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Philosophy 3930-001: Pragmatism (W18)

Memorial University of Newfoundland

Class Time and Location: Slot 13 TTH 1030 – 1145 in TBA

Instructor: Dr. James Scott Johnston (, 6924.

Office Hours: Wednesday 1-5 pm 5002 in Hickman Hall or, if necessary, by special appointment.

Prerequisite: Philosophy 1200 or special permission from the instructor or the head of the Philosophy Department.

Required Texts:

C.S. Peirce. The Essential Peirce vol. 1. Edited by Nathan Houser and Christian Kloesel. Indiana University Press, 1992, ISBN-13: 978-0253207210

William James. Pragmatism. New York: Dover Classics, 1995. ISBN-13: 978-0486282701

John Dewey. Reconstruction in Philosophy. Boston, Beacon Press, 1967. ASIN: B000UCI55K

John Dewey. Experience and Nature. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0809328116

George Herbert Mead. Mind, Self, and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967. ISBN-13: 978-0226516684

These texts are available at the University Bookstore in the University Center and will be supplemented by texts from other authors as handouts or digital versions, including

V.W.O. Quine, “On What There is.”
Wilfrid Sellars, Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind (excerpt)
Richard Rorty, Consequences of Pragmatism (excerpt)
Richard Bernstein, Constellations: the Ethico-political Horizons of Modernity (excerpt)
Hilary Putnam, Pragmatism (excerpt)
Robert Brandom, Between Saying and Doing (excerpt)

General Requirements:

This course is a third-level, advanced course in philosophy, yet is suitable for interested students in their second year of studies who have completed the prerequisite Philosophy 1200, and students who have
obtained special permission from the instructor or the head of the department.

Pragmatism is the unique contribution of the United States to the history of philosophy. Taking its point of departure from a number of 19th century historical schools of thought (especially Kant, post-Kantian Idealism, and British Empiricism) Classical Pragmatism was a late 19th and early 20th century attempt to reconstruct from these traditions a philosophy making a practical difference. Classical Pragmatism directed this reconstruction toward an understanding of philosophy as vital to science, social science(s), ethics, religion, education, and culture. The Classical Pragmatists notoriously disagreed with one another over central philosophical issues; especially the role metaphysics should play. But they all agreed on the importance of the practical differences philosophy could make for human beings and for the world in which they live. The Neo-pragmatists of the late 20th century have pushed analytic and post-analytic philosophy to take the claims of Classical Pragmatism seriously, with the result that a number of contemporary programs have Pragmatism at their heart.
In this course, we will sample writings of the most important Classical and Neo-pragmatists. We will spend roughly three quarters of the term examining central works of the Classical Pragmatist tradition (Peirce, James, Dewey, and Mead). We will spend the last quarter of the term looking at the influence of Classical Pragmatism on key figures in American philosophy (Quine, Sellars) as well as some Neo-pragmatists (Rorty, Bernstein, Putnam), and one contemporary thinker assigning Pragmatism a central place in his philosophy (Brandom).
The class proceeds by lectures and discussion on text assignments announced in class. The lectures assume that the required portion of the assigned text has been read before the lecture. Students will be asked to participate in discussions of the texts on that assumption. Although marks are based on the required papers, the topics assigned, the questions asked, problems suggested, and the portions of texts emphasized will be indicated by and arise out of the discussion within the lectures. For this reason, attendance at all lectures is mandatory.


Paper #1 33%
Paper #2 33%
Paper# 3 33%

Papers are 4-5 pages in length, typed, double-spaced, 12 font, with at least one inch margins. Paper topics are open, but should be decided in consultation with the instructor. I strongly recommend papers on three of the Classical Pragmatists. Dates for paper submissions will be decided at the beginning of the course. Papers must be handed in at the beginning of class on the day they are due in hard copy. Electronically submitted papers will not be accepted.

Late papers will be penalized by 5% per day. No essay will be accepted more than four
weeks after the day it was due. Medical or excuses for other emergencies will be granted only if proper documentation is provided. REQUESTS FOR EXTENSIONS MUST BE MADE IN PERSON, AND NOT BY E-MAIL, BEFORE THE ASSIGNED DUE


A Excellent 80-100%
B Good 65-79%
C Satisfactory 55-64%
D Minimally Acceptable 50-54%
F Failing below 50%

Note on Marking Papers: As much attention as possible will be devoted to marking papers for form as
well as content (indeed, form and content are not properly separable, and clear development of a thesis
depends on a sound and effective writing style.) I will use a rubric, which will be made available at the beginning of the course.

Use of Recording Devices in the Classroom: I am open to students using recording devices provided they clear their use with me beforehand.

Intellectual Honesty: Students are reminded of the University policy on intellectual honesty, especially
that part which pertains to plagiarism and self-plagiarism (see the Memorial University Calendar p. 63).
Plagiarism and self-plagiarism are forms of academic fraud; complaints or allegations of such are subject to the adjudication of the Senate Discipline Committee.

Statement on Students with Disabilities: Students with permanent or temporary disabilities who would
like to discuss classroom accommodations are asked to see the in