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AntonLeist
ThePragmaticTurn,byRichardJ.Bernstein.Cambridge:Polity,2010,,ThePragmatic
Turn,Polity,CambridgeMalden2010,xi+263pp.
ISBN9780745649078hb55.00;ISBN9780745649085pb17.99
Willbepublishedin:EuropeanJournalofPhilosophy

Ifoneisaskedwhatpragmatismisabout,noshortorpreciseanswercomesreadilyto
hand.Thetermpragmatism,arisingfromtheGreekpragma,meaningaction,signalsan
efforttobringintellectualthingsdowntoquestionsofpracticalinterestbutthissurelyis
toowideacircumscription.Fundamentalistpoliticalmovementsaretypicallydoingjust
this:settingacademicgoalsregardingwhattoproduceintellectually,outofagiven
interest.Thisisnotwhatpragmatistsareinsympathywith.Rather,whattheyhavein
mindisbothacritiqueofsociallydecontextualizedthought(paradigmaticallytraditional
philosophy)andaprogrammeofsocialdemocraticculture.Thesearedifficultand
somehowoverambitiousperhapsevenconflictingaims.Theirattackonpurethought
demandsfrompragmatistsawiderangingcampaignnotonlyagainsttraditional
philosophy,butalsoagainstitsmorerecentanalyticmanifestations:alreadyan
enormoustask.Buttogoonestepfurther:howdopragmatismstherapeuticquestandits
partisanshipforaleftwingliberalpolicyworktogether?Arephilosophicalselfcriticism
anddemocraticpolicynotsimplytoofarapart?
Bothbreadthandcomplexitymaybethereasonswhynobooklengthtreatmentof
pragmatistclaims(orthosepronouncedassuch)insystematicformisavailabletoday.Ifit
istoodifficulttograspthebasicideasofpragmatisminaprincipledway,themostobvious
alternativewillbeanhistoricexpositionofpragmatistthinkers,bothpastandpresent.
ThisisexactlyhowRichardBernsteinsoutlineofthepragmaticturnisarranged.The
bookcollectsthreechaptersonPeirce,JamesandDeweytodemonstrateearly
pragmatism,andthreechaptersonPutnam,HabermasandRortyforlateornew
pragmatism.SandwichedbetweenthesearethreefurtherchaptersonHegeland
pragmatism,objectivityandtruthandthelinguisticturn.Thesemoresystematically

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announcedchapters,though,areagainlargelydealtwithbyreferencetotheauthors
alreadymentioned.
Thebookbuildsonanumberofalreadypublishedarticles,andfrequentlyshiftsthe
presentationfromonethinkertotheother,with,itseems,noreasonotherthana
chronologicalone.Butoneofthestrengthsofthebookisitsprovisionoflinksbetweenthe
earlyandthenewpragmatists,anditschallengingdefenceoftheearlypragmatistsagainst
someofthenew.Ifoneacceptsthehistoricapproachtopragmatism,arethereserious
gapsinBernsteinsselection?Inmyopinion,theomissionofDavidsonisthemostserious.
AchapteronhimwouldhavebeenmoreimportantthanchaptersonHabermasoreven
Rorty,notwithstandingthepopularityofthelatter.Towhichextentreadersmaymiss
WittgensteinorHeidegger,NietzscheorRawls,dependsonamorefinegrainedand
systematicunderstandingofwhatpragmatistsareabout.BymentioningRawlsIcannot
helpbutstatethatthisisonegenerallacunainthepresentunderstandingofpragmatism.
InBernsteinsbook,notuntypically,thereishardlyanythingonmoralphilosophy.
BernsteinpresentsPutnamsattackonthefourthdogmaofempiricism(p.156),thefact
valuedichotomy(Ch.7),andhegivesasympathetictreatmentofHabermasdiscourse
ethics(Ch.8).Butbothtopicsarenotanadequatesubstituteforreflectingonwhata
pragmatistethicswouldlooklike;norwhetherpragmatists,especiallyDewey,stillhave
somethingtooffertopresentdaymoralphilosophy.Mostofthepragmatistshad,and
have,quitedifferentviewsonethics:PeircemighthavehadaKantianview,Jameswasa
Millian,Deweyhadeclectic,pluralistviews,whilethenewpragmatistsPutnam,Habermas
andRortysideindifferentwayswithopenandfreediscourse,withoutoverlyengaging
initssystematicdefence.InmyopinionRawls,evenifnotaselfpronouncedpragmatist,
todaycomesclosesttowhatapragmatistethicsshouldlooklike;andhe,strangely
enough,isnotreallyacknowledgedbythenewpragmatistsasafellowthinker.Inmy
view,thedubiousstateofapragmatistethicspointstoalacunainthepositive,normative
partofpragmatismsproject.Thislacunaisaseriousone,becauseitalsoaffectsthe
constructivemeaningofpragmatismwithregardstotheoreticalphilosophy.Itpointstoa
missingsynchronybetweenitsradicalphilosophycriticalattitudeanditsliberalpolitical
claims.Whythisisaproblemcanbemoreclearlyseenifwehavealookattheanti

