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Sami Pihlström: The Rortyan “we”, the Disappearing “we”, and the Transcendental “we”. Reflections on the Methodology of Pragmatism

Peirce, Pragmatism and the Philosophy of Practice - Logo

Sami Pihlström (University of Helsinki)

The Rortyan “we”, the Disappearing “we”, and the Transcendental “we” – Reflections on the Methodology of Pragmatism

For pragmatists, there is no non-committed, “merely theoretical”, or ethically neutral place to stand in philosophical discussion, no abstract level of purely intellectual argumentation beyond on-going critical self-reflection. This insight into the profound entanglement of the theoretical and the practical has received different articulations in the pragmatist tradition. One of them is William James’s famous (or notorious) concept of a “philosophical temperament”, which reminds us of the fact that we always engage in philosophical thinking and argumentation as flesh-and-blood human beings, with our individual needs and interests, seeking our own voice in our philosophizing. Another articulation, emphasizing the first-person plural rather than the first-person singular, is the “methodology” that Richard Rorty seems to prefer (insofar as it is appropriate to call it a “methodology”): trying to look and see how things seem to be “to us”, or from “our” point of view. In these terms, philosophical reflection can be regarded as an inquiry into who, and what, we are – not simply “work on oneself – on how one sees things”, as Ludwig Wittgenstein characterized the nature of philosophy, but (as we might say) “work on ourselves – on how we see things”. The purpose of this paper is to explore, in dialogue with not only Rorty but various other contemporary thinkers invoking the philosophical significance of “us” (including Jonathan Lear, in particular), what exactly this means, or could mean (for a pragmatist, or for us pragmatists), and how the concept of “us” ought to be characterized in this context. We will thereby encounter various versions of the philosophical “we”.

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