Scott L. Pratt
The history of America is in part a history of an emergent philosophy and practice of pluralism. Some have argued, particularly from within the Native American tradition, that pluralism has survived in North America because there are multiple "worlds" to sustain it. The claim is not an epistemic one-that is, the claim that there are multiple worldviews-but an ontological claim that there exist multiple worlds, and that this pluralism has epistemic implications. According to this indigenous perspective, the plurality of actual worlds makes possible an ongoing pluralism and interactions between worlds.
Historically, this pluralist philosophy emerged along the border between Native American peoples and the growing communities of European American people. While at times this pluralism was in ascendance and helped to develop practices of coexistence and cross-cultural interaction, at other times-most times-then and now the philosophy and practices of pluralism were overwhelmed by the dominant monism of European philosophy and religion and by the complementary practices of conquest and assimilation.
In my book, Native Pragmatism: Rethinking the Roots of American Philosophy, I argued that the philosophical views of Native Americans played a significant role in the origins of classical pragmatism-the philosophies of John Dewey, Charles Peirce, and William James. By examining both the Native American philosophical traditions that emerged in the interaction between indigenous Americans and Europeans, and the ways in which the work of seminal European American philosophers developed, I argued that a case can be made for the influence of Native American thought. In particular, I looked at the work of Roger Williams, Benjamin Franklin, and Lydia Maria Child, the Native American traditions that they encountered, and ways in which these interactions contributed to a developing and distinctive American philosophy. Among the aspects of native thought that were most influential, I argued, was the principle of pluralism. In my new work, I will examine the conception of pluralism as it developed in the work of American philosophers at the turn of the 19th century, not as an historical account, but as an effort to develop a new theory for understanding and fostering pluralism at the beginning of the 21st century.
My two new projects grow out of this earlier work. The first is a book with Continuum Press and co-authored with Erin McKenna (Pacific Lutheran University) titled American Philosophy: A Tradition of Resistance. The book is a new introduction to American philosophy aimed at undergraduates. The book charts, in particular, a tradition of resistance that recognizes the transformative role of pragmatism, American idealism, African American, feminist and indigenous philosophy. We tell the story of this tradition as it is historically shaped by major events that call for philosophical reflection and illustrate the ways in which the resulting philosophies are relevant to lived experience. Beginning in the period of post-Reconstruction when industrialism and prejudice threaten to overwhelm American society, philosophers sought a way to transform society and address the problems faced across race, culture, gender and class. The Wounded Knee Massacre in 1890, Jim Crow and lynch laws, the 1893 Columbian Exposition, the Pullman Strike in 1894, and the woman suffrage movement all mark widespread social conflict and raise questions about knowledge and the nature of identity and community.
In the period following World War One, American philosophers sought new means of responding to virulent racism and sexism, the challenges of science and technology, and the need for new conceptions of value. Following World War Two, philosophy in America—at least as it was done in the academy—lost its way. Taking its lead from the logical positivists, philosophers sought problems that could be considered without recourse to the political and economic world. In the context of this shift, American philosophy moved outside the academy to develop new conceptions of identity compatible with integration and civil rights, new approaches to understanding environmental destruction, the place of indigenous peoples and more.
In the last two decades of the century, professional philosophy was called back to its place in America and the need for reflection on the issues that shape human life. In the wake of 9/11, American philosophers have taken up the questions of pluralism, fallibilism, and liberation again calling on the resources of the tradition and seeking new engagement with the philosophical resources of an increasingly plural world. The objective of American Philosophy: A Tradition of Resistance is to help students to see the relevance of philosophy to their lives today through the lens of a tradition that developed in direct response to American problems and hopes.
My second project looks at the implications of the genocide against American Indians in post-Civil War America, tentatively titled Agency and Empire. I argue in part that the policies and practices of genocide beginning in the 1870s reconstructed the conception of agency in the dominant culture (and in philosophy). This conception of agency (at first used to justify genocide) became the conception of agency central to the rise of public education in the US and came to inform our politics and social policy as well as mainstream philosophy. Against this conception of agency is another that has stood in opposition, emerging at times in academic philosophy but that finds its recent expression in the work of contemporary indigenous thinkers, material feminists, and some recent pragmatists.