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philosophicalargumenttypicallyofferedbypragmatists.Andthispartofthepragmatist
agendaiswelldocumentedinBernsteinsbook.
Insofarasthereisathreadrunningthroughthebook,itistheattackontraditional
epistemologywhichunifiesallpragmatists.AsBernsteinemphasisesattheoutset,witha
citationfromMenand(p.10),theearlypragmatistsshareacritiqueoftherealistvision
incorporatedinmuchoftypicalepistemologyandmetaphysics.Themotiveforthisisnot
itselfphilosophicalinsomeloftysense;rather,itbuildsonanaturalistviewofwhat
generallyimpelsinquiry,takingintoaccountbiological,psychologicalandsocialforces.
Ideasforthepragmatistsaresocialcreations,buttheyarealsoevolutionaryproducts
(Dewey)andemotionalconstructs(James).Theearlypragmatistsarenaturalists,but
naturalistsofaspecificsort.Theywantlesstoscientificallysupplementthantotransform
epistemologyintoaphilosophiconaturalistdiscipline,andthisiswhatgivestheir
programmeitsexclusive,evenifupuntilnowhotlycontested,relevance.
Bernsteinstreatmentoftheearlypragmatistbeginswell,withPeircesearliestarticles
invokingthelogicofscientificprocedureagainsttheoverexcited,absolutesceptical
questioningofDescartes(p.18).Theearlypragmatistsattackdistinctionssuchas
mind/body,corrigible/incorrigible,universal/local,necessary/contingentifhandledin
adichotomousandnotmerelydistinctivemanner.Inasensethedismissalofdichotomies
canbesummarizedasadismissalofdifferentversionsofsomethingabsoluteasagainst
somethinghumanlyrelative,andthisshowswhytheoppositiontothetraditional,realist
epistemologylayatthebeginningofthepragmatistmovement.SincePlatosintroduction
ofidealformssettheagendaforWesternphilosophy,theseparationofmanscognitive
andemotionalnature,thoughtsandemotions,orhumanpowersthatdoordonotreach
beyondhumans,wasverymuchonthemindofphilosophers.
BernsteinismostexplicitonthisinhisdepictionofPeirce,forhim(asopposedtoRorty),
themostoriginalandimportantofthepragmatists.ThewayhecommemoratesPeirceis
orientedbyasortofviamediastrategyofferedatseveralturnsoftheargument,
addressingthecalamitiesthatawaitthosestrivingasboldlyasthepragmatistsdofora
standpointwhichisbothnaturalistandphilosophical.Searchingforabalancedsolution

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betweenextremesmaybetakenastheintellectualsignatureofthisbook,perhapsin
harmonywithBernsteinsusualwayofdealingwithconceptualcontradictions.iButone
objectiontothepragmatist,givenitsthoroughoppositiontoepistemology,isobvious:
howtosteerclearofanaivelyuncriticalacceptanceofeverydaythinking,including
everydayscientificthinking,ifthereflectivepotentialofepistemologyisrejectedas
illusionary?What,accordingtoBernstein,isPeircesviamediathroughthisconflict?
Atwotieredanswerisgiveninthefirstandsixthchaptersofthebook.Thefirst,more
directanswerreferstoPeircescriticalcommonsensism(p.34),whichdevelopsa
fallibilistandsocialnotionofknowledgebydistinguishingbetweenindubitableand
incorrigibletruths.Peircepointsoutthat,ifbackedupbytherightamountofsocietal
consensus,wecanreachapointofcertaintybutwearenotincorrigiblyright.Genuine
knowledgeneednotbeabsolutelyindubitable,onlywellembeddedinasocial
community.Suchknowledgeisintendedtobecriticalbecauseofitsfallibiliststatus:
somethingthatPopperlaterdemonstratedtobeimportantforscienceandsocietyina
muchmoreelaboratemanner.
Inthesecondstageofhisargument,BernsteinpresentsPeirceasguardinghimselfagainst
anidealistic,purelycoherentistunderstandingofknowledgebydrawingonaoncemore
criticallyreclaimedconceptofexperience.AsBernsteinrightlydocuments,thisisalso
thestagewhereearlyandnewpragmatistspartcompany,asthelinguisticturnmotivates
thenewpragmatistsofwhomthemostoutspokenisRortytoshunalltalkof
experienceinfavouroftalkofsentencesandlanguageuse.Theterminalpointofthis
movementisincorporatedinDavidsonsnotoriousdictumthatnothingcancountasa
reasonforholdingabeliefexceptanotherbelief(p.46),whichhasbeencarriedtoeven
moreappallingantirealisticconsequencesbyRorty.BernsteinrecoilsfromRortysclaim
thatthereareonlyconversationalconstraintstoknowledge(pp.134,207).Notonlydoes
heseeaformoflinguisticidealisminsuchapurecoherenceposition,healsochidesitas
givingupintermsofnormativepolitics.Forapragmatist,then,twodangersstandout.
Ontheonehandthereistheconceptofexperiencebeingindangeroffallingbackintothe
mythofthegiven,ontheotherthereisalossofcriticalnorms,ifauthorityisreducedto

