Day three of the Frankfurt Conference: Idealism and Pragmatism workshop

Daniel Herbert reports on the papers presented at the third day of the Frankfurt conference, ‘Bridging Traditions: Idealism and Pragmatism’. These papers constituted the second workshop in the Idealism and Pragmatism Network’s workshop series, the third of which will will be held in Paris.

The workshop began with Scott Aikin’s “Modest Transcendental Arguments and Pragmatic Realism”.  For Aikin, transcendental arguments are ways of mAiking explicit the common intuition that various kinds of ‘pessimistic’ position (whether nihilistic, sceptical or relativistic) are in fact self-defeating.  While accepting that so-called ‘ambitious’ transcendental arguments may be vulnerable to criticisms of a kind made well-known by Stroud and others, Aikin maintains that more modest forms of transcendental argument nonetheless merit attention as ways of challenging different forms of ‘pessimism’.  In reply to the commonplace objection tat modest forms of transcendental argument offer ‘exculpation’ in place of ‘justification’, Aikin offers an extended argument strategy to which modest transcendental arguments may appeal in showing their conclusions to be epistemically preferable to a pessimistic alternative.  According to Aikin, this position on modest transcendental arguments is compatible with a ‘pragmatic realism’.

   Aikin’s paper was followed by Sebastian Rödl’s “Absolute Idealism and the Pragmatist Principle”.  According to Rödl, Peirce’s pragmatist principle is in fact an expression of idealism in that it advocates an understanding of the concept as self-consciousness of activity which is valid in itself, where this treatment is common to Kant, Fichte and Hegel.  As Rödl remarks, Peirce’s pragmatist principle entreats us to elucidate the rational purport of any expression in terms of its general implications for deliberate, self-controlled conduct.  For Rödl, pragmatism shares with German idealism a central focus upon the self-determining agency of the rational subject in relation to whose acts of reflective thought the world and its contents take on conceptual significance.

   In her paper, the third of the workshop, Catherine Legg gave an account of Peirce’s philosophy of perception, which she contrasted with Hume’s treatment of the perceptual.  According to Legg’s “Idealism Operationalized: How Pragmatism Can Help Explicate and Motivate the Possibly Surprising Idea of Reality as Representational”, Hume and Peirce differ greatly in terms of their understanding of perception, but nowhere more so than in their respective positions on the individuality or generality of perceptual content.  Whereas according to Hume perception is an unmediated awareness of discrete and fully determinate particular sensible qualities, Peirce recognises a distinction between the percept, which is a qualitative individual, and the perceptual judgement, which contains elements of generality and possesses a logical structure.  Percepts forcefully compel fallible perceptual judgements, but both are related in the ‘percipuum’, a continuous and temporally extended stretch of cognitive experience within which acquired habits of mind mediate the causal relation of percept and perceptual judgement.  For Legg, the percipuum is like a ‘moving window’, a temporal duration of infinitesimally small magnitude, through which percepts must pass from being anticipated to remembered, although there is no instantaneity in perception and it is artificial to distinguish very sharply between the anticipation of a perceptual experience and its recent memory.  Indeed, according to Legg, there is a sense in which future experience can influence previous experience on Peirce’s account.

   The last talk of the workshop was delivered by David Macarthur.  In “Pragmatism and Kant’s Critical Project”, Macarthur discussed the ways in which pragmatist philosophers, particularly Peirce and Dewey, may be understood as being involved in the continuation of Kant’s pursuit of a philosophy which is neither sceptical nor dogmatic, and which may contribute to our rational understanding of the possibility of scientific knowledge and inquiry.  According to Macarthur, Peirce, Dewey and other pragmatists seek to revise Kant’s critical project in an intersubjective or communal direction, whereby the study of universal elements of individual cognition is replaced by the understanding of consensus-building activities.   



Leave a comment

Filed under Conference

Day two of the Frankfurt Conference

Daniel Herbert reports on the papers presented at the 2nd day of the Frankfurt conference, ‘Bridging Traditions: Idealism and Pragmatism’.

