The Question of Voice and the Limits of Pragmatism: Emerson, Dewey, and Cavell

Metaphilosophy 35 (1-2):178-201 (2004)
Abstract
One criticism of pragmatism, forcefully articulated by Stanley Cavell, is that pragmatism fails to deal with mourning, understood in the psychoanalytic sense as grief-work (Trauerarbeit). Such work would seemingly be as pertinent to philosophical investigations (especially ones conducted by pragmatists) as to psychoanalytic explorations. Finding such themes as mourning and loss in R. W. Emerson's writings, Cavell warns against assimilating Emerson's voice to that of American pragmatism, especially Dewey's instrumentalism, for such assimilation risks the loss or repression of Emerson's voice in not only professional philosophy but also American culture. While granting Emerson's distinctive voice, this essay argues that the way Cavell insists on differences problematically represses recognition of the Emersonian strains in Dewey's own philosophical voice. In doing so, Cavell falsely flattens the resounding depth of Dewey's philosophical voice and narrows the expansive range of pragmatic intelligence. But Dewey all too often lends himself to such a misreading, for his writings at once repress and embody the strains of a distinctively Emersonian voice.
Keywords Stanley Cavell  John Dewey  Ralph Waldo Emerson
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