Central European Pragmatist Forum - Bratislava, Budapest, Praha, Warszawa, Wien (www.cepf.sk)

Board of Directors

Scott L. Pratt
co-chair, USA

Lyubov Bugaeva
co-chair, Russia


James Campbell

Roberta Dreon

Lubomir Dunaj

Michael Festl

Alexander Kremer

Dorota Koczanowicz

Leszek Koczanowicz

Lee A. McBride III

Carlos Mougan

Sami Pihlstrom

John Ryder

Radim Sip

Emil Visnovsky

Christopher Voparil

Sandra Zakutna





How American is American pragmatism? This question has been asked again and again since the first international discussions about pragmatism after the publication of William James's famous lectures in 1907. It was almost forced on the founders of pragmatism because critics and sympathizers alike found this new philosophical school or movement quintessentially American. They differed very much, however, with regard to the question what being American precisely means. Is it the spirit of democracy, an egalitarian vision of creativity, the affirmation of ordinary life that lies in the emphasis on practical-mindedness, as the proponents and sympathizers seemed to assume? Or is it vulgar commercialism, crass materialism, moral and political opportunism, and anti-intellectualism, as the critics maintained? All the leading pragmatists felt themselves terribly misunderstood by such critics; after many attempts to dispel what they took to be mere anti-American prejudices, they withdrew into irony. Pragmatism, wrote George Herbert Mead,

"is regarded as a pseudo-philosophical formulation of that most obnoxious American trait, the worship of success; as the endowment of the four-flusher with a faked philosophical passport; the contemptuous swagger of a glib and restless upstart in the company of the mighty but reverent spirits worshiping at the shrine of subsistent entities and timeless truth; ...a Ford efficiency engineer bent on the mass production of philosophical tin lizzies." (Philosophy of the Act (Chicago, 1938), p. 97)

But this question has taken on new relevance in our time, and this for two reasons. One is the indisputable revitalization of the pragmatist tradition within the United States itself. Although work on pragmatism is still uncomfortably squeezed between the schools of analytic philosophy on the one hand and what is called, strangely enough, "continental" thinking in American philosophy departments, the interest in pragmatism in American intellectual life in general has increased enormously. The other reason is that this renewed interest in America is accompanied by a similar resurgence in other countries, in Germany and France, for example, but also in the formerly communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Pragmatism has become a focus again for debates about American self-understanding and is becoming an interesting intellectual alternative for European intellectuals dissatisfied with aspects of their own traditions of thought.

The present volume documents this state of affairs in an impressive way. Some of the contributions clearly take the idea of pragmatism as a philosophy of democracy, as it was articulated most forcefully by John Dewey, as their point of departure. They either expect a better understanding of the democratization processes going on in Central and Eastern Europe from Dewey's thinking or they expect, in the case of some American contributors, new impulses from Europe for the somewhat slackened spirit of democracy in America.

Another point on which such effort is concentrated in this volume is the comparison of American pragmatist thinkers with somewhat parallel intellectuals from Europe. A constant theme in this volume seems to be the comparison of pragmatist philosophy with aspects of one contemporary author, namely Jiirgen Habermas. His philosophy of communication, rational discourse and democratic politics obviously is of great interest for discussions about pragmatism in our time. More original perhaps are comparisons with European thinkers that are of the greatest importance, but whose works have found so far only a very selective or a superficial reception in America. This volume contains, in this regard, attempts to establish connections between pragmatism and, for example, the philosophical anthropology of Helmuth Plessner or the literary theory and dialogical philosophy of Mikhail Bakhtin. Other contributions discuss the relationship between pragmatism and the work of an outstanding analytic philosopher (Michael Dummett) or of a sociologist whose work lies somewhere half-way between structuralism and a theory of action (Pierre Bourdieu).

The third area of interest in this volume is the field of aesthetics. Like some of the most creative American pragmatists today, European thinkers seem to find inspiration for innovative work here. But this fact also makes two lacunae in this volume visible, for which nobody should blame the editors but which nevertheless shed light upon the current reception of pragmatism. There is no piece on the pragmatist understanding of religion, although we cannot even understand what James was trying to achieve if we do not include this dimension of human life. And there is nothing about the major social thinker among pragmatists, namely George Herbert Mead; the strange separation of the histories of reception Dewey in philosophy, Mead in sociology is thus unfortunately continued.

But these are observations about an ongoing process and its first steps, not about a settled matter of the past. If this process goes on, many things will change in the future. This volume is clear evidence of the increasing internationalization of pragmatism; and not of any Americanization of the world.

Hans Joas
Professor of Philosophy
Universitat Erfurt


A tradition is in the process of being established. As a response to the growing interest in American pragmatist philosophy in Europe, the Central European Pragmatist Forum (CEPF) was founded in and it first conference was in 2000 in Stara Lesna, Slovakia. The second was held in Krakow, Poland in 2002, creating this volume. CEPF will hold its international conferences every second year; the 2004 meeting will be in Potsdam, Germany.

The Krakow meeting's theme was "Deconstruction and Reconstruction." Presenters included fifteen scholars from North America and roughly the same number from Germany, Finland, Russia, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, and South America. The term "Deconstruction" in the title of the conference refers to postmodernism, arising in the second half of 20th century, while "Reconstruction" is drawn from one of John Dewey's prominent works, evoking a main trend in the pragmatist tradition. Nonetheless, the participants of the conference did not use the term "deconstruction" in Derrida's sense; decon-struction was absorbed by the pragmatist idea of reconstruction and understood as a necessary phase in the changeable and precarious process of life in its all dimensions, in particular as shaped by shaped by human beings.

