Monday, March 19, 2012

Pragmatism and Phenomenology: A Reconciliation

This is the introduction to a conference paper that I will be giving at the New Mexico-West Texas conference this weekend.

Pragmatism and Phenomenology: A Reconciliation 
            Scott Aikin in his 2006 article, "Pragmatism, Naturalism, and Phenomenology" argues that pragmatism and phenomenology are incompatible.  Pragmatic naturalism is incompatible with phenomenology's anti-naturalism.  Therefore, pragmatists trying to appropriate insights from phenomenology encounter a dilemma: either reject naturalism and thereby pragmatism, or reject anti-naturalism and thereby phenomenology.  Aikin names a list of pragmatists faced with this dilemma: Bruce Wilshire, Sandra Rosenthal, Victor Kestenbaum, Vincent Colapietro, Philip Bourgeois, Shannon Sullivan, and others.  Aikin has thrown down the gauntlet.
            I will argue that Aikin's dilemma is unmerited, because he has misidentified its horns.  It will require no subtlety and few words to establish this.  Given his definition of naturalism, all of the classical pragmatists are neither naturalists nor pragmatists.  Moreover, most discussion of "phenomenology" misconstrues phenomenological method as subjective self-reporting.  The term "phenomenology" in his usage refers to a narrow reading of Husserl and not pre- or post-Husserlian phenomenology.  As stated, the two horns of Aikin's dilemma are neither classical pragmatism nor phenomenology, but scientific naturalism and subjectivism.
            There are antipathies between classical pragmatism's naturalism and classical Continental phenomenology, but I will argue that they do not proscribe pragmatic appropriation of phenomenology in general.  In the conclusion, I will argue for phenomenologically-informed pragmatism, and will discuss one barrier to the appropriation of classical Continental phenomenology, the principle of continuity.


  1. Looks good. I want to think about this in the future too. Send the paper if you have a chance.

    Leon/after nature

  2. good luck, will be interested in hearing about the responses and how your paper differs from the earlier works gathered in Corrington's "Pragmatism Considers Phenomenology"

  3. DMF,

    I have read that book, and I generally agree with the Husserlian commentator that the authors in that work do not touch Husserl in their critiques because they are poorly aimed and informed. I do not find that work to be very helpful on the subject. I much prefer other sources.

    In truth, the paper is a political piece. It establishes two points. One, pragmatism and phenomenology (Husserlian or otherwise) are compatible and have always been such. Saying otherwise only demonstrates either a lack of knowledge or, in the case of Aikin, contrary political aims--there's a lot of back-story on this. There might be other reasons, but these two are my focus. Two, I have been insisting upon the necessity of phenomenological work in Dewey scholarship and similar pragmatic work for years, because pragmatism far too easily leads to all the blindnesses and follies that post-Husserlian phenomenology critiques. This is not a new point in such scholarship, but it is strongly resisted or acknowledged and then dodged. I do not engage in these political points in the paper itself, btw, but just concern myself with a scholarly counter-argument; I am explaining the context and motivation for writing it.

  4. p.s.

    I do find the articles in that book interesting, thought not sufficiently substantial. Their critique of Husserl is not the reason to read them. There are many other sources for phenomenology and pragmatism written from the pragmatic viewpoint. This last caveat is necessary, because there are *many* such articles and books written from a continental or analytic viewpoint.

    As for what I have to say, I would just have to send copies of my articles, or if you wish, start up a blogpost discussion of it. I would be more than happy to do so.


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