and pragmatic approach. Around the beginning of the twentieth century, William James and John Dewey prepared the way for pragmatic inquiry into the elements of culture that was further developed in the second half of the century by W. V. Quine’s writings on the method of logic and the natural sciences, by Nelson Goodman’s work in the philosophy of art, by...

  5. II Williams James: Psychologist and Philosopher of Religion
    (pp. 7-23)

    William james and john dewey were the first and foremost twentieth-century American philosophers of culture. When James wrote on religion and Dewey on art, they prepared the way for later philosophers who treated religion, art, science, law, history, and politics empirically. They held that philosophy is a capacious discipline that goes beyond the philosophy of science, and they tried—not always successfully—to surrender the idea that philosophical truth is arrived at by the analysis of abstract entities such as attributes and propositions. Although James and Dewey adumbrated a philosophy that completely rejected rationalism, they did not reach one. That...

  6. III John Dewey’s Philosophy of Art
    (pp. 24-43)

    Like william james, his revered predecessor in the history of pragmatism, John Dewey thought that philosophy was much more than philosophy of natural science. He respected and valued science, he tried to describe its method, he used it in defending many of his beliefs, and he thought that using it in what he called political technology would help solve many of our social problems. But Dewey did not think science is the only part of culture that a philosopher could and should examine; like James, he cast his net more widely. He wrote on history, education, religion, art, and law;...

  7. IV The Dualisms of Earlier Pragmatism
    (pp. 44-53)

    My aim in calling attention to dewey's lapses into rationalism was to show that one of rationalism’s most vehement critics may well have succumbed to it. For if one thinks of pragmatism as the doctrine originated by Charles Peirce, advocated by James, applied by Dewey, and adopted to some extent by C. I. Lewis and W. V. Quine, one may safely say that Dewey alone held that all beliefs, including ethical ones, may be tested by appealing to the normal five senses. Yet Dewey not only succumbed to rationalism in his philosophy of science but, as we shall see, tried unsuccessfully...

  8. V Early Epistemological Holism and the Dualisms of Logical Empiricism
    (pp. 54-65)

    Pierre duhem was a physicist and philosopher of science who is not as well known as some of the philosophers I have discussed so far, but he prepared the way for the abandonment of rationalism and the emergence of methodological monism as a theory of knowledge. Although Duhem did not include mathematics in the system tested by experience, his holism as applied to physics paved the way for others who extended it to beliefs in logic, in metaphysics, and in ethics. In 1904 and 1905, Duhem advanced his philosophical views in articles that he later brought together in his influential...

  9. VI Holistic Pragmatism and Natural Science: Tarski and Quine
    (pp. 66-76)

    Having described some of the roots of holistic pragmatism and having also shown how it avoids the remnants of rationalism in the philosophies of Hume, Mill, James, Dewey, and Carnap, I want to show in the following chapters how it encourages the view that philosophy of art, of religion, of morality, or of other elements of culture is in great measure a discipline that is epistemically coordinate with philosophy of natural science. Although early advocates of holistic pragmatism such as Quine and Tarski were interested primarily in the philosophy of mathematics and natural science, I think we may regard studies...

  10. VII Holistic Pragmatism and the Philosophy of History
    (pp. 77-107)

    Although the origin of holistic pragmatism is often located in the writings of Duhem, it is fair to say that a germ of it is present in the so-called regularity or covering law theory of explanation espoused much earlier by Hume and Mill. As we have seen, one of the main tenets of holistic pragmatism is that scientists test conjunctions of statements rather than isolated statements, whereas the main tenet of the regularity theory is that a singular causal or explanatory statement that Socrates died because he drank hemlock is established by showing that everyone who drinks hemlock soon dies,...

  11. VIII Philosophy of Art as Philosophy of Language: Nelson Goodman
    (pp. 108-125)

    At the beginning of the twentieth century, American philosophers such as James, Royce, Santayana, and Dewey wrote about religion, science, art, education, history, and politics; but as the century wore on, younger philosophers focused more narrowly on natural science, on logic, and on ordinary language under the influence of Carnap’s view that philosophy is neither more nor less than the logical analysis of science or of G. E. Moore’s view that a major task of philosophy is to clarify the meanings of ordinary words such as “see,” “true,” and “good.” Thus Moore once dismissed Santayana’s studyThe Life of Reason...

  12. IX Rule, Ruling, and Prediction in the Law Hart v. Holmes
    (pp. 126-152)

    Historians of philosophy often neglect the holistic strain in James’s philosophy of science as well as an interesting though brief statement in hisPragmatismin which he applies his holism to the law. In Lecture VII he says that scientific truth grafts itself on previous truth—that is, on the older stock of truths to which he had referred in an earlier lecture—and it modifies previous truth in the process. He then adds that law similarly grafts itself on previous law. “Given previous law and a novel case,” James notes, “and the judge will twist them into fresh law,”...

  13. X Holistic Pragmatism, Ethics, and Rawls’s Theory of Justice
    (pp. 153-177)

    So far i have discussed a number of questions about religion, art, science, history, and law as treated by philosophers who abandoned classical rationalism in favor of holistic pragmatism, but I have not discussed the impact of holism on ethical theory at length. Therefore I want to make a case for applying holistic pragmatism to moral philosophy in a manner not favored by Quine but followed to a considerable degree by John Rawls in his work on justice. Before doing so, however, I shall add something to my earlier remarks on the history of applying holistic pragmatism to science in...

  14. XI Philosophy as Philosophy of Culture
    (pp. 178-188)

    The epistemologist who accepts holistic pragmatism may initially defend it by empirically observing the behavior of scientists, but he may later come to regard it as a rule rather than a descriptive statement. When supporting it empirically, he may treat it as an experimenter treats the statement “All gases expand in accordance with Boyle’s Law”—that is, by deducing consequences from “All scientists test their hypotheses in accordance with holistic pragmatism” in order to see whether it is confirmed or disconfirmed by experience of how scientists do their testing. In that case, when faced with a critic’s putative counterexample to...

  15. Index
    (pp. 189-194)