Monday, May 16, 2011

BOOK COMMENT: Richard J. Bernstein "The Pragmatic Turn"

The philosophical tradition that I have always found most appealing and suitable for the kind of work I do is pragmatism. This philosophical theme has been around for about 150 years and include famous thinkers as Charles S. Pierce, William James, John Dewey, and George H. Mead, on to present days representatives such as Richard Rorty and Hilary Putnam. Of these thinkers, Dewey and Rorty are the ones that has captured my attention over the years.

In a new book, Richard Bernstein goes through the history of pragmatism, how it emerged, who was involved, how pragmatism is related to more traditional schools of thought such as the analytical tradition and the continental. Bernstein is himself an important contributor to pragmatism and has influenced many, especially with his book "Beyond Objectivism and Relativism"(1983), a book that influenced me a lot when it was published. I read it with great interest and learned a lot.

The new book "The Pragmatic Turn" is interesting and full of exciting exmainations of how philosophers have influenced each other over time and how pragmatism can be seen as closely related to other schools of though, and individuals such as Wittgenstein. especially the first chapters are interesting and of course the last chapter that focuses on Rorty. However, overall I found the book a bit disappointing. It did not really give any deeper insights into pragmatism, even though the historical perspective do bring some new understanding to its role and place in the history of philosophy. But I did not really find the book to help me to further develop my understanding of pragmatism. It is more rewarding to read the main thinkers own texts, especially Dewey and Rorty.

Pragmatism is maybe the most suitable philosophical -ism for design theory. It would be great if someone would like to write a book on how pragmatism and design are related and how pragmatism can support and strengthen design theory. The best attempt so far is of course the works by Donald Schon who was himself a trained philosopher and who wrote his dissertation on John Dewey. The ideas and theory of Schon is therefore a good example of how pragmatism can lead to great design thinking.


Heather said...

Do you think this would be a good introduction to pragmatism though? Or do you have any suggestions for where to start?

I've read a lot of work that draws on it but haven't yet really dived into pragmatism proper, and it would be nice to have a good way in..

Erik Stolterman said...

Hi Heather

Well, I do not really have a good answer. I have not read any introductions or presentations, instead I have read more of the original texts (mostly a long time ago). Maybe someone else has a good suggestion...