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I have long been interested in American pragmatism and in its relationship to philosophical idealism. Pragmatism is associated with the thought of Charles Peirce, William James, and John Dewey in the United States while idealism often is associated with Josiah Royce. Many thinkers see pragmatism as a rejection of idealism, a philosophical outlook which came under heavy criticism with the development of pragmatism. Idealism remains in disfavor but has not disappeared. Some thinkers, indeed, have worked and continue to work to bring pragmatism and idealism together.
William Caldwell's 1913 book, "Pragmatism and Idealism" was an early attempt to explore the relationship between these two broad philosophical tendencies and to reconcile them in a way capturing the strengths of each and minimizing their respective weaknesses. I was fortunate to come across this book because I don't recall it referenced in the literature I have read. Caldwell was the Sir William McDonald Professor of Moral Philosophy at McGill University, Montreal.
Caldwell offers a sympathetic treatment of much of pragmatism, which he views primarily through the works of James, Dewey (up to 1913), and the British humanist philosopher, Schiller. He argues eloquently that pragmatism correctly focuses on human life and its betterment rather than on abstractions. He sees pragmatism rightly focused on belief rather than on the quest for certainty as in rationalistic philosophies. Caldwell approves pragmatism's focus on the will and on human purpose rather than simply on intellectualism as in some earlier rationalisms and idealisms.
Caldwell also argues that pragmatism is insufficient standing alone because it is piecemeal and does not adequately consider the nature of reality and of knowledge. He praises pragmatism for its rejection of the correspondence theory of truth and for rejecting as well a subject-object dualism. He argues that pragmatism needs to be deepened by adoption of an idealistic metaphysics which recognizes that there is no object separate from a conscious subject. He believes a new idealism needs to be articulated which also recognizes the anti-intellectualistic insights of pragmatism. Caldwell finds the closest approximation of a combination of pragmatism and idealism in the work, contemporary in his day, of the French philosopher, Henri Bergson, also much admired by William James.
The early chapters of the book discuss the nature of pragmatism and the different emphases in the works of James, Schiller, and Dewey. He discusses pragmatically-influenced movements in France and Germany. Then, Caldwell identifies fundamental aspects of pragmatist thought in ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics and argues for strengths and weaknesses. In his exposition, he characterizes pragmatism as a philosophy of human activity.
In chapter V, the central chapter of the book, Caldwell argues for the weaknesses and incompleteness of pragmatism's view of reality and its theory of truth. He argues that pragmatism requires an idealism and an understanding of the spiritual nature of reality to meet its own goals of understanding human activity and human experience. This was also the approach to pragmatism taken by Royce, who is only discussed at one point in this book, and by subsequent thinkers who try to combine elements of pragmatism and idealism. Caldwell understands philosophical thinking as reflective and as separate from the sciences rather than as a meta-science capturing features of reality broader than those of science. He sees philosophy as a means of understanding life rather than as a separate discipline with its own subject matter, and argues that an idealistic pragmatism best captures this understanding of philosophy.
In the latter chapters of the book, Caldwell explores the relationship of pragmatism to humanism, to American philosophy, and to British neo-Hegelian idealism. I found his discussion of the nature of American society and culture highly insightful with respect to the development of pragmatism. (Caldwell had second thoughts and had contemplated dropping this chapter altogether.) His discussion of neo-Hegelianism focuses on the work of Bernard Bosanquet. Caldwell rejects the intellectualism of Bosanquet's thinking and its apparent disregard for individuals while also drawing parallels between it and the sort of idealistic pragmatism he finds desirable. The final chapter of the book consists of an exposition of the work of Bergson, a complex thinker whom Caldwell reads in an idealistic manner.
The book includes lengthy, detailed footnotes together with appendixes following several chapters, all of which tend to make for a difficult read.
This is an early, little-read book on the relationship between pragmatism and idealism which I found useful. The broad outlines of Caldwell's argument are, I think, still used by those trying to read pragmatism in an idealistic way. The book is also valuable historically in showing an early, informed discussion of pragmatism and how it was seen at the time together with an attempt to combine pragmatism with what was then and what remains an idealism falling into disuse. Still idealism never totally died. It is valuable to consider Caldwell's account.
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