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Tentative Definition: "Neopragmatism"

Neopragmatism, sometimes called "linguistic pragmatism" lacks precise definition. It has been associated with a variety of thinkers, among them Richard Rorty, Hilary Putnam, W.V.O. Quine, Donald Davidson, and Stanley Fish though none of these figure, to my knowledge have called themselves "neopragmatists."

Neopragmatists, particularly Rorty and Putnam, draw on the ideas of Classical Pragmatists such as Peirce, James, and Dewey. Putnam, in Words and Life (1994) enumerates which ideas in the Classical Pragmatist tradition newer pragmatists find most compelling. To paraphrase Putnam: (1) antiscepticism (the notion that doubt requires justification just as much as does belief; (2) fallibilism (the view that there are no metaphysical guarantee against the need to revise a belief; (3) antidualism about "facts" and "values"; and (4) that practice, properly construed, is primary in philosophy. (WL 152)

In my view, Neopragmatism or Linguistic Pragmatism may be traced largely to Richard Rorty. In 1995 Rorty wrote,

"I linguisticize as many pre-linguistic-turn philosophers as I can, in order to read them as prophets of the utopia in which all metaphysical problems have been dissolved, and religion and science have yielded their place to poetry."
["Response to Hartshorne." In Rorty and Pragmatism : The Philosopher Responds to His Critics, edited by Herman J. Saatkamp (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1995), 35.]

This "linguistic turn" strategy aims to avoid what Rorty sees as the essentialisms ("truth," "reality," "experience") still extant in classical pragmatism. Rorty writes,

[A]nalytic philosophy, thanks to its concentration on language, was able to defend certain crucial pragmatist theses better than James and Dewey themselves. ...By focusing our attention on the relation between language and the rest of the world rather than between experience and nature, post-positivistic analytic philosophy was able to make a more radical break with the philosophical tradition."
[Rorty, "Comments on Sleeper and Edel," Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 21, no. 1 (Winter 1985): 40.]

Three Basic Moves. Linguistic pragmatism revises pragmatism in three basic moves. First, one applauds pragmatists such as James and Dewey for repudiating a variety of methods and goals in traditional philosophy. Second, one renounces their attempts to reconstruct what should not be reconstructed. Finally, once one accepts the idea that only language is available to furnish philosophy's materiel. This step complete, one can create freely, even poetically, to serve whatever ends seem best.

Many people are now writing about "neopragmatism" and so we can expect that definitions will proliferate. My book Beyond Realism and Antirealism: John Dewey and the Neopragmatists  discusses these issues at greater length and puts them into historical context. See also my article "The Neopragmatist Turn" which may be downloaded (PDF) courtesy of the Southwest Philosophy Review.

Here are some resources (many but not all are classical pragmatism):

Here are some teaching resources: 

Some of my writings on neopragmatism are here: and




Please help form as elaborate a network about neopragmatism as possible. Scholars with home pages or materials online should contact me. Please feel free to link to this site, and let me know your comments and suggestions by visiting my home page at DavidHildebrand, or by emailing me at




Last update: 7/5/11