SAAP 2016

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Contesting Injustice: Why Pragmatist Political Thought Needs Du Bois

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Pragmatist philosophy is often characterized by its emphasis on practicability over idealism. But what about situations in which action requires the kinds of motivation usually supplied by shining ideals? Does pragmatism here leave us incapacitated, debilitated, and unable to act? To address these questions, this paper poses to pragmatism a challenge to contestation: a challenge to specify how pragmatism motivates conducts of contestation in the face of injustice. To meet this challenge, pragmatist political theory needs to reconsider its overemphasis on John Dewey’s progressivism in order to attend to other pragmatisms. This revision is developed first by a brief review of William James’s multiplicitous pragmatism, which leads second to an extended engagement with the contestatory pragmatism of W.E.B. Du Bois. The core of the paper offers an explication of contestation in Du Bois and an argument that his manner of contestation is pragmatist in orientation.


Colin Koopman    
Univ. of Oregon


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