Introductory Readings in Classical Pragmatism


This is an annotated bibliography of introductory readings in the philosophical tradition of classical American pragmatism.  Pragmatism is the foremost subfield of American philosophy, which is am "umbrella term" implicating all indigenous philosophies of the Americas.


Much of the listed material can be found for free online, since it is out of print.  Please check the links on the home page for information.  You may also acquire The Essential Peirce and The Essential Dewey, each in two volumes, that contain most of the texts below.

C.S. Peirce
“How to Make Our Ideas Clear”
  • The basis of the pragmatist theory of meaning.
  • Meaning is anticipated consequences of action.
  • Predecessor for James' "truth works"

“The Fixation of Belief”
  • Science and experiment as the method of justifying belief.

“Question Concerning Certain Faculties Claimed for Man”
  • Destruction of faculty and introspective psychology.
  • Predecessor of formalization of abduction.

“Some Consequences of Four Incapacities”
  • Further discussion.

"On a New List of Categories"

  • Peirce first proposes an alternative to the Kantian categories.
  • First explication of the triad of firstness, secondness, and firstness.


"A Guess at the Riddle"
  • The fundamentals of Peirce's ontology ... and just about all his thought.
  • Explains the triad of firstness, secondness, and firstness.


“Review: Fraser’s Edition of the Works of George Berkeley” in North American Review
  • Seminal articulation of Peirce’s scholastic realism.

"The Law of Mind"

  • Premier expression of synechism (continuity) and phenomenological temporality


Topics missing:

  • synechism
  • tychism
  • evolutionary metaphysics


William James
“The Sentiment of Rationality”
  • Quasi-Humean take on rationality as a sentiment.

“A World Of Pure Experience”
  • Contra Lockean empiricsm, experience is a unity; discrimination is derivative.
  • Relations are real and can be felt, contra modern empiricsm.
  • Basic ideas of “radical empiricism”
  • a basis of Husserlian phenomenology

“Does Consciousness Exist?”
  • No, it is an event.

from the Psychology, “The Stream of Thought” chapter.
  • Psychological assumptions behind epistemology and truth
  • a basis of Husserlian phenomenology.

from Pragmatism, “Pragmatisms Conception of Truth”
  • Famous “truth is what works” essay.
  • The question of truth is shifted  to the question of the meaning of truth.
  • He means this as an informal abduction.

“The Will to Believe”
  • Most famous essay.
  • Proposes informal logic of justification by “faith.”


John Dewey

“The Reflex Arc Concept in Philosophy”
  • External stimuli are relative to ongoing action.
  • The logic of the Reflex Arc reappears through Dewey's work.
  • This also displays how Dewey appropriated Hegel's logic.

“Propositions, Warranted Assertability, and Truth
  • Principle epistemological statement.
  • Thought is abductive.

"Postulate of Immediate Empiricism"
  • Something is as it is experienced as.
  • Dewey rejects the appearance/reality distinction as fundamental
  • Instead, the process of experiencing and its verification is fundamental.
  • Predecessor of "Qualitative Thought"

"Qualitative Thought"
  • Phenomenal qualities are real.
  • A situation is uniquely distinguished by its pervasive quality.
  • Discriminations are taken out of this (cf James' pure experience.)

From Logic: The Theory of Inquiry
  • The first three chapters on “The Matrix of Inquiry”
  • Dewey’s logic is his theory of inquiry and is his epistemology.
  • This explain 1) what logic is, and the 2) material-biological and 3) cultural matrix of inquiry.

Experience and Nature, Chps. 1-3 and 5-8
  • Dewey’s emergent naturalist processive metaphysics.
  • Phenomenal qualities, and metaphysical descriptive categories in general, are real.
  • This is a rejection of Descartes, Hume, and Kant; human nature is not severed from nature.

Recommended Secondaries
James Gouinlock, John Dewey’s Philosophy of Value
  • It’s on ethics, but is great for understanding the metaphysical and epistemic background.

David Hildebrand, Dewey: A Beginner's Guide
  • Analytic-friendly introduction

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