RE: [xmca] RE: CSP v James - pragmat(ic)ism v positivism RE: Zo-peds, roads, and Senseis

From: Michael Glassman (
Date: Wed Dec 27 2006 - 07:01:15 PST

I think there is an alternative interpretation to what James wrote - although again I realize that perhaps I am using history again as an instrument to prove my point. At the time James wrote that last paragraph I think he knew he was sick. He was worried about Pragmatism continuing as a philosophy and perspective once he died. This was in the middle of a tremendous power struggle surrounding the "Theory of Mind" in the United States and its many tentacles (spreading out in to not only psychology and education, but also sociology and anthropology). G. Stanley Hall, James' one time student, was attempting to coalesce the field around what I see as a much more cynical set of ideas - steeped in eugenics and using Galton and Pearson's number crunching to make realist assumptions (again, this is my opinion). James was looking to put Pragmatism not only in to good, but powerful hands - pass on the mantle as it were. Kind of an unPragmatic thing to do. Two of the people he wrote to along these lines was Ferdinand Schilling (who was very well known at the time) - and John Dewey (who was about to emerge as one of the most important philosophers of the age). At the time Peirce was obscure and going nowhere - and many people didn't like him. I see this as James handing down the mantle of Pragmatism to these two men - and in the end forgetting about Peirce (it was only later - after both their deaths - that Peirce's ideas became so important). Just a side note - Hall, who as I said was James' student, was upset how James seemed to favor Dewey. He felt he should have James' mantle, even though he was anything but a Pragmatist, based on succession. Doubly upsetting was the fact that Hall had been one of Dewey's teachers at Johns Hopkins. Yet, as Dewey's star ascended, Hall was careful to mention Dewey as a colleague and student in his autobiography, and did not even mention James. Academics - sigh.


From: on behalf of Tony Whitson
Sent: Tue 12/26/2006 6:06 PM
To: 'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'
Subject: [xmca] RE: CSP v James - pragmat(ic)ism v positivism RE: Zo-peds,roads, and Senseis


In James's book _The Meaning of Truth_, chapter 9 on "The Meaning of the
Word 'Truth'" ends with this paragraph:
The foregoing statements reproduce the essential content of the lecture on
Truth in my book Pragmatism. Schiller's doctrine of 'humanism,' Dewey's
'Studies in logical theory,' and my own 'radical empiricism,' all involve
this general notion of truth as 'working,' either actual or conceivable. But
they envelop it as only one detail in the midst of much wider theories that
aim eventually at determining the notion of what 'reality' at large is in
its ultimate nature and constitution.

This was 6 years after Peirce wrote: 'I proposed that the word "pragmatism"
should hereafter be used somewhat loosely to signify affiliation with
Schiller, James, Dewey, Royce, and the rest of us.' It seems to me that the
absence of CSP from James's paragraph suggests some hesitation in claiming
the same sort of rough equivalence that James was claiming for himself and

I would say that from a Peircean point of view, it's not possible to even
ask about the truth of any claim without an idea about the meaning of that
claim. The question of meaning is prior to the question of truth. CSP's
pragmaticism was concerned with the problematics of meaning, which is a
different concern from what James addressed in his pragmatic theory of
truth. Whether CSP would agree or not with things that James said about
truth, that's a different matter that does not diminish the prior difference
in what these two theories are about.

To talk about "warranted assertability" is to talk about assertable
propositions. As a logician, CSP did write about inductive logic as well as
deductive logic; and in doing so he had things to say about the truth value
of deductive and inductive inferences. But it was his realization of the
inadequacy of these accounts of logic that led him to semeiotic, as the
general logic of the real world, in contrast to the restricted fields of
more formalizable logic as traditionally studied by philosophers. His
treatment of abduction, beyond induction and deduction, is just one step.

As a theory of meaning, pragmaticism is not limited to thoughts or ideas
that are propositionally assertable. Even in the case of signs that do have
propositional import, it is generally (in natural semiosis, outside of
artificial formal systems) reductive to treat them as if their meaning were
limited to only their propositional import. Pragmaticism provides a way of
seeing and signifying meaning beyond the propositional.

