Traditions of pragmatism and the myth of the Emersonian democrat

: Beginning with Emerson's turn from his pulpit, many argue that American philosophy has rigorously held forth against supernaturalism and metaphysics. While most read self-reliance as a call for individualism, I argue that self-reliance is the application of the moral sentiment to the source of existence Emerson calls the Over-soul. Figures like George Kateb, Stanley Cavell, and Jeffrey Stout have presented a very different picture of American pragmatism. Stout, in particular, is responsible for building up what I call "the myth of the Emersonian democrat." We find that a few philosophical positions generally constitute this myth. The Emersonian democrat is secular, sceptical, relativist, anti-realist, and anti-metaphysical. In fact, on my reading of the strand of pragmatism running from Emerson through James to Dewey, the pluralism of the Emersonian democrat depends on certain metaphysical commitments. The traditional reading of Emerson as anti-religion, and by extension, anti-religious, impedes a better understanding of self-reliance and obfuscates some of the Emersonian inheritances in James and Dewey
Keywords Ralph Waldo Emerson  self-reliance  individualism
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DOI 10.2979/TRA.2007.43.1.154
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