David L. Hildebrand, Ph.D., Philosophy

Articles and shorter writings

"Could Experience Be More Than a Method? Dewey’s Practical Starting Point." In R. Frega (ed.), Pragmatist Epistemologies, Lexington Publishing, Lanham, 2011.  In "The Postulate of Immediate Empiricism" John Dewey's offered a brief admonition to philosophers seeking terminological clarity: "go to experience." Despite its apparent directness, his advice provokes painfully simple questions: Go how? Go where? Dewey’s argument was for philosophers to think of experience more as a method than as a stuff. For immediate empiricism (later coined as the denotative/empirical method) was intended to redirect generations of philosophers away from the bad habit of philosophizing-from-theoretical-starting-points. Dewey sought to convince philosophers that such a starting point not only ignored actual, lived experience—and, so, was bad empiricism—but that by ignoring actual experience, whatever good philosophy could do was diverted into trivial questions, false puzzles, and endless iterations of feckless theory. So, as mentioned, this aspect of Dewey’s view is clear enough. But what remains less clear is where one should go when they "go to experience." In what sense is it a destination for those following Dewey’s denotative method? Where—or better, what—is this "starting point for philosophic thought"? What is experience?Section One examines how Dewey’s attempt to reform empiricism by advancing the radical ambition of denotation. In multiple ways I show how denotation depends upon its correlative stuff, primary experience; I also show that despite his claim that such experience is "ineffable" and "indefinable" Dewey is in fact forced to advance beyond denoting to characterizing (in some detail) traits exhibited by primary experience. Section Two looks briefly at Dewey’s characterizations of the stuff of primary experience as tangled, complex, acculturated, value-laden, and related (to secondary or reflective experience). I conclude by drawing back to what seems to me as the larger conundrum of any discussion of the starting point.

"Public Administration as Pragmatic, Democratic, and Objective" Public Administration Review, 2008 (Volume 68 Issue 2 Page 222-229, March-April 2008). Public Administration Review. In "Rediscovering the Taproot: Does Classical Pragmatism Offer a Source of Renewal to Public Administration," Patricia M. Shields argues that Public Administration/Administrators (PA) should support a much greater incorporation of classical pragmatism (CP) than it has to date. This paper supports that conclusion by focusing upon CP's central benefit to PA--its ability to provide PA with a claim to objectivity which it badly needs, but which Shields barely mentions. It shows how objectivity is closely connected to a pragmatic conception of democracy, and how this conception of democracy diametrically opposes one built upon a fact/value (or administration/politics) dichotomy.

"Addressing Controversies in Science Education: a Pragmatic Approach to Evolution Education" (with John Capps and Kim Bilica). Science and Education (December 2006). Science education controversies typically prove more intractable than those in scientific research because they involve a wider range of considerations (e.g., epistemic, social, ethical, political, and religious). How can educators acknowledge central issues in a controversy (such as evolution)? How can such problems be addressed in a way that is ethically sensitive and intellectually responsible? Drawing in part on pragmatic philosopher John Dewey, our solution is politically proactive, philosophically pragmatic, and grounded in research. Central to our proposal is (1) steps toward creating a philosophical “total attitude” that is democratic, imaginative, and hypothetical; (2) a deeper understanding of how scientific theories can be pragmatically true; and (3) an assessment of differing pedagogical approaches for teaching evolution in the classroom.

"Does Every Theory Deserve A Hearing? Evolution, Creationism, and the Limits of Democratic Inquiry." Southern Journal of Philosophy XLIV: June 2006, pp. 217-236. It's been 80 years since Dewey bemoaned fundamentalist attacks upon evolutionary biology. Despite staggering progress in science and technology, there are pitched battles over how evolution should be taught and more fundamentally what inquiries are worthy of the label "science." This paper examine the epistemological conflict and discusses some of the resources pragmatists have for repairing the damage done by this conflict to inquiry, community, and democracy.

"Academics Are Intellectual Entrepreneurs" (Peer Review, Spring 2005) Too many have come to view university faculty as “ivory tower” dwellers, isolated from the concerns of ordinary people and insistent on promoting ideological agendas. Some may better understand what academics strive to do not by thinking of classes and books but of “intellectual capital.” Like monetary capital, intellectual capital is the cumulative product of both individual effort and supportive communities. Intellectual capital is the dividend of years of hard work and practical experience that bears fruit by transforming lives and benefiting society. The best academics are “intellectual entrepreneurs." 

