Topic outline

  • General

    Emerson, Pragmatism & Democracy
    Fall 2009
    M-W-F 10:30-11:20, D 42

    Meg Mott

    Emerson photo



    This class considers democratic practices through the writings of one man, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and through the essays of one philosophical movement, pragmatism. Pragmatism," to quote Louis Menand, "is an account of the way people think." Pragmatists are interested in how we think because they believe that many political and social problems might be solved if we stopped using abstractions and started thinking in terms of practical consequences. Pragmatism has been called America's "only major contribution to philosophy." Given the American interest in work and productivity, perhaps we won't be surprised to find out that pragmatism takes philosophical techniques and renders them useful.

    Pragmatism grew out of the polarizing discourse around slavery in the Civil War era. Much of the discussion will focus on the role of abstractions in Abolitionist and Pro-Slavery discourse. We'll consider why some of the early pragmatists, particularly Emerson, used metaphors and literature to make his new ideas work.
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