Conduct pragmatism

pressing beyond experientialism and lingualism

Colin Koopman

Debates over the relative priority of experience and language have been among some of the most vexed, but also generative, disputes in pragmatist philosophy over the past few decades. These debates have, however, run into the ground such that both positions find themselves at a definitive standstill. I argue for a rejuvenation of pragmatism by way of moving beyond both the experience option (here represented by Dewey) and the linguistic turn in pragmatism (here represented by Brandom). We can move beyond these two categories, I argue, by resuscitating the categorical conception that has always been at the heart of pragmatism all along: action or, as I prefer to put it, conduct. In this paper, I develop an argument for “conduct pragmatism” on the basis of a return to William James’s earliest statements of pragmatism, statements that indeed occur prior to the official announcement of “pragmatism” in 1898. I draw on a dispute with Charles Sanders Peirce over the best interpretation of pragmatism as well as on a number of James’s early psychological writings from the 1880s leading up to the Principles of Psychology of 1890. These texts definitively establish that the early James was what I call a “conduct pragmatist” well before his radical empiricism facilitated what was only a late turn toward the “experience pragmatism” that would come to impress Dewey and later scholars of classicopragmatism. The early James thus represents, I argue, a promising seed for a new third generation of pragmatism that may find its way beyond the endings of both experientialism and lingualism, as well as their impasses with one another.

Publication details

DOI: 10.4000/ejpap.313

Full citation:

Koopman, C. (2014). Conduct pragmatism: pressing beyond experientialism and lingualism. European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy 6 (2), pp. n/a.

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