"Pragmatism, Neopragmatism, and Public Administration" (Administration & Society, 2005) The project of harmonizing ideals and practical realities often falls to the organs of public administration. Because this task involves the application of general and fixed concepts (policies, laws, standards) to particular and fluid practicalities (situations, circumstances, persons), those in public administration need strategies to deal with unusual or problematic cases. Pragmatism seems to offer such a strategy. But which pragmatism should be used? This article is a philosophical response to two disputes. What distinguishes classical pragmatism and neopragmatism? And which pragmatism holds greater promise for public administration agencies and why? The author discusses how public administration agents might find themselves obligated to philosophize about their agency?s fundamental mission and how the resources of pragmatism might serve that (largest scale) problematic situation. Finally, the author considers two obstacles likely to be encountered by those who employ a pragmatist approach. The article may be found online at SAGE Publications.

"Neopragmatism and the Relativist Menace" The following is a work that has been revised a couple of times but I doubt it will become an article. (It draws too closely upon other writings.) Pragmatists often find themselves under fire for being relativistic. Not surprising, given that most anti-foundationalist epistemologies occasionally have to weather this. But pragmatists can count on frequent attacks largely because of public association with Richard Rorty, the most famous living pragmatist who is, for many philosophers and cultural critics, also the most notorious relativist. My paper has two parts. First, while many aspects of Rorty's work explicitly oppose traditional (or absolutist) doctrines, several Rortyan ideas should dissuade us from calling him a relativist. "Absolutist" is a better label. Second, the meliorism ingredient in Dewey's pragmatism renders it especially defensible against the pejorative label, "relativism." Meliorism connects pragmatism to moral life and can help pragmatists exculpate their views and distinguish them from Rorty's narrower linguistic/ethnocentric neopragmatism. The danger posed by relativism is overestimated; preoccupation with relativism distracts us from more pernicious obstacles to moral progress: jingoism, dogmatism, careerism, and absolutism.

"Avoiding Wrong Turns: A Philippic Against The Linguistification of Pragmatism." In Dewey, Pragmatism, and Economic Methodology. Edited by Elias L. Khalil. London: Routledge. 2004. There is a general consensus that pragmatism’s twenty-year renaissance produced two readily identifiable versions. One is typically called "classic" pragmatism, while the other goes by several names: "neopragmatism," "postmodern pragmatism," and "linguistic pragmatism." To assess this newer form of pragmatism three issues are addressed: (1) How did linguistic pragmatism "update" classical pragmatism (especially Deweyan pragmatism)? (2) Why does linguistic pragmatism reject "experience" as a useful philosophical notion? Finally, (3) How is linguistic pragmatism wrong about "experience"? Answering those questions upholds a more general conclusion, namely that experience is methodologically inseparable from pragmatism and so is integral to pragmatism’s vitality—to its ability to evolve with and make a difference in the world. It is thus pragmatism’s experimental and experiential starting point—not it’s recent and fashionable association with postmodernism—that best explains a renewed and enduring enthusiasm for it. In sum, linguistic pragmatism may neglect or extirpate experience from pragmatism only at the terrible cost of rendering it philosophically impotent and practically unpopular.

"Comments on Sami Pihlstrom." From same 2001 AIER conference as the above article, this piece analyzes and critiques a longer paper by Sami Pihlstrom's call for a "transcendental pragmatism." Unpublished. 

"The Neopragmatist Turn." Southwest Philosophy Review 19:1 (January 2003): 79-88. There is a general consensus that pragmatism’s twenty-year renaissance produced two readily identifiable versions.  One is typically called “classical” pragmatism (or simply “pragmatism”), the other “neopragmatism” (which I will call “linguistic pragmatism”).  This newer form of pragmatism may be assessed by answering three questions: How does linguistic pragmatism “update” classical pragmatism? Why does linguistic pragmatism reject “experience” as a useful philosophical notion? Why is linguistic pragmatism wrong about “experience”? I.e., why is experience indispensable to pragmatism? I argue that experience is methodologically inseparable from pragmatism, and linguistic pragmatism may neglect or extirpate experience only at the cost of rendering pragmatism overly theoretical, quarantined from practical action.  Thus, linguistic pragmatism would revise pragmatism by eliminating the very features that explain the renewed and widespread enthusiasm for it.

