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  An American philosophical tradition that emerged in the late nineteenth century and is associated with John Dewey (1859-1952), William James (1842-1910), George Herbert Mead (1863-1931), and Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914). The movement is perhaps best known for the idea that what counts as knowledge is determined by its usefulness. As James (1987, p. 578) wrote, \'the true is the name of whatever proves itself to be good in the way of belief\'. After enjoying widespread popularity in the first half of the twentieth century, pragmatism fell out of favour after the Second World War following the ascendancy of empirical social science and especially analytical philosophy, a narrowly conceived, often technically recondite form of philosophy concerned with assessing the coherence, consistency and precise meaning of an argument. The publication of Richard Rorty\'s (1979) Philosophy and the mirror of nature revived pragmatism\'s fortunes, however. As an ex-analytical philosopher, Rorty diagnosed with forensic precision the pathology of modern philosophy, prescribing as cure a large dose of American pragmatism, now found in a range of humanities and social sciences. The rehabilitation of pragmatism is also a consequence of the wider interest in post-structuralism and postmodernism, movements with which it shares common interests.

James coined the name pragmatism in 1898 to describe the movement, but there were always strong differences among its proponents. At one point, for example, Peirce minted his own neologism, \'pragmaticism\', to mark off what he was doing from his colleagues. Bernstein (1992, appendix) usefully characterizes pragmatism by five features:

{img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } anti-foundationalism, the belief that there are no secure anchor points either in the world or in the mind that hold and guarantee the permanency of true knowledge; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } fallibilism, the belief that no truth is ever final, and that knowledge should always be subject to further investigation, critical scrutiny, and questioning; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } communal enquiry, the notion that scholarship takes place within a wider community involving trust, conversation, and shared norms and responsibilities; {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } radical contingency, the belief stemming partly from Darwin\'s theory of evolution that change is propelled by chance and accident, that the only certainty is uncertainty (and for this reason humans must always be ready to expect the unexpected, to cultivate a \'reflective intelligence\' as Dewey put it); and {img src=show_image.php?name=2022.gif } \'radical pluralism\', the belief that neither bits of the world nor of philosophy coherently fit together all of piece. Radical pluralism, as James (1977, p. 26) writes, is a \'turbid, muddled, Gothic sort of affair without a sweeping outline and little pictorial nobility\': but for James it is all we have.The rise of analytical philosophy in America from the 1940s brought with it everything that pragmatism formerly shunned — foundationalism, certainty, individual rationality, necessity, and monism. Consequently, pragmatism was pushed, and sometimes shoved aside. After his death Dewey, for example, was regarded by one analytical philosopher as \'a nice old man who hadn\'t the vaguest conception of real philosophical rigor or the nature of a real philosophical problem\' (Gouinlock, 1972, p. xi). Analytical philosophy\'s hold on the profession was relatively short-lived, however, and by the 1980s it was vigorously challenged by a new group of pragmatists including Richard Rorty (1931- ) and Richard Bernstein (1932- ).

Rorty, drawing upon the writings of Dewey and James, seeks, first, to dismantle from the inside out — to deconstruct — the edifice of contemporary analytical philosophy, especially the variant known as realism and, second, to substitute for it a neo-pragmatic alternative which he calls, possibly tongue-in-cheek, \'postmodernist liberal bourgeois irony\'. Very briefly, Rorty argues that the problems of analytical philosophy stem from its appropriation of an inappropriate metaphor, vision or sight or \'occularism\'. The metaphor mistakenly convinced philosophers that it was possible for the mind to mirror the world. In contrast, Rorty, following the pragmatists, argues for a different central metaphor, \'conversation\'. Under this model there are no fixed end points, strict rules, or necessary logics. This is evident by unpacking the terms of Rorty\'s eccentrically labelled alternative: \'postmodernist\', because Rorty doesn\'t believe in the grand meta-narratives of modernism that supposedly make everything commensurable (cf. Grand Theory); \'liberal\' because for the conversation to continue there must be freedom of expression and democracy (thereby echoing Dewey\'s concerns); \'bourgeois\' because Rorty thinks that liberalism has so far only been possible under capitalism; and \'ironic\' because for the conversation to continue we need to affirm certain beliefs even though there are no firm philosophical foundations for them. Here Rorty often quotes Joseph Schumpeter to the effect that although he recognized the relative validity of all of his beliefs he nonetheless stood by them \'unflinchingly\'.

While sympathetic to many of Rorty\'s ideas, Bernstein (1992, ch. 8) is searingly critical of his economic conservatism, and his disengagement from questions of unequal power and resources. In contrast, Bernstein deals with those absences by joining to pragmatism various strands of continental European philosophy, producing what he calls \'the new constellation\' (Bernstein, 1992). An important component within Bernstein\'s mix are poststructural writers such as Foucault and Derrida, and in no small part the renaissance of American pragmatism is a result of its resonance with their concerns.

In geography there have been sporadic but neither consistent nor concerted attempts to draw upon pragmatist writers. Jackson and Smith (1984) utilize Mead\'s more applied prescriptions in their portrayal of social geography; Wescoat (1992) describes the relation between Gilbert White\'s environmental outlook, and particularly Dewey\'s ideas; both Barnes (1996, chs 2 and 5) and Gibson-Graham (1996) make use of Rorty\'s work in countering essentialism in economic geography; and Sunley (1996) takes the ideas of another ex-analytical-philosopher-turned-pragmatist, Hilary Putnam, and puts them to work in a discussion of the relationship between the new institutional economics and economic geography. (TJB)

References Barnes, T.J. 1996: Logics of dislocation: models, metaphors and meanings of economic space. New York: Guilford. Bernstein, R.J. 1992: The new constellation: the ethical political horizons of modernity/postmodernity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Gibson-Graham, J.K. 1996: The end of capitalism (as we knew it). A feminist critique of political economy. Oxford: Blackwell. Gouinlock, J. 1972: John Dewey\'s philosophy of value. New York: Humanities. Jackson, P. and Smith, S.J. 1984: Exploring social geography. London: Allen and Unwin. James, W. 1977: A pluralistic universe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. James, W. 1987: Writings, 1902-1910, ed., B. Kuklick. New York: Library of America. Rorty, R. 1979: Philosophy and the mirror of nature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Sunley, P. 1996: Context in economic geography: the relevance of pragmatism. Progress in Human Geography 20: 338-55. Wescoat, J. 1992: Common themes in the work of Gilbert White and John Dewey: a pragmatic appraisal. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 82: 587-607.

Suggested Reading Barnes (1996). Bernstein (1992).



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