The second day of the conference opened with Marcus Willaschek’s paper, “Kant and Peirce on Belief”.  According to Willaschek, there are strong affinities between Kant’s treatment of belief and that found in the work of such pragmatist philosophers as Peirce and James.  For Kant, belief is a kind of subjective conviction, or an assent to the truth of a judgement the available evidence for which does not suffice for a claim to knowledge.  Such an attitude may, despite its evidential shortcomings, nonetheless count as rationally warranted if the truth of the judgement in question is necessary for the possible realisation of one of the subject’s practical ends, certain of which are necessary commitments of the moral law.  Hence, Kant agrees with James that practical concerns can, under certain conditions, justify belief in a judgement.  Unlike James, however, Kant does not aim to justify the holding of a belief by appeal to the prospective practical consequences of doing so.

   Willaschek’s paper was followed by Sami Pihlström’s “Subjectivity as Negativity and as Limit:  On the Metaphysics and Ethics of the Transcendental Self, Pragmatically Naturalized”.  Pihlström proposes a pragmatist transcendental philosophy in answer to current demands for a non-reductive naturalism about the human self and its relation to the world.  Such pragmatist transcendentalism involves conceiving of the self as a standpoint upon the world rather than a thing within it and also commits one to the rejection of metaphysical realism in favour of a view according to which empirical reality is, from a transcendental perspective, constitutively dependent upon the selective practical interests of the subject.  According to Pihlström, the subject is best thought of in negative terms, as a non-entity and limiting condition of the world.  At the same time, however, there can be no sharp separation between the metaphysical and ethical undertakings of this subject, since it is always involved in its world and with others.  Hence Pihlström shares with many pragmatists a suspicion about traditional distinctions between theoretical and practical philosophy.

   In his talk, the third of the day, Robert Stern argued for a reassessment of James’s relation to Kant.  Stern’s paper, “Round Kant or through him?  On James’s arguments for freedom, and their relation to Kant’s”, argued that James and Kant are closer in their arguments for freedom of the will than is typically recognised.  According to Stern, there is a moderate evidentialism at work in Kant’s and James’s respective arguments for freedom of the will.  Kant’s argument for such freedom, in the second Critique, appeals to evidence supplied by practical reason and the consciousness of oneself as subject to a categorical ‘ought’ which one is nonetheless capable of disregarding.  Such an awareness of one’s moral obligations, Kant maintains is possible only for free agents and therefore provides evidence for our freedom.  Moreover, Stern maintains, James adopts a similar strategy in “The Dilemma of Determinism”, arguing that our feelings of regret at human acts of cruelty and wrongdoing are more compatible with an indeterminist view of reality than with the alternative, so that practical considerations lend evidential support to the hypothesis that our actions are not determined. 

   The fourth paper of the day was Wolfgang Kuhlmann’s “A Plea for Transcendental Philosophy”.  According to Kuhlmann, some commitment to transcendentalism is necessary if we are to resist the sceptical and anti-philosophical pressure of today’s fashion for radical forms of fallibilism, historicism and holism.  Aligning himself with Karl-Otto Apel, Kuhlmann advocates a transcendental pragmatism which explores the necessary conditions for the possibility of ‘discourse’, the intersubjective activity of making assertions, offering rational grounds of belief and challenging the views of a conversation partner.  In order to participate in engagements of this kind, Kuhlmann maintains, one cannot sincerely espouse a scepticism without limits, but must curtail one’s sceptical position in recognition of the fact that in the very act of arguing one’s point with a conversation partner, one betrays by one’s practice that certain commitments are unhintergehbar, or non-circumventable, for this basic kind of activity.

   Karl-Otto Apel’s transcendental pragmatism was also mentioned in the last paper of the day, Jean-Marie Chevalier’s “Did Peirce develop transcendental a posteriori arguments?”.  Chevalier shares Apel’s interpretation of Peirce as a transcendental philosopher who replaced Kant’s transcendental deduction of the categories with a transcendental deduction of the validity of forms of synthetic reasoning in the long run.  Chevalier maintains, moreover, that Peirce is unlike Kant in seeking to locate the transcendental conditions of the possibility of synthetic reasoning in features of objective reality, rather than in the subjective structure of consciousness.  According to Chevalier, Peirce’s metaphysics of objective idealism and cosmic evolution renounces Kantian subjective idealism as well as Mill’s naturalistic empiricism in favour of what Kant calls “a system of preformation of pure reason”, according to which the conditions of the possibility of synthetic knowledge are neither imposed upon the object by the subject, nor inferred from experience, but are instead originally common to both subject and object, with neither having special priority over the other.