"Progress in History: Dewey on Knowledge of the Past." The Review Journal of Philosophy and Social Science, vol. 25, nos. 1 and 2. (2000) Debates among historiographers and philosophers of history frequently turn on the metaphysical reality of the past and the epistemological foundations of judgments made about that past. It is argued that John Dewey's pragmatism dealt successfully with these history-related issues, as well as with the underlying metaphysical and epistemological ones. It is concluded that Dewey's classical pragmatist resolution of these longstanding problems difficulties has practical application today in debates between empirical realists and postmodernists.

"Putnam, Pragmatism, and Dewey." Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society (Winter 2000). Recent writings by Hilary Putnam indicate the seriousness with which he has moved toward pragmatism. Putnam has not only characterized his own position as similar to pragmatism, he has written a number of essays presenting the views of the classical pragmatists, especially James, Dewey, and Peirce. "Putnam, Pragmatism, and Dewey" examines fundamental problems with Putnam's recent efforts, especially as they pertain to Dewey's epistemology.

"Pragmatism and Literary Criticism: The Practical Starting Point." In REAL: Yearbook of Research in English and American Literature. (Berlin, New York: de Gruyter, 1999)  A clarification and defense of a "pragmatist" approach to literary and cultural criticism. The basis of such an approach is the "practical starting point" which serves as "a necessary admonitory adjunct" and "an essential corrective ingredient" (Kenneth Burke's phrases) in any critical theory. The paper has four sections: §1 defines the term "starting point"; §2 distinguishes the theoretical (TSP) from the practical (PSP) starting point; §3 grounds the practical starting point philosophically and argues for its superiority for literary and cultural criticism; §4 shows how each starting point is exemplified by two critics, Richard Rorty and Kenneth Burke, and explains why Burke's method is superior.

"Philosophy's Relevance and the Pattern of Inquiry," Teaching Philosophy (December 1999) Philosophy has become largely irrelevant to most undergraduates. Philosophical problems seem disconnected from life, "as something said by philosophers concerning them alone," to quote John Dewey. Avoiding this requires that philosophers match course aims and methods with the abilities and circumstances of those being educated. To this end, this paper describes a pedagogical method incorporating John Dewey's "pattern of inquiry." An application of the method to an introductory text is given. The long range goals of teaching philosophy are discussed.

"Genuine Doubt and the Community in Peirce's Theory of Inquiry." Southwest Philosophy Review (Spring 1996) Peirce defined "inquiry" as the passage from genuine doubt to settled belief; in the long run, a properly-functioning scientific community's inquiries must converge toward Truth. To explain why Peirce believed such convergence is necessary, I examine two notions: community and genuine doubt. Genuine doubt, I find, not only makes convergence possible, but also constitutes the starting point of most inquiries. The exception is philosophical inquiry, where, increasingly in Peirce's later writings, "genuine doubt" is supplanted by "cultivated doubt." This shift creates a tension in his general account of inquiry which I attempt to moderate by offering two interpretations.

"Was Kenneth Burke a Pragmatist?" Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society (Summer 1995)  At present, Kenneth Burke is primarily known as a critic of literature and rhetoric, not as a philosopher. Important affinities between Burke's views and the epistemological and metaphysical doctrines of Classical Pragmatists (e.g., Dewey and Peirce) call for a philosophical reappraisal of Burke. Part one sketches significant areas of agreement between Burke and Pragmatism, while part two details several crucial differences. I conclude that Burke is most "Pragmatic" in his early writings; his later writings on "logology" (which systematize his views on the structure of language) depart from Pragmatism's traditional emphases upon method and situation-based analysis.

"Kimball on Whitehead on Perception." Process Studies 22:1 (Winter 1993) A response to Robert H. Kimball's charge (which may be found here) that A. N. Whitehead's account of perception is incoherent. Kimball argued that Whitehead's account failed to reconcile two traditional theories of perception: phenomenological (sense-data) theory and causal (physiological) theory. I argue that Kimball's charge results from a misguided attempt to place Whitehead's theory within the parameters of a debate between two traditional theories. Instead, Whitehead supersedes that debate by offering-via the explanatory notions "perception in the mode of causal efficacy" and "perception in the mode of presentational immediacy"-a more comprehensive picture.

Last updated Jan 21, 2012 09:33:PM