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theconversationalpowersthatbe.Bernsteinspragmatismattemptstosteerclearbothof
Descartesandtheempiricistsontheonehand,andofRortyandDavidsonontheother.
Perhapsduetothebookstextbookformat,onedoesnotfinddevelopedargumentsasto
whetherthereis,infact,awaythroughthesehandicaps.Thebookdevotesitself
extensivelytoexpositionanddealswithsuchalargeportionofphilosophicalhistory,that
itrunsoutofspacefordetailedargument.Butoftenitpointstowhereanargumentshould
befound,andhintsathowitmightbeelaborated.Bernsteinsuggestthatrehabilitatingthe
phenomenonofexperienceisawayofavoidinglinguisticidealism,andthatPeirces
systemofFirstness,SecondnessandThirdnessevenmorethanJamesandDeweys
conceptionsofexperienceismosthelpfulaspartofthisaim(Ch.6).Thelinguisticturnis
chargedforhavingdiscardedalltheoriesofexperienceandhavingputlanguageand
meaninginitsplace.WithdramaticflairBernsteincriticisesRortyspragmatismasa
pragmatismwithoutexperience(p.128).
Itistruethatthenotionofexperiencehaslostitsfoundationalroleinepistemicdisputes
sincethelinguisticturn,buttocastthisasaproblemismorerhetoricthanargument.
Experienceasacompoundmayhavebeenlost,butperception,practiceand
knowledgeallelementsofexperiencearestillwelltakencareof.Atanyrate,whatis
missinginBernsteinscomplaintisamorethoroughanalysis,beyondthecitationof
typicalstatementsfromPeirce(andfurtherfromJamesandDewey),astowhyPeirces
triadicviewonsignsandexperienceissomethingunfortunatelylostbytalkinginsteadof
languageandconcepts.
Bernstein,fixatedasheisonRortyslamentedidealism,nevertouchesuponwhat
advancementwasreallybroughtaboutbythelinguisticturnversusthepsychologicaltalk
aboutexperience.Peircestillsethimselfthetasksomehowtoconstructmeaningfulsigns
andtheirfunctionforexperiencewiththehelpofmoreelementarypieces,thosepooled
togetherwiththetermsFirstness(theimmediateinexperience)andSecondness
(responsestotheimmediate),therebyclumsilywrestlingwithanewlyinventedpseudo
psychologicalterminology.Thetriadicrelationanditstermsaresurelyanimproved
versionoftheoldersubjectobjectdistinction,buttheyarestillaversionofit,whereasit

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wouldbebettertoavoidsuchoppositionsaltogether.Bernsteinsviamediasolution,in
regardtoPeirce,istocallhistriadicschemeoneofdistinguishable,butnotseparable(p.
130)elements.Intheend,however,itremainsunclearwhatitisthatmakesthenon
separableunity:isitsomethingintheworld,somethingsubjective,ahabit,orsomething
else?Perhapsthecomprisingentityismeanttobeexperience,butthenitremainsunclear
whatexperienceis,besidesbeingasomethingwhichcomprises.Meadsideaofsocial
communication,whichBernsteinsuggestsisthesolutionforallproblemsremainingin
theclassicalpragmatistsconceptofexperience(p.151),issurelynotaneasywayout.
WhatMeadsuppliesisastillmoreprimitivepsychologicalmethod,behaviourism,which
leadstoadubiousepistemologicalunderstandingofmeaning.
Onewhohasfollowedthroughthelinguisticturnwouldinsteadsuggestgivingupon
attemptstofindouthowFirstness,SecondnessandThirdnessmightbesensiblyput
together,andinsteadbeginreflectingfromapositionwithinlanguageuse,fromsentences
andcommunicativeunderstandinginsteadofsigns.Ifshewished,shecouldtrytomake
senseofwhatPeirce,JamesorDeweyhadbeenuptofromwithinthisuse,whichistaken
forgranted.Butshewoulddepartfromtheideaofconstructinglanguageandexperience
fromsomewheredeepbelow,astheearlypragmatists(stillpartially)did.iiWouldshe
thereforefallintothetrapoflinguisticidealismor,somethingdeploredbyBernstein,fail
inmanagingtolosecontactwiththeeverydaylifeworldofhumanbeings(p.152)?Itis
theeverydayworldoflinguisticunderstanding,includingactingonthebasisofsuch
understanding,withwhichshebegins.Thelinguisticphilosophermaycometotherescue
ofsortingoutwhatisgoodandbadinearlypragmatism,insteadofbeinghelpedbyan
outdatedpsychologicalepistemology.Theonecentralpositivemessageinthisbook,
therefore,seemstomisfire.Whateverisproblematicinnewpragmatism,andespeciallyin
Rorty,cannotberepairedbyreadingtheclassicalpragmatistsmorethoroughly.The
linguisticturnputtheirpsychologybasedagendatorestforgood.
Doesthebookhighlightthepoliticalpartofpragmatism,itsdefenceofasocialorliberal
democraticposition?(Thisissomethingthatexcludes,ofcourse,Peirce,andtoalesser
extentJamesbutDewey,Putnam,HabermasandRortyeachvoicealiberaldemocratic
position.)Liberal(i.e.social)democracyaspresentinthesethinkersisrepresentedby

