History and Philosophy Of Science | American Philosophy of Science from the 1830s to the 1930s: The Formation of a Pragmatic American Philosophy of Science
X123 | 8121 | Kyla Dennedy

Perhaps the time is already come … when the sluggard intellect of
this continent will look from under its iron lids and fill the
postponed expectation of the world with something better …  Our day
of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other
lands, draws to a close.  (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

This claim that American intellectuals were about to forge their own
unique and fruitful scholarly programmes and contributions appears
near the beginning of Emerson’s 1837 oration “The American
Scholar.”  By the early years of the 20th century, we see Emerson’s
hope of a fruitful and unique scholarly programme exemplified in the
work of the American pragmatists.  Pragmatism is a collection of
philosophical programmes which are concerned with a variety of
topics which encompass the scientific, the social, the political,
and the moral, i.e., all areas of traditional philosophy.  In this
course we will concentrate on the writings of the pragmatists which
are focussed on those areas relevant to the philosophy of science,
in particular topics such as realism vs. idealism, empiricism,
knowledge, truth, method of inquiry, and the status of science.

We will begin with readings from Alexis de Tocqueville and Ralph
Waldo Emerson which will give us a sense of the intellectual
climate, aspirations, and philosophical concerns of the 1830s and
1840s in order to set the scene for the developments of the
pragmatists, which will be the main focus of the course.  Among the
pragmatists, we will concentrate on the following figures: Charles
Sanders Peirce, William James, John Dewey, and to a lesser extent,
George Herbert Mead and Clarence Irving Lewis, and in particular we
will attempt to determine the views and contributions of these
philosophers on topics important to the philosophy of science.  We
will end the course with a consideration of the state of American
philosophy of science (pragmatism) in the 1930s as it prepared to
meet the diaspora of European philosophers of science (in particular
the logical empiricists) fleeing Fascism.  Ernest Nagel’s essay on
analytic philosophy in Europe will provide us with a sense of the
philosophers and their philosophical commitments and tenets which
were about to be transplanted to American soil, and we will discuss
what this may mean (and indeed did mean) for pragmatism as the
predominant philosophy of science in America.


Thayer, H.S. (ed.). Pragmatism: The Classic Writings. Hackett, 1982.
ISBN 0915145375.

2nd 8 WEEKS