John Lachs, one of American philosophy's most distinguished interpreters, turns to William James, Josiah Royce, Charles S. Peirce, John Dewey, and George Santayana to elaborate stoic pragmatism, or a way to live life within reasonable limits. Stoic pragmatism makes sense of our moral obligations in a world driven by perfectionist human ambition and unreachable standards of achievement. Lachs proposes a corrective to pragmatist amelioration and stoic acquiescence by being satisfied with what is good enough. This personal, yet modest, philosophy offers (...) penetrating insights into the American way of life and our human character. (shrink)
Whatever specific beliefs pragmatists share concerning experience, knowledge, value, and meaning, they generally agree that a central part of the business of life is to make life better. James speaks of the ideal of meeting all needs, Royce of defeating evil, and Dewey of making experience richer and more secure. They are at one in thinking that human intelligence can make a vast difference to how well we live, and they extol the possibility of improving our circumstances. They tend to (...) be dissatisfied with the status quo and see indefinitely sustained amelioration as the solution to our problems. Stoics, in sharp contrast, are quick to call attention to the limits of our powers and recommend accepting them without complaint. They tend to think that only our beliefs and attitudes fall securely in our control. Epictetus, Seneca, and Marcus Aurelius agree that anything we would consider an improvement of the human condition is temporary and that, in any case, fulfilling our desires accomplishes little. The key to living well, they maintain, is control over self, not over circumstance, and they embrace inner calm in the face of whatever misfortune befalls us. Even such a brief characterization of these two great philosophical traditions makes it clear that pragmatic ambition and... (shrink)
: The overwhelming commitment of philosophers is not to crossing arms over some technical problem but to the education of the young. This is not to deny the merit of attempting to make a contribution to current debates or to new assessments of historical figures. However, the ultimate value of such contributions lies in providing materials for teaching the skills and habits vitally important in our personal and social lives.
In Scepticism and Animal Faith, Santayana pursues two projects: the development of a philosophy of animal faith and the presentation of an ontology. The two projects are not easily reconciled and Santayana appears not to have distinguished them or recognized that they pull in different directions. The hypothesis that he has two projects explains a variety of the anomalous features of Santayana's philosophy, including the account of matter concerning which Kerr-Lawson and I have long disagreed.
This essay responds to Eric Weber's article, "The Responsibilities and Dangers of Pragmatism" (in this issue of PCW). It reflects on the question of what academic philosophy can contribute to the contemporary world. Its conclusions are modest but animated by hope that philosophy can help to gradually improve the human condition.