Pragmatism

An attempt to avoid Spencerian determinism and Hegelian metaphysics. It was born in late nineteenth-century America and stands as that nation's greatest contribution to Western philosophy. Combining empiricism with evolutionism's belief in an unfinished universe, it was given varied forms by its chief exponents-Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), William James,* and John Dewey (1859-1952). Peirce's “pragmaticism,” for example, was supposed to prevent the alleged mystical, individualistic approach of James. Dewey, in turn, created an “instrumentalism” to apply evolutionary science to democratic society's problems; he defined ideas as plans for action, and truth as that which best controlled the conditions and consequences of experience at any given moment. Often confused with expediency, pragmatism was an optimistic philosophical method which rejected dualism, stressed life's incompleteness and morality's relativity, and trusted the scientific method to cure every aspect of life.