I currently serve as the Director of Graduate Studies for the Philosophy Department and as an editor for the Transactions of the C. S. Peirce Society, a leading journal in American Philosophy.
I teach a courses to introduce undergraduate and graduate students to the wide range of thinkers within the American tradition. These courses include a general introduction to American philosophy, surveys of African American and Native American philosophy, as well as courses on the work of John Dewey, William James, Josiah Royce, Jane Addams, C. S. Peirce, and W. E. B. Du Bois. He has also teaches graduate seminars on epistemology, pragmatist social theory, pluralism, and the history of philosophy. In addition to teaching courses at the advanced level, I teach the introductory-level course, PHIL 216, Philosophy and Cultural Diversity, that applies the lessons of American philosophies of cultural pluralism to understanding contemporary social problems. I also teach PHIL 325, Logic, Inquiry and Argumentation, a core course for the undergraduate philosophy major and an introduction to the philosophy and practice of logic.
Logic: Inquiry, Argument and Order. Wiley-Blackwell Publishing (2010).
Native Pragmatism. Indiana University Press (2002).
Race Questions, Provincialism, and Other American Problems, by Josiah Royce, expanded edition. Co-edited with introductions by Scott L. Pratt and Shannon Sullivan. Fordham University Press (2009).
Jimmy Buffett and Philosophy. Co-edited with Erin McKenna. Open Court Press (2009).
The Philosophical Writings of Cadwallader Colden. Co-edited with John Ryder. Humanity Books (2002).
American Philosophies: An Anthology. Co-edited with Leonard Harris and Anne Waters. Blackwell Publishing (2002).
Race, Culture, and Pluralism: Royce’s Logical “Primitives.” In The Relevance of Royce, Kelly A. Parker and Jason Bell, editors. Fordham University Press, forthcoming.
American Power, Foucault Studies, No. 11, pp. 76-91, February 2011.
Creation and Liberation: The Ontology of American Indian Origins. In Routledge Companion to Science and Religion, James Haag and Michael Spezio, editors. Routledge, 2011.
Border Agents and Boundary Identities. Central European Pragmatist Forum, Volume 5, Indentity and Social Transformation. John Ryder and Emil Visnovsky, editors. Rodopi, 2011, 103-116.
The Politics of Disjunction. Transactions of the C. S. Peirce Society, 46, 2, Spring 2010, pp. 202-220.
“All Our Puzzles Will Disappear”: Royce and the Possibility of Error, Cognitio: Revista de Filosofia, 11, 2, (July – December, 2010).
Opera as Experience. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 43, 4, Winter 2009.
Living on the Edge: A Reason to Believe. Co-authored with Erin McKenna. In Bruce Springsteen and Philosophy: Darkness on the Edge of Truth, edited by Randall E. Auxier and Doug Anderson. Chicago: Open Court Press (2008).
The Experience of Pluralism. Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 21, 2, 2007, 106-114.
“New Continents”: The Future of Royce’s Logic. History and Philosophy of Logic, 28, 2 (2007), 133-150.
Persons in Place: The Agent Ontology of Vine Deloria, Jr. APA Newsletter on American Indians in Philosophy, 6, 1 (2006), 4-9.
Wounded Knee and the Prospect of Pluralism. Journal of Speculative Philosophy, New Series, 19, 2 (2005), 150-166.
Rebuilding Babylon: The Pluralism of Lydia Maria Child. Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy. 19, 2 (2004), 92-104.
Jane Addams: Bread and Patriotism in Time of War, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Volume XXVIII (2004), 102-118.
Race, Education, and Democracy. In Pragmatism and the Problems of Race, edited by Bill Lawson and Donald Koch, Indiana University Press, (2004), 188-202.
Philosophy in the “Middle Ground,” A response to commentators, Symposium on Native Pragmatism. Transactions of the C. S. Peirce Society, 39, 4 (Fall 2003), 591-616.
History in Place: A Response to Thomas Alexander and Woody Holton on Native Pragmatism. Philosophy and Geography, 6, 2 (August 2003), 247-262.
Knowledge and Action: American Epistemology. In Blackwell Guide to American Philosophy, edited by Armen T. Marsoobian and John Ryder. Blackwell Publishing (2003), 306-324.
The Given Land: Black Hawk’s Conception of Place. Philosophy and Geography, 4, 1 (2001), 109-126.