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The Evolution of Pragmatism

On the Scientific Background of the Pragmatist Conception of History, Action, and Sociality

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 August 2017

Frithjof Nungesser*
Affiliation:
Karl-Franzens-Universität Graz [frithjof.nungesser@uni-graz.at].
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Abstract

The pragmatist theory of history, action, and sociality can be understood as the result of a specific interpretation of Darwin’s theory of evolution, which has nothing in common with teleological, reductionist, or social Darwinist evolutionary models. This historical claim will be developed in three steps. First, I will show why Darwin’s theory was so attractive to the classical pragmatists and how their conception of history was affected by their reading of Darwin. Second, I will illustrate how the pragmatist understanding of individual action was influenced by contemporary discussions in evolutionary theory, physiology, and psychology. Third, I will discuss pragmatism’s “cultural naturalism” (John Dewey), according to which a new, autonomous level of sociocultural change emerges as a result of the process of biological evolution. The reconstruction of pragmatist evolutionary thought not only aims to achieve a better historical understanding of pragmatism but also implies a systematic and theoretical claim. As will be argued in the last section of this paper, the timeliness and continuing relevance of pragmatism is largely due to the fact that it took shape in a transdisciplinary context and remained an “empirically responsible” theory (Erkki Kilpinen). Currently, various innovative developments within psychology, the cognitive sciences, neurophysiology, and ethology are connected with the core insights of pragmatism, thereby supporting the argument that pragmatism is still evolving.

Résumé

La théorie pragmatiste de l’histoire, de l’action et de la socialité est le produit d’une interprétation spécifique de la théorie darwinienne de l’évolution, indépendante des modèles évolutionnistes de type téléologique, réductionniste ou darwiniste social. Cette affirmation historique sera développée en trois temps. Cet article montre tout d’abord pourquoi la théorie de Darwin a retenu l’attention des pragmatistes et comment leur conception de l’histoire a été marquée par leur lecture de Darwin. Il montre ensuite de quelle manière la compréhension pragmatiste de l’action individuelle a été influencée par les discussions autour de la théorie de l’évolution, de la physiologie et de la psychologie. L’article discute enfin le « naturalisme culturel » pragmatiste (John Dewey), selon lequel le processus d’évolution biologique coïncide avec l’émergence d’une dimension, nouvelle et autonome, de changement socioculturel. Cette reconstruction des rapports entre évolutionnisme et pragmatisme permet certes de mieux comprendre historiquement le pragmatisme, mais elle a également des implications théoriques fortes. Comme cela sera développé dans la dernière section de l’article, la pertinence du pragmatisme s’explique autant par sa naissance dans un contexte transdisciplinaire que par sa capacité à demeurer une théorie « empiriquement responsable » (Erkki Kilpinen). A l’heure actuelle, les recherches innovantes dans les domaines de la psychologie, des sciences cognitives, de la neurophysiologie et de l’éthologie apparaissent comme étroitement liées aux idées centrales du pragmatisme, ce qui démontre bien sa capacité à se renouveler.

Zusammenfassung

Die pragmatistische Geschichts-, Handlungs- und Sozialtheorie kann als Ergebnis einer spezifischen Interpretation der Darwin’schen Evolutionstheorie betrachten werden. Diese Interpretation hat nichts mit teleologischen, reduktionistischen oder sozialdarwinistischen Evolutionsmodellen gemein. Diese theoriegeschichtliche These wird in drei Schritten entwickelt. Erstens wird untersucht, worin die Attraktivität der Darwin’schen Theorie für die Pragmatisten bestand und welche Konsequenzen ihr Bekenntnis zu Darwin für ihr Geschichtsverständnis hatte. Zweitens wird gefragt, welches Verständnis des individuellen Handlungsprozesses für die Pragmatisten aus den zeitgenössischen Erkenntnissen der Evolutionstheorie, Physiologie und Psychologie folgte. Drittens rückt der „kulturelle Naturalismus” (John Dewey) der Pragmatisten in den Blick, demzufolge aus biologischen Evolutionsprozessen eine neue, eigenlogische Ebene des soziokulturellen Wandels entsteht. Mit der theoriegeschichtlichen Argumentation ist darüber hinaus eine theoriesystematische These verbunden. Wie im letzten Abschnitt des Aufsatzes gezeigt wird, ergibt sich die Aktualität und ungebrochene Innovativität des Pragmatismus in wesentlichem Maße aus der Tatsache, dass er nicht nur aus einem transdisziplinären Kontext entstand, sondern auch eine „empirisch verantwortungsvolle” Theorie blieb (Erkki Kilpinen). Aktuell zeigt sich dies daran, dass verschiedene innovative Entwicklungen aus den Bereichen der Psychologie, der Kognitionswissenschaften, der Neurophysiologie und Ethologie auf fruchtbare Weise mit Kerneinsichten des Pragmatismus verbunden werden, womit die Evolution des Pragmatismus ihre Fortsetzung findet.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © A.E.S. 2017 

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