Leave a comment

Filed under Conference

Day one of the Frankfurt Conference

In April 2014, the Idealism and Pragmatism Network and a project on “Pragmatism, Kant, and Transcendental Philosophy” based at the Philosophy Department at Goethe-Universität in Frankfurt held a conference on ‘Bridging Traditions: Idealism and Pragmatism’. Details of the conference can be found here:

Below, Daniel Herbert reports on day one of the conference.

The first paper of the conference, James O’Shea’s “Concepts as Involving Laws: A Kantian Pragmatist Line of Thought”, focussed upon Kant’s treatment of the conceptual understanding of objects and compared this to the approaches of the Kantian pragmatist philosophers, C.I. Lewis and Wilfrid Sellars. According to O’Shea, Kant maintains that the very possibility of self-conscious experience necessarily presupposes that one is able to distinguish one’s own representations from a law-governed object in which they are grounded. Strawson’s notorious complaint against the Second Analogy, namely that it involves “a non sequiter of numbing grossness”, exemplifies a ‘phenomenalist temptation’ amongst Kant’s interpreters, whereby it is assumed that the object must be constructed from the sensible representations through which it is represented. For O’Shea the same phenomenalist temptation resurfaces in Lewis’s ‘conceptualistic pragmatism’ which, although officially opposed to such an interpretation of Kant’s position, nonetheless occasionally slips into treating relations of objective law as constructions from sensible givens. O’Shea states however that his own interpretation of Kant matches that of Sellars, who successfully reconciles Kant’s anti-phenomenalism with Lewis’s pragmatist insistence upon the revisability of the conceptual frameworks in terms of which laws are prescribed to the objects of experience.

O’Shea’s talk was followed by Sebastian Gardner’s “Merely Regulative? Vanishing Distinctions in Kant’s Third Critique”. By focussing upon the topic of regulativity and its subsequent development in the post-Kantian tradition, Gardner addressed a topic of crucial importance to the understanding of the relation between pragmatism and idealism. Gardner’s talk stressed Kant’s increasing reliance upon the concept of the regulative in his Critique of Judgement and how, in this text, regulativity receives a different treatment than in the first Critique. After discussing Peirce’s explicit hostility towards appeals to transcendentally constitutive grounds, and his apparently more welcoming attitude to the regulative dimension of Kant’s transcendental philosophy, Gardner proceeded to examine the concept of the postulate in post-Kantian German idealism. Of particular interest in Gardner’s talk was his discussion of Fichte and Schelling with respect to their respective uses of the concept of a postulate in grounding the unity of theoretical and practical philosophy. Fichte, especially, is a figure who merits attention in grasping the possible reconciliation of idealist and pragmatist insights.

After lunch, the conference talks continued with Gabriele Gava’s “The Fallibilism of Kant’s Architectonic”. According to Gava, Kant’s reputation for laying claim to apodictic knowledge in his Critical philosophy, while not unmerited, is nonetheless liable to obscure certain of his methodological remarks which seem to allow for a mode of justification which is both a priori and fallible. Emphasising Kant’s insistence upon the non-transparency and publicity of reason, Gava argues that, according to Kant, the resources afforded to us for the construction of an architectonic philosophical science must be subject to a continuing and searching public criticism. While necessity, universality and apriority is the standard to which philosophical claims must aspire, according to Kant, this is not to say that we cannot be mistaken about whether, in any particular case, this target has been met. Gava’s account addresses a major obstacle in reconciling Kantian and pragmatist approaches in so far as a strong commitment to fallibilism is characteristic of American pragmatism but apparently absent in the Critical philosophy as traditionally understood. For Gava however, greater attention to the much neglected Transcendental Doctrine of Method may bring to light that Kant is closer to the pragmatists than often thought.

