SAAP 2016

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From Sidekick to Center Stage: William James’s Political Theory and the Progressive Era

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In discussions of pragmatist political theory, John Dewey dominates the conversation at the expense of William James. James’s pragmatism is often characterized as being apolitical and serving merely as the philosophical groundwork for later pragmatist politics. I challenge this argument because it dismisses the political vision in James’s writings, and inappropriately conflates his political ideas with Dewey’s. Moreover, this argument fails to explain the activity of progressive reformers who were applying pragmatist ideas prior to Dewey’s ascendance. I trace how James’s and Dewey’s divergent notions of the “will” result in distinct political visions, and use the writing of Walter Lippmann to showcase a Jamesian progressive politics in action.


Michael Magee    
University of Oregon
United States


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