Can there be a Pragmatist Philosophy of Social Science?

Document Type


Publication Date


Digital Object Identifier (DOI)



Many, and perhaps most, American philosophers will, if pressed, say that they are pragmatists. What they typically mean by this is that they think there is some class of philosophical questions that can’t be answered philosophically. If you don’t think that in the end philosophical arguments can possibly settle metaphysical questions, pragmatism is an appealing response. Pragmatism becomes a kind of default position which one reverts to when one removes a topic from the list of topics that can be reasonably addressed using philosophical methods. When Richard Rorty characterized himself as a pragmatist, he meant that he was in favor of removing topics from philosophy on a wholesale basis, which implied for him the end of philosophy at least as traditionally conceived. Philosophical students of pragmatism weren’t very happy with this formulation, not so much for its conclusions, but because it omitted the content of the default that John Dewey himself had in mind, namely something like the scientific method, or the scientific method understood and generalized as something like an experimental approach (Dewey 1946, p. 179). The people who thought Rorty had travestied pragmatism focused, correctly, on the difference in their attitudes toward science.

Patrick Baert has written a very interesting textbook on the philosophy of social science which winds up embracing at least the term pragmatism and reflecting on Rorty in a way that arrives at a novel position. As his concluding argument is the most original part of the book and the one that is most relevant in this setting, I shall confine my comments to the question of what both a pragmatist approach to social science and to a “philosophy” of social science might be, and further confine it to the Deweyan and Rortyian variations on this general theme.

Was this content written or created while at USF?


Citation / Publisher Attribution

Human Studies, v. 32, issue 3, p. 365-374