Pragmatism as Transition

Historicity and Hope in James, Dewey, and Rorty

Colin Koopman

Columbia University Press

Pragmatism as Transition

Google Preview

Pub Date: November 2015

ISBN: 9780231148757

288 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $28.00£24.00

Pub Date: November 2009

ISBN: 9780231148740

288 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $85.00£71.00

Pub Date: November 2009

ISBN: 9780231520195

288 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $27.99£24.00

Pragmatism as Transition

Historicity and Hope in James, Dewey, and Rorty

Colin Koopman

Columbia University Press

Pragmatism is America's best-known native philosophy. It espouses a practical set of beliefs and principles that focus on the improvement of our lives. Yet the split between classical and contemporary pragmatists has divided the tradition against itself. Classical pragmatists, such as John Dewey and William James, believed we should heed the lessons of experience. Neopragmatists, including Richard Rorty, Hilary Putnam, and Jürgen Habermas, argue instead from the perspective of a linguistic turn, which makes little use of the idea of experience. Can these two camps be reconciled in a way that revitalizes a critical tradition?

Colin Koopman proposes a recovery of pragmatism by way of "transitionalist" themes of temporality and historicity which flourish in the work of the early pragmatists and continue in contemporary neopragmatist thought. "Life is in the transitions," James once wrote, and, in following this assertion, Koopman reveals the continuities uniting both phases of pragmatism. Koopman's framework also draws from other contemporary theorists, including Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, Bernard Williams, and Stanley Cavell. By reflecting these voices through the prism of transitionalism, a new understanding of knowledge, ethics, politics, and critique takes root. Koopman concludes with a call for integrating Dewey and Foucault into a model of inquiry he calls genealogical pragmatism, a mutually informative critique that further joins the analytic and continental schools.

Colin Koopman's scholarship is thorough and inclusive, his writing clear and direct, and his timely message an important addition to a long and sane pragmatic tradition that understands philosophy as melioristic cultural criticism. He offers his readers many resources for this task-from William James and John Dewey, of course, to Michel Foucault, Richard Rorty, James Baldwin, Pierre Bourdieu, Robert Brandom, and many others-and, in so doing, provides a wide-ranging and compelling contribution to contemporary genealogical pragmatism.

John J. Stuhr, author of Genealogical Pragmatism and Pragmatism, Postmodernism, and the Future of Philosophy

Pragmatism as Transition is carefully researched, articulate, and forward-looking. The 'third wave' Pragmatism it offers is capacious without sacrificing a central commitment to meliorism, and it is eager for constructive engagement with other philosophical traditions. With this book, Koopman secures his place among the very best of the new generation of philosophers.

Larry A. Hickman, the Center for Dewey Studies, Southern Illinois University Carbondale

This historically learned and philosophically ambitious book recovers and applies to contemporary debates the radically historicist theme in the pragmatist tradition. Scrupulously attentive to classical texts and to the arguments of contemporary philosophers, Koopman has given us one of the most arresting books about pragmatism to appear in recent years.

David A. Hollinger, author of Cosmopolitanism and Solidarity: Studies in Ethnoracial, Religious, and Professional Affiliation in the United States

Koopman has digested a number of the principal discussions of this distinctive issue, linked them together in a vision larger than its most recent individual voices provide, and given us a new direction of inquiry drawn from surprisingly many sources within current Western philosophy.

Joseph Margolis, author of Reinventing Pragmatism: American Philosophy at the End of the Twentieth Century

Koopman's genealogical pragmatism completes the post-metaphysical agenda inaugurated by Hegel and developed by James, Dewey, and Rorty—he demands a radical 'historicity' in addressing philosophical problems and in renovating the possibilities of political theory and cultural critique. His book is a tour de force: original, bold, and above all useful in appropriating pragmatism for new intellectual purposes.

James Livingston, Rutgers University

This may be the best general book about pragmatism in a decade... essential


Pragmatism as Transition is one of those rare books that sets our thinking on a new track. Exhaustively researched, the book not only cuts through facile readings of pragmatism that deny to us its transformative possibilities, but the book wonderfully teases out pragmatism's perfectionist core that enables a more capacious political and ethical life. This is a significant contribution, especially to those interested in the creative work pragmatism makes possible. Bravo!

Melvin L. Rogers, author of The Undiscovered Dewey: Religion, Morality, and the Ethos of Democracy

Koopman's [Pragmatism as Transition] is surely an interesting book that pushes the fringes of the pragmatist tradition a bit further.

European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy

Clear, insightful, and ambitious... the book is exemplary in the best Emersonian sense.


Well-written and valuable for students of American pragmatism.

Foucault Studies
Introduction: What Pragmatism Does
1. Transitionalism, Meliorism, and Cultural Criticism
2. Transitionalism in the Pragmatist Tradition
3. Three Waves of Pragmatism
4. Knowledge as Transitioning
5. Ethics as Perfecting
6. Politics as Progressing
7. Critical Inquiry as Genealogical Pragmatism

Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2010

About the Author

Colin Koopman is associate professor of philosophy at the University of Oregon and author of Genealogy as Critique: Foucault and the Problems of Modernity.