The Metaphysical Club

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More than a hundred years ago, an idea took hold among a group of American Thinkers, an idea that influenced thought in this country for much of the century to follow.

It was actually an idea about ideas: Pragmatism. Pragmatists like philosopher John Dewey, and before him psychologist William James and the jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes, said that we hold to certain beliefs not because they’re true, but because they work, or at least, they’re good bets. They said ideas are the adaptations humans make to the environment.

Pragmatism appealed to a generation exhausted by the Civil War, enchanted by Darwin and apprehensive of passionate people too certain of their beliefs. It declined after World War Two, but Louis Menand, who’s written a book about the founders of pragmatism – says their ideas are in vogue once again.
(Hosted by Robert Siegel)


Louis Menand, staff writer for The New Yorker and author of “The Metaphysical Club: A story of Ideas in America.”