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Main Traits of Pragmatism

Pragmatism is a philosophical movement which claims that the meaning of a proposition is to be found in the practical consequences of accepting it, and that unpractical ideas are to be rejected. Pragmatism originated in the United States during the latter quarter of the nineteenth century. The late 19th-century American philosophers Charles Sanders Peirce and William James were its co-founders, and it was later developed by John Dewey as instrumentalism. It has significantly influenced non-philosophers — notably in the fields of law, education, politics, sociology, psychology, and literary criticism.

Pragmatism was founded in the spirit of finding a scientific concept of truth, which is not dependent on either personal insight or reference to some metaphysical realm. The truth of a statement should be judged by the effect it has on our actions. The core of pragmatism was the pragmatist maxim, a rule for clarifying the contents of hypotheses by tracing their ‘practical consequences’. In the work of Peirce and James, the most influential application of the pragmatist maxim was to the concept of truth. Peirce and James conceptualised final truth as that which would be established only by the future, final settlement of all opinion. Like postmodern neo-pragmatist Richard Rorty, many are convinced that Pragmatism asserts that the truth of beliefs does not consist in their correspondence with reality, but in their usefulness and efficacy.

The third major figure in the classical pragmatist pantheon is John Dewey (1859-1952), whose writings had considerable impact on American intellectual life for a half-century. After Dewey, however, pragmatism lost much of its momentum. The influence of pragmatism declined during the first two thirds of the twentieth century. Since the 1970s there has been a recent resurgence of interest in pragmatism. Thinkers in the pragmatist tradition have included George Santayana, W.V.O. Quine and C.I. Lewis. While the best-known and most controversial of these so-called “neo-pragmatists” is Richard Rorty, the following contemporary philosophers are often considered to be pragmatists: John Lachs, Donald Davidson, Hilary Putnam, Robert Brandom, Nicholas Rescher, Jürgen Habermas, Susan Haack, Robert Brandom, and Cornel West developing philosophical views that represent later stages of the pragmatist tradition.




Phenomenology is commonly understood in either of two ways: as a disciplinary field in philosophy, or as a movement in the history of philosophy.

The discipline of phenomenology may be defined initially as the study of structures of experience, or consciousness. Literally, phenomenology is the study of “phenomena”: appearances of things, or things as they appear in our experience, or the ways we experience things, thus the meanings things have in our experience. Phenomenology studies conscious experience as experienced from the subjective or first person point of view. This field of philosophy is to be distinguished from, and related to, the other main fields of philosophy: ontology (the study of being or what is), epistemology (the study of knowledge), logic (the study of valid reasoning), ethics (the study of right and wrong action), etc.

The historical movement of phenomenology is the philosophical tradition launched in the first half of the 20th century by Edmund Husserl, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Jean-Paul Sartre, et al. In that movement, the discipline of phenomenology was prized as the proper foundation of all philosophy — as opposed to ethics or metaphysics or epistemology. The methods and characterization of the discipline were widely debated by Husserl and his successors, and these debates continue to the present day.

Basically, phenomenology studies the structure of various types of experience ranging from perception, thought, memory, imagination, emotion, desire, and volition to bodily awareness, embodied action, and social activity, including linguistic activity. The structure of these forms of experience typically involves what Husserl called “intentionality”. According to classical Husserlian phenomenology, our experience is directed toward — represents or “intends” — things only through particular concepts, thoughts, ideas, images, etc. These make up the meaning or content of a given experience, and are distinct from the things they present or mean.

Edmund Husserl's phenomenology was an attempt to lay the foundations to the structure of conscious experience in general. An important part of Husserl's phenomenological project was to show that all conscious acts are directed at or about objective content, a feature that Husserl called intentionality. In the first part of his two-volume work, the Logical Investigations (1901), he launched an extended attack on psychologism. In the second part, he began to develop the technique of descriptive phenomenology, with the aim of showing how objective judgments are indeed grounded in conscious experience.

He also developed the method further in Ideas (1913) as transcendental phenomenology. Husserl published only a few works in his lifetime, which treat phenomenology mainly in abstract methodological terms; but he left an enormous quantity of unpublished concrete analyses.

Phenomenology later achieved international fame through the work of such philosophers as Martin Heidegger (formerly Husserl's research assistant), Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Jean-Paul Sartre. Indeed, through the work of Heidegger and Sartre, Husserl's focus on subjective experience influenced aspects of existentialism.



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