The "silhouette" trope in my paper is directly addressed to the ways that
multiple dimensions of meaning get reduced in our discursive practices in
and about education, as instantiated by the treatment of what students learn
as if their learning consists only of the kinds of propositional information
that is the focus of the tests we give them. But such propositions are not
the real knowledge of what we would have them understand. They are at best
merely the shadows, or the silhouettes, of learning.

What do you think?

From: [] On
Behalf Of Michael Glassman
Sent: Tuesday, December 26, 2006 2:27 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: RE: CSP v James;pragmat(ic)ism v positivism RE: [xmca] Zo-peds,
roads, and Senseis

But Tony,
Don't you think that the idea that Peirce was concerned with meaning and not
with truth is belied by his work in inductive logic - and the idea that the
only way to recognize any truth is to keep proving its worth in experiment
after experiment, where the the truth of the object is proven by the
consequences of that action. I think Dewey would later take this idea and
adjust it as warranted assertability. But it seems to me an inductive logic
presupposes a version of truth (though I think that while James, Peirce and
Dewey were working on a truth that was logical, they were not working on a
truth that was positivist in any way.) I think James laid out this theory
of truth in his lecture - "Philosophical Conceptions and Practical Results"
"The ultimate test for us of what a truth means is indeed the conduct it
dictates or inspires. But it inspires that conduct because if first
foretells some particular turn to our experience which shall call for just
that conduct from us. And I should prefer to express Peirce's principle by
saying that the effective meaning of any philosophic proposition can always
be brought down to some particular consequence, in our future practical
experience, whether active or passive; the point lying in the fact that the
experience must be particular, than in the fact that is must be active."
Interestingly I see Skinner making almost the exact same argument in Walden
Two, so I see him as a direct descendent of James.
I think this short passage brings what Dewey meant by consequence in to bold
relief, although again, I believe he tied truth more closely to particular
action through experimentation of the individual. James it seems to me was
looking at this more from the perspective of an outside observer watching a
pluralistic world unfold before him - and this seems to be at least one key
difference between James and Dewey (did anybody ever hear the idea that
Castle (I think) in Walden Two is supposed to represent Dewey? I never
heard this but it is sort of a conclusion my students and I came to after
reading it just after Dewey). But do you think that James in
misinterpreting Peirce here? Or is meaning and truth being tied together in
an inductive logic?

From: on behalf of Tony Whitson
Sent: Tue 12/26/2006 12:57 PM
To: 'eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity'
Subject: CSP v James;pragmat(ic)ism v positivism RE: [xmca] Zo-peds, roads,
and Senseis
A couple complications in this thread can be sorted out by clarifying the
difference between Peirce and James, and the difference (I would argue, the
diametric opposition) between positivism and pragmatism (Peirce's approach,

In an earlier message, Mike Cole wrote:
"I picked out that quotation because it seemed to me to point precisely to
the Skinnerian program's underlying logic and roots in pragmatism."
I'm not sure what the particular quotation is that Mike's referring to, but
it's in the context of James on pragmatism and experimentalism, and the
Skinner reference ties in with positivist appropriations of "pragmatism."
    The most direct and explicit effort to join positivism and pragmatism
was made by Charles Morris. Morris's supposed exposition of Peirce is very
easy reading that does not challenge prior understanding in any fundamental
way, so generations of scholars in fields such as communication and rhetoric
formed their impression of Peirce on the basis of Morris's writing. As Dewey
and Bentley showed, however, Morris had no understanding of Peirce.
    With that lack of understanding, Morris actually approached Carnap and
others in his attempt to build on what he saw as the natural affinity
between the two traditions. Carnap was no more impressed than Dewey was by
Morris's ideas. Nonetheless, there is a lineage of thinking that could be
reflected in what Mike sees in Skinner. For example: the Wikipedia article
on Operationalism ("Operational definition" - Percy Bridgman) has just these
three cross-reference entries at the bottom of the article:
See also
    * Pragmatic maxim
    * Pragmaticism
    * Pragmatism
-- even though none of those terms occurs in the article itself.

