SAAP Annual Meeting 2013

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Reading Addams's Democracy and Social Ethics as a Social Gospel, Evolutionary Idealist Text

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Marilyn Fischer
University of Dayton
United States

Philosophers identify Addams as a pragmatist, while many historians locate her within the social gospel movement. To examine this debate, I construct a social gospel reading of Addams's first book, "Democracy and Social Ethics." I compare this reading with the pragmatist reading Charlene Haddock Seigfried gives in her “Introduction” to the text.
I identify significant points of overlap between the two readings. Both call for a transition from individual ethics to social ethics; both emphasize experience and perplexity as central to personal and social reconstruction. However, the social gospel reading challenges current pragmatist readings by identifying evolutionary idealism as the text’s structuring theory. Also, this use of idealism gives a structural—and troubling—explanation for how and why Addams uses racist language in the text. Pragmatist interpretations have not addressed these issues in a detailed way.


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