Responses to Uebel on American Pragmatism and the Vienna Circle

Volume 4.5 of the Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy (JHAP) is now online. This issue contains discussions in response to Thomas Uebel’s article “American Pragmatism and the Vienna Circle: The Early Years” published in volume 3.3 (2015) of JHAP.

Was James Psychologistic?
Alexander Klein

Abstract: As Thomas Uebel has recently argued, some early logical positivists saw American pragmatism as a kindred form of scientific philosophy. They associated pragmatism with William James, whom they rightly saw as allied with Ernst Mach. But what apparently blocked sympathetic positivists from pursuing commonalities with American pragmatism was the concern that James advocated some form of psychologism, a view they thought could not do justice to the a priori. This paper argues that positivists were wrong to read James as offering a psychologistic account of the a priori. They had encountered James by reading Pragmatism as translated by the unabashedly psychologistic Wilhelm Jerusalem. But in more technical works, James had actually developed a form of conventionalism that anticipated the so-called “relativized” a priori positivists themselves would independently develop. While positivists arrived at conventionalism largely through reflection on the exact sciences, though, James’s account of the a priori grew from his reflections on the biological evolution of cognition, particularly in the context of his Darwin-inspired critique of Herbert Spencer.

The Subterranean Influence of Pragmatism on the Vienna Circle: Peirce, Ramsey, Wittgenstein
Cheryl Misak

Abstract: An underappreciated fact in the history of analytic philosophy is that American pragmatism had an early and strong influence on the Vienna Circle. The path of that influence goes from Charles Peirce to Frank Ramsey to Ludwig Wittgenstein to Moritz Schlick. That path is traced in this paper, and along the way some standard understandings of Ramsey and Wittgenstein, especially, are radically altered.

Pragmatisms and Logical Empiricisms: Response to Misak and Klein
Thomas Uebel

Abstract: This paper responds to the generous comments by Alexander Klein and Cheryl Misak on my “American Pragmatism and the Vienna Circle: The Early Years”. First, besides offering some clarification of my original thesis, I argue that Jerusalem was not liable to the anti-Spencerian criticisms by James that Klein adduces in the course of defending James against the charge of psychologism. Then I investigate the impact of Wittgenstein’s Ramsey-derived pragmatism, importantly foregrounded by Misak, on the Vienna Circle and argue that it was mainly limited to Schlick but not recognized as pragmatist, also leaving unaffected the impact of James’s pragmatism on Frank, Hahn and Neurath specified in my original paper. That said, Klein’s and Misak’s comments add significantly to our understanding of long-neglected transatlantic philosophical connections in the early twentieth century.

JHAP is available at: Submissions welcome.

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