Pragmatism | Study Guide

William James

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Pragmatism | Preface | Summary



The lectures in this volume were first delivered at the Lowell Institute in Boston at the end of 1906 and later at Columbia University in New York in early 1907. William James informs the reader that they are printed as delivered, "without development or notes." He notes that the pragmatic movement has blossomed in many countries, and in his lectures he seeks to present a unified picture of the movement while avoiding minor disagreements among the like-minded. For readers who want more information, the author points to articles written by John Dewey and essays written by Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller. Dewey and Schiller are the other two leading proponents of the pragmatic movement. James also mentions the Italian pragmatist Giovanni Papini, along with some French thinkers in the pragmatic camp.


James provides the preface to communicate to readers the purpose of his book. He wishes to provide a general introduction to the philosophy of pragmatism, which had gained significant attention by 1907, the publication date for these lectures. John Dewey, a fellow American pragmatist, is acknowledged by James in this preface and is also mentioned several times in the lectures, since he made significant contributions to this body of thought. Similarly, the German-British philosopher Ferdinand Canning Scott Schiller is acknowledged and also referenced several times in the lectures. Although Schiller identified himself as a humanist, his philosophy shared many similarities with pragmatism.

Essentially, James's work is a product of deduction with several hypothetical examples, but in it he argues that deduction is useless, and often baseless, without successful practical application. By referencing numerous philosophers, James establishes credibility for his ideas.

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