A central thesis of my Silhouette paper is that an understanding of meaning
that's informed by semiotic pragmatism is directly antithetical to
positivism -- I argue, actually, that positivism itself is best understood
as ignorance of the basic nature of meaning, as understood through
semiotics. (My other major thesis in the paper is the importance of this
difference for education.) I include a little of Peirce explicitly
commenting on positivism, but more important, I think, are the principles
discussed by CSP that would make it quite impossible to think that a
Skinnerian program could deal with phenomena of meaningful semiosis.

How this pertains to James, I do not know, since I've never read much of
James. << Michael Glassman's interesting post on James, Peirce, Mead, etc.
actually arrived while I was writing that last sentence. >> In the context
of this thread, however, I think it is important to note the basic
difference between CSP and James on "pragmatism," which is easier to pin
down than with Dewey, who may have had his own third way.

We can focus on the first two sentences from the Dewey excerpt Michael
posted earlier in this thread:
Just to take one short section of Quest for Certainty and unpack it,
>From Chapter 5
"The test of ideas, of thinking generally, is found in the consequences of
the acts to which the ideas lead, that is in the new arrangements of things
which are brought into existence. Such is the unequivocal evidence as to
the worth of ideas which is derived from observing their position and rule
in experimental knowing."

CSP and James would also have said that the test of ideas is found in their
consequences, but they were talking about different things. James propounded
a "pragmatic" theory of TRUTH -- so consequences provide a test for truth.
The "pragmatism" formulated by CSP was not a theory of truth, it was a
theory of MEANING -- so the meaning of ideas is to be found in their
consequences. In the quotation above, Dewey writes of "evidence as to the
worth of ideas," which may be something else, besides either truth or

In his 1905 paper titled "What pragmatism is," Peirce explained:
//// (referring to himself, "the writer," in the 3d person):
His word "pragmatism" has gained general recognition in a generalized sense
that seems to argue power of growth and vitality. The famed psychologist,
James, first took it up, seeing that his "radical empiricism" substantially
answered to the writer's definition of pragmatism, albeit with a certain
difference in the point of view. ... But at present, the word begins to be
met with occasionally in the literary journals, where it gets abused in the
merciless way that words have to expect when they fall into literary
clutches. Sometimes the manners of the British have effloresced in scolding
at the word as ill-chosen -- ill-chosen, that is, to express some meaning
that it was rather designed to exclude. So then, the writer, finding his
bantling "pragmatism" so promoted, feels that it is time to kiss his child
good-by and relinquish it to its higher destiny; while to serve the precise
purpose of expressing the original definition, he begs to announce the birth
of the word "pragmaticism," which is ugly enough to be safe from kidnappers.

Later that year in a letter CSP summarized his point in the Monist article:
'... I proposed that the word "pragmatism" should hereafter be used somewhat
loosely to signify affiliation with Schiller, James, Dewey, Royce, and the
rest of us, while the particular doctrine which I invented the word to
denote ... should be called "pragmaticism." The extra syllable will indicate
the narrower meaning.'

I don't know about James or Dewey, but I feel confident offering this
argument for the CSP approach against any positivist appropriation:

Decisively, for CSP, meaning is NOT any kind of positive content. MEANING is
not CONTENT, but POTENTIATION. The meaning of any sign (i.e., of an idea, a
way of thinking, a message, or communication, or learned behavior, or
anything that can be interpreted as a meaningful sign) is to be found in the
interpretations that the sign potentiates.

It seems to me that a pragmatic theory of truth is less radical than CSP's
pragmatic theory of meaning, since a pragmatic test for truth could still be
a test for the truth of a proposition, still construed as having meaning as
a positive propositional content. Pragmatism of that kind may indeed be
conducive to developments such as Bridgman's operationalism, or to Skinner's

What do you think?

