American Pragmatism: A Religious Genealogy (AAR Reflection by M. Gail Hamner

By M. Gail Hamner

Hamner seeks to find what makes pragmatism uniquely American. She argues that the inextricably American personality of pragmatism of such figures as C.S. Peirce and William James lies in its frequently understated confirmation of the USA as a uniquely spiritual kingdom with a God-given undertaking and populated by way of God-fearing citizens.

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Moreover, both James and Helmholtz attained wide popularity in their lifetimes and have become mythic figures in intellectual history. Nonetheless, I find it more noteworthy to clarify the links between Helmholtz and Peirce as men who theorize across many discourses and who attempt to construct syntheses or generalizations among them. Moreover, both men meditate extensively not only on the changing meaning of science but also on the communal character of a “good” scientist and the transcommunal duties that science can perform in society and in history.

It is both, and equally, scientific and ethical. My discussion of Helmholtz's physical sign theory emphasized its empiricism and pragmatism and stressed that Helmholtz rejects an iconic understanding of signs in favor of a relational account. The three semiotic issues of iconicity, relationality, and effective navigation of thought and action are also important for Peirce and James, especially by virtue of the nominalism/realism debate. 57 James restricts the notion of sign to language and is consistently nominalist regarding its use and development.

Moreover, both men meditate extensively not only on the changing meaning of science but also on the communal character of a “good” scientist and the transcommunal duties that science can perform in society and in history. Finally, Helmholtz and Peirce both 26 EVOLUTION OF GERMAN PSYCHOLOGY advocate non-practical theoretical endeavors and a realist semiotics that attempts to constellate and reconcile Kantian idealism with British empiricism. Peirce consistently scorns Helmholtz as a “nominalist” proponent of mechanistic philosophy, however, and his “semeiotic” (Peirce's spelling, which I retain to distinguish his system from Saussure's semiotic) differs strongly from Helmholtz's sign theory (Zeichentheorie).

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