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The Perils Of Pragmatism

July 2024
1min read

Given the pragmatists’ influence on our society, should we really be shocked that our own government has periodically annulled the rights of its citizens on the grounds of alleged practicality? When Japanese-Americans were stripped of their liberty and property during World War II or when unsuspecting citizens were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation during the Cold War, weren’t those just the “felt necessities of the time”? Such is the result when principles and abstractions are viewed as mere obstacles to our collective whim.

We seem to delight in condemning the sins of the past while refusing to embrace any clear moral principles that might prevent us from repeating them. We denounce absolutism in politics, and then we complain that our elections consist of choices among lackluster candidates whose beliefs can hardly be distinguished. Louis Menand is certainly correct that pragmatism has had a powerful effect on American philosophical thought in this century. However, his article is far too sympathetic to a philosophy that has put into practice numerous bad ideas and is partially responsible for the public’s cynicism about modern politicians.

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