John McDermott, a central contemporary figure in American pragmatism and the honored guest of the conference, opens the volume with "Tranciency and Amelioration: Revisited." He situates pragmatism in the field of three main questions taken from the Kant's First Critique and responds to them in a Deweyan spirit. He shows how pragmatism is inscribed in the tradition of the history of philosophy on the one hand, and how it crosses the limits of this tradition, on the other. John Ryder, in paper that completes the volume, also puts the problem of the place and role of contemporary pragmatism in the context of three questions. In this case, however, the questions grow not from the heritage of the history of philosophy, but rather from an observation of today's social-political reality. Although the questions are complex, and in this regard they are open to interpretation and exploration, Ryder does not avoid the challenge and presents, as a proposition, his own answers. His diagnosis regarding the place of pragmatism in the contemporary world (the thought which lost its fatherland, thought in exile, thought that is looking for domestication) is provocative in its radicality.

During the conference it became clear that of the classic American pragmatists, John Dewey is the figure most appreciated by the participants. Many of the authors refer to him in those of their papers devoted the problems of contemporary theory of democracy, ethics, aesthetics, and also the theory of cognition and knowledge. The semiologically oriented Peirce, the only pragmatist thinker present in continental philosophy during the period of a virtually complete amnesia about pragmatism in Europe, in the time of its renaissance had to give way to John Dewey, a social reformer and a theorist of democracy. Dewey's broad idea of democracy as a way of life in the process of endless melioration, is reconsidered by Wegmarshaus and Kilanowski. While the former stresses the importance of education in the theory of democracy, the latter emphasizes the central role of ethics, and both speak about forming democracy in the practice of a changeable life. The ethical thread continues in Shook's paper, in which the conceptions of limited (Habermas, Rawls) and unlimited (Dewey) democracy are compared; the distinction between the two models of democracy derives from the problem of the extent to which moral values have a universal character. The solution of the problem is decisive for the shape of any given democracy and its social institutions, a point taken into consideration by Campbell.

If in the first part of the volume, "Toward Democracy," ethics was in a background for the reflections on democracy and democratic society, in the second part, "Ethics," the problem of democracy underlies ethical issues. In this respect sections one and two are complementary. Koczanowicz continues the thought developed in Shock's paper, namely the degree to which ethical problems can be rationally deliberated, and whether there is it at all any rational grounding for ethics? Koczanowicz shows the essence of the problem by considering different theories of ethics. Thomson, for his part, compares discoursive ethics, a la Habermas, and the practical ethics of pragmatism, and explores their apparent similarities.

Dewey was the only overtly pragmatist thinker who built the foundation for a pragmatist philosophy of art, and the authors interested in art and aesthetics all refer to his work. Nevertheless, Graybosch shows in his analysis that the American idea of beauty is deeply rooted in the works of Edwards, the American Transcendentalists, and especially Emerson, and that Dewey's pragmatist conception is their offspring. Ostman indicates how Dewey's aesthetic idea of "art as experience" functions in the practice of design. Marsoobian, acknowledging the centrality of Dewey, considers Richard Shusterman's recent work, and draws on Peirce and Justus Buchler to develop a richer theory of aesthetic meaning. Wilkoszewska, referring to Dewey, McDermott, Alexander, and Shusterman, offers a short history of pragmatist aesthetic thinking in order to put a basic question: how does one construct a pragmatist aesthetics?

The two final parts concern the problem of the subject, knowing, and knowledge. Some of the papers have a comparative character, particularly in relation to German philosophy, especially to Plessner's anthropology (Kruger) and Habermas' theory of communication (Hanzel), or to British analytic thought, for example to Dummet (Szubka). The American neopragmatist thinkers Margolis and Putnam are also recalled, while the point of departure in Visnovsky's work on rationality and Gutowski's on realism is still John Dewey. Throughout the dominant themes of the volume - democracy, ethics, art, reason, knowledge other authors weave discussions of justice (Lovas), memory and imagination in Santayana (Bugaeva), education (Skinner), and the critique of metaphysics (Oleksy). Taken together the papers convey a sense of the breadth of contemporary thought in the American, more or less pragmatist vein, and the depth of its reach into the work of many European philosophers.


The editors would like to express our gratitude to the many people who provided assistance in preparation of and during the Second Central European Pragmatist Forum (CEPF) at Jagellonian University in Krakow, Poland in June 2002. Jagellonian University made available a delightful conference facility just outside the city which made an ideal venue for the conference. We wish to thank Emil Visnovsky of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, one of CEPF's co-founders and co-directors, who has provided the needed leadership for the organization of the conference and the development of the study of American philosophy in contemporary Europe. We would also like to thank James Campbell, a member of CEPF's Board of Directors, who provided invaluable assistance preparing several of the papers for publication. John Shook, the series editor and a contributor to the volume, has been terrifically helpful and patient. In the end, the excitement of the Pragmatist Forum derives from the European and American philosophers who devoted a week of their time to come together as a community to engage the issues that define the pragmatist and American philosophical traditions and their application to contemporary social and intellectual conditions. For that commitment the editors are especially grateful.

John Ryder, Krystyna Wilkoszewska

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