In my own talk, “Dewey’s Hegelian Critique of Kant”, I tried to show how the Hegelian ancestry of Dewey’s pragmatism informed his criticisms of Kant. Dewey’s claim to advocate a ‘frankly realistic’ position with respect to that which is known by way of experimental inquiry seems to many to be incompatible with his insistence that “knowledge makes a difference to its object”. The latter commitment can easily create the impression that Dewey adopts a position which many have attributed to Kant, namely that human knowledge is restricted to the artificial products of cognitive labour upon an initially unrefined raw data. I tried to suggest that Dewey’s position is in fact closer to Hegel’s than to this caricature of Kantian idealism and hope to have shown that Dewey represents an important point of contact between the Hegelian idealist and Peircean pragmatist traditions. In particular, Dewey offers the promise of a naturalistic Hegelianism; one which attempts to reconcile Hegel’s organicism and anti-dualism with the pragmatic theories of meaning and inquiry found in Peirce and James.

The last talk of the day was given by Christopher Hookway, whose presentation, “Peirce, Royce and Pragmatism”, explored how Royce’s Absolute idealism was invigorated by Peircean insights. Under Peirce’s influence, Royce came to espouse an “Absolute pragmatism” which employed Peirce’s semiotic to outline threefold classifications of modes of cognition and inference. Royce’s1918 work, The Problem of Christianity, appropriates Peirce’s notion of a society of sign-users and interpreters, and puts this to use in characterising the Christian church as a community of interpreters. Hookway’s talk gave an example, through Royce’s work, of how pragmatism may contribute ideas advantageous to the development of post-Kantian idealist metaphysics and philosophy of religion, highlighting a Roycean concern with the Absolute and examining how Royce was able to employ Peirce’s idea of Thirdness to explore “interpretation” as a mode of cognition distinct from both perception and conception and central to the binding together of a living community of Christian belief and worship. Royce also came to express approval for Peirce’s pragmatist maxim, or something very like it, by maintaining that interpretants, or what Peirce also calls “Thirds”, introduce a grade of clarity of understanding beyond intuitive familiarity and conceptual definition, thereby closely aligning himself with pragmatism.

Leave a comment

Filed under Conference, Idealism and Pragmatism: A History

James Ward and Cambridge Pragmatism

The next issue of the British Journal for the History of Philosophy includes a piece by me on the British idealist James Ward and his relation to the pragmatist tradition, which comes from my work with the Idealism and Pragmatism project. It has been advanced published online here: (if you don’t have access to the journal and would like to read it please let me know and I’ll send you the eprint link).

At the beginning of the twentieth century James Ward had become one of Britain’s most important philosophers. He was also regarded as having significantly advanced the study of psychology. He was the first professor in mental philosophy and logic at Cambridge (the chair later held by Moore and Wittgenstein) and was very well regarded internationally (he had even dined at the White House). Today, however, he has been almost completely forgotten and even amongst scholars of British idealism Ward is an obscure figure. In this article I argue that he has been unjustly forgotten due to a misrepresentation of his work as a kind of anti-naturalistic theism. However, if we focus on his relation to the pragmatist tradition we bring to light the more defensible naturalistic elements of his work. Furthermore, understanding Ward as a pragmatist presents us with a far more complex history of the reception of pragmatism at the turn of the century than the straightforwardly hostile one traditionally told. Crucially, I argue that Ward was a much more important figure for the development of early analytic philosophy and the pragmatist tradition than has previously been recognised and that his work is still of interest today due to his sophisticated understanding of the relationship between developments in the life sciences and psychology.

James Ward

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Sellars’ Science and Metaphysics

The Idealism and Pragmatism reading groups at the University of Sheffield have recently combined to work through the first two chapters of Sellars’ Science and Metaphysics with visiting scholar Willem deVries.  Science and Metaphysics is the published version of Sellars’ 1965-1966 Locke Lectures, in which he offers a complex and detailed reading of Kant (or as the subtitle says: “Variations on Kantian Themes”).