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principlesofuniversality,equalityandfreedom.BernsteinincludesachapteronDewey
anddemocracy(Ch.3)andreportscomperablethoughtsbyPutnamandHabermas.The
chapteronDeweyleavesoneinasimilarstatetowhenonereadsmanytextsbyDewey
himself.TheimpressionthatDeweyisuptosomethinggenuineconflictswiththe
observationthatheisnotabletoverbalizeit.ThesameoccurswithBernsteinsdepiction,
whichinpartadoptsthePoloniuslikequalityfamiliarfromDeweytexts.Bernsteins
methodis,again,theviamediaapproach.Deweyisaliberalbutnotanindividualist,he
favourscommunitybutisnotacommunitarian,heacceptsconflictsbutalsoconsiders
consensus,heisinfavourofrationalpersuasionbutalsoofembodiedintelligence.Dewey
wantspoliticstoaccomplishnothinglessthanencompassthefullrangeofhuman
experience(p.86).
One(problematic)readingofDeweysargumentfordemocracyarisesfromhisbeliefthat
humanscangrasptheirvaluesandinterestsonlywithin,andwiththehelpof,social
contexts,optimallyunderademocraticregime.(Anotherstaunchdefenderofthisthesis
againwasDeweysfriendMead.)Thisbeliefcanbetakencausallyornormatively,and
obviously,withregardstothelatter,itispotentiallyilliberal.Thereisroomforargument,
however,ifdemocracy,assuggestedbyPutnam(p.163f.),ismeanttobeaprecondition
forinquiry,bothofindividualsinquiryintotheirideaofalife,andofscientificinquiry.
Now,though,theoriginalbeliefvacillatesbetweenastrongbutriskyandaweakbut
trivialthesis.Dewey(andPutnam)inpartsuggestthathumansbuilduptheiridentityonly
politically,andmoreoverinademocraticway.Thiswouldbeanextremelynormative
statement,falsifiedbythedubiouspersonalcharacterofmanyprofessionalpoliticians
(butperhapstheyfollowthewrongpolitics?).If,ontheotherhand,liberalfreedomis
meanttobeapreconditionforunimpededsocialisationandprivatedecisions,thisis
commonloreoflargepartsofliberalism.Dewey,PutnamandBernsteinstandofcourse,
somedistanceawayfromtheprivate/publicdistinctionatthebasisofthiskindof
liberalism,andarethereforenotonthissideofthealternative.Unfortunately,Bernstein
remainssilentontheissueoffindingawayoutofthisimpasse,andalsoonwhether
Deweywouldbehelpful.

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Favouringtheprivate/publicdistinctionconcerningliberalpoliticsisaconsequentmove
byRorty,inthelightofhisradicalcritiqueofepistemology.Alongwiththisgoesarather
minimalliberalismoffear,whichhasalwaysseemedatoddswithhisfondnessfor
Dewey.Theimportanceoftheantiepistemicalsidetopragmatismforitsliberalsideis
clearlyvisibleinRorty,eveniflargelyonlynegative.InnotfollowingRortywithregardsto
thissolution,BernsteinmanifestshimselfasagoodDeweyan,butlesssoasarationally
transparentpragmatist.

AntonLeist
ResearchCentreforEthics
UniversityofZurich
Switzerland
leist@access.uzh.edu

NOTES
i
ii

Via media-solutions are offered on pp. 49, 51, 58, 84, 129, 226 fn.12.
For further advantages of this move see Davidson 2002.

REFERENCES
Davidson,D.(2002),TheMythoftheSubjective,reprintedinD.Davidson,Subjective,
Intersubjective,Objective.Oxford:OxfordUniversityPress.