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On
Behalf Of Andy Blunden
Sent: Tuesday, December 26, 2006 2:17 AM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] Zo-peds, roads, and Senseis

Matt, I have a lot of respect for Dewey, and I should probably have spoken
more cautiously. I see Cultural-Historical Activity Theory as to a great
extent a Russian-American creation, not just Russian. The excerpt kind of
typified one of the great weaknesses of American Pragmatism - not
particularly Dewey himself. And of course as you say, it is very much a
part of that American tradition that ideas are valid only within the
context of some real problem, not in themselves, and this is an important

I don't understand what you mean though by "a problem is not solved by
intellectual or authoritative decision". Who says it is? Do you mean
problems are solved *practically*?

Michael: is "radical empiricism" the same as "pragmatism"?

At 07:48 PM 25/12/2006 -0500, you wrote:
>I think Michael has exactly the right thing to say, here. Andy would
>have Dewey dead to rights if we treat him as speaking apart from
>situations and problems. But we have to remember that, for Dewey (and
>I think, to a lesser degree of clarity, in the other American
>pragmatists), all thinking happens in a context that is to some degree
>non-intellectual. So, a problem is not just "thought up," it is felt,
>it is existential, it is a real quality or feature of the situation of
>organism-environment(-culture) interaction. And a problem is not
>solved by intellectual or authoritative decision (though many have
>tried to do so, most unfortunately in the case of some key
>socio-political problems), it requires a change in the situation that
>removes the problematicity (contradictions?).
>On 12/24/06, Michael Glassman <> wrote:
>>This sort of talks to Pragmatism's reliance on experimentalism. I found
>>it interesting that David Backhurst used the term radical empiricism to
>>describe the more liberal aspects of Lenin, because of course James
>>termed his theoretical approach radical empiricism. The idea being you
>>can only know what you do know from experimentation - and understanding
>>the consequences comes from experimentation in particular
>>situations. You determine what the problem is, you determine what the
>>problem would look like if it was solved (in a very concrete manner), and
>>you see if you achieved that end-in-view. Very concrete and very much
>>attached to the situation. I believe that is what Dewey is talking about
>>when he mentions consequences - the only issue is whether you have
>>achieved a solution to the problem - if not, you go back and do another
>>From: on behalf of Andy Blunden
>>Sent: Sun 12/24/2006 6:01 PM
>>To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
>>Subject: RE: [xmca] Zo-peds, roads, and Senseis
>>At 11:55 AM 24/12/2006 -0500, you wrote:
>> >... >From Chapter 5 [Dewey]
>> > "The test of ideas, of thinking generally, is found in the
>> > of the acts to which the ideas lead, that is in the new arrangements of
>> > things which are brought into existence. Such is the unequivocal
>> > evidence as to the worth of ideas which is derived from observing their
>> > position and rule in experimental knowing. But tradition makes the
>> > of ideas to be their agreement with some antecedent [i.e. already
>> > existing] state of things. This change of outlook and standard from
>> > precedes to what comes after, from the retrospective to the
>> > from antecedents to consequences, is extremely hard to accomplish.
>> > when the physical sciences describe objects and the world as being such
>> > and such, it is thought that the description is of reality as it exists
>> > in itself."
>>It seems to me that the Achilles' heel of American Pragmatism is how it
>>(and Dewey in the above passage) reduce the relation between consciousness
>>and activity to: "The test of ideas, of thinking generally, is found in
>>consequences of the acts to which the ideas lead." This overlooks the fact
>>that it is by no means given exactly what these consequences are, at what
>>time consequences are deemed to have been realised, for whom they are
>>effective, and from the standpoint of what system of activity they are
>>assessed; all of which refers back to the very idea which is supposed to
>>tested in its consequences. One can equally say: "The test of the
>>consequences of an act is the ideas, and thinking generally, by which they
>>were brought about."
>>Fascinating and important as Dewey is, I prefer Marx.
>>xmca mailing list
>>xmca mailing list
>Matt Brown (
>Philosophy Graduate Student, UCSD
>Web: <>
>xmca mailing list

  Andy Blunden : tel (H) +61 3 9380 9435, AIM
identity: AndyMarxists mobile 0409 358 651

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