The discussion ranged widely, from the “sense impression inference” to Sellars on Kant on space and time. I was particularly interested in our discussion of the second chapter, in which Sellars offers a version of the distinction between appearances and things-in-themselves. Sellars thinks that the distinction can’t be rejected without seriously departing from Kant (we need to maintain the distinction between “existing simpliciter” and “existing as represented”). However, he rejects the Kantian idea that things-in-themselves are unknowable. This can be achieved, he thinks, via a Peircean/pragmatist conception of truth. On this view, the in-itself is not to be found in an inaccessible God’s-eye-view. Rather, the in-itself is discovered in the long-run by scientific inquiry. Sellars’ manifest image/scientific image distinction can then be recast as a version of the distinction between appearances and things-in-themselves.

This line of reasoning was controversial. Most of the group seemed unconvinced that the position could work without an unacceptable form of scientism. For one thing, it is not obvious that we are talking about the same things at the beginning and the end of inquiry (this issue also came up in deVries’ recent work on Brandom’s interpretation of Sellars, concerned the possibility of identifying objects across the manifest image/scientific image divide). Nor is it clear that the natural sciences are converging on a single “image” of the world, in the sense that Sellars require (here deVries noted the now-unpopular “unity of science” view in the background of Sellars position).

deVries’ visit has emphasised for me the importance of Sellars for an understanding of the relationship between idealism and pragmatism. This is not only because of his influence on contemporary heirs of the idealist and pragmatist traditions, but also for his own creative synthesis of the traditions. There is more work to be done here. As deVries’ work on Hegel and Sellars shows, Sellars’ links to pragmatism and idealism are not always made explicitly!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

London Conference CFP


We are inviting submissions for papers for the London conference of the Idealism & Pragmatism project funded by the Leverhulme Trust and based in Sheffield

The conference will be held at the Institute of Philosophy, London, on 23-25 July 2015.
Further details of the conference can be found here:
Further details of the project can be found here:

There are spaces for two submitted papers, on any theme relating to the purposes of the project. If you are interested in being considered, please submit your paper (suitable for a 40 minute presentation and in anonymised form with a cover sheet giving identifying information), to Kim Redgrave ( by the deadline of 1st October 2014. Papers will be refereed, and the successful submissions will be informed by the end of October. There will be funding to cover travel, subsistence and accommodation for the period of the conference. The accepted papers would also be included in publication plans for the conference.

If you have any practical queries arising, please contact Kim Redgrave, the project administrator. If you have any further questions, please contact Robert Stern (, who is PI for the project.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

British Academy Symposium

The Practical Turn: Pragmatism in Britain in the Long Twentieth Century

Thursday 2 October 2014, 10.15am to 6.00pm, followed by a reception
The British Academy, 10-11 Carlton House Terrace, London SW1Y 5AH

Convenors: Professor Huw Price FBA, University of Cambridge, and Professor Cheryl Misak FRSC, University of Toronto
The Pragmatist approach to philosophical problems focuses on the role of disputed notions — e.g., truth, value or necessity — in our practices. As a self-conscious philosophical stance, Pragmatism arose in America in the late nineteenth century, in the work of writers such as Charles Peirce, William James and John Dewey. Since then many distinguished British philosophers have also taken this practical turn, even if few have explicitly identified themselves as Pragmatists. This symposium traces and assesses the influence of American Pragmatism on British philosophy, with particular emphasis on Cambridge in the inter-war period, on post-war Oxford, and on recent developments.

Participants include:
Professor David Bakhurst, Queen’s University, Canada
Professor Simon Blackburn FBA, University of Cambridge, New College of the Humanities, and University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Ms Anna Boncompagni, Roma Tre University
Professor Hans Johann Glock, University of Zurich
Professor Jane Heal FBA, University of Cambridge
Professor Hallvard Lillehammer, Birkbeck College, London
Professor Hugh Mellor, University of Cambridge
Professor Cheryl Misak FRSC, University of Toronto
Professor Huw Price FBA FAHA, University of Cambridge
Professor Ian Rumfitt, University of Birmingham
Professor David Wiggins FBA, University of Oxford.

FREE: Registration required


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized