Beyond Pragmatism: A Critical Account of William James and Limitations of Pragmatism

In 2000, as an honors requirement for the Philosophy Department at Loyola Marymount University, I authored a Senior Thesis on the topic of William James and the American born philosophy of Pragmatism. I dug up my thesis this weekend and thought I’d post my introduction for fun. At the time, it was the most significant intellectual undertaking I’d ever embarked upon. It also embodied my general exhaustion with the study of philosophy as an abstract study of the human condition. The beauty of Pragmatism, as I discovered in 2000, is it believes deeply in the value of action. Here’s my excerpt:

Pragmatism acts as ac account of human thought, a theory on meaning and a theory of truth. The fundamental purpose of pragmatism is to shift us away from inquiry and move thought toward action. It is interested in the instrumental value of ideas and beliefs. It does away with “useless” inquiry and “interminable” argument. Such inquiry that exists solely in the abstract or that has no practical value if believed or not, is the antagonist of pragmatism. Inquiry then, has purpose only to the extent that it provides the means to a greater end. It assists us at arriving at some meaning. At the highest level, it frees us from the circular metaphysical debate that leaves us trapped in inquiry. With pragmatism, we settle on questions and ideas based upon pragmatic worth. The pragmatic scholar, Louis Menand, used the following analogy to explain pragmatism: “We wake up one morning and find ourselves in a new place, and then we a build a ladder to explain how we got there. The pragmatist is the person who asks whether this is a good place to be. The non pragmatist is the person who admires the ladder” (Menand, xxxiv).

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