American Pragmatism and the Vienna Circle in the Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy

Thomas Uebel

The two most recent issues of the Journal for the History of Analytical Philosophy include an extended discussion of the relationship between American pragmatism and the Vienna Circle. An initial article from Thomas Uebel has spurred responses from Alexander Klein and Cheryl Misak in the journal’s most recent issue. Uebel has also provided a response to Klein and Misak. All these articles are freely available online. Full titles, authors, and abstracts for all these articles follow below.

“American Pragmatism and the Vienna Circle: The Early Years,” by Thomas Uebel. The abstract reads,

Discussions of the relation between pragmatism and logical empiricism tend to focus on the period when the logical empiricists found themselves in exile, mostly in the United States, and then attempt to gauge the actual extent of their convergence. My concern lies with the period before that and the question whether pragmatism had an earlier influence on the development of logical empiricism, especially on the thought of the former members of the “first” Vienna Circle. I argue for a substantially qualified affirmative answer.

“Was James Psychologistic?,” by Alexander Klein. The abstract reads,

As Thomas Uebel has recently argued, some early logical positivists saw American pragmatism as a kindred form of scientific philosophy. They associated pragmatism with William James, whom they rightly saw as allied with Ernst Mach. But what apparently blocked sympathetic positivists from pursuing commonalities with American pragmatism was the concern that James advocated some form of psychologism, a view they thought could not do justice to the a priori. This paper argues that positivists were wrong to read James as offering a psychologistic account of the a priori. They had encountered James by reading Pragmatism as translated by the unabashedly psychologistic Wilhelm Jerusalem. But in more technical works, James had actually developed a form of conventionalism that anticipated the so-called “relativized” a priori positivists themselves would independently develop. While positivists arrived at conventionalism largely through reflection on the exact sciences, though, James’s account of the a priori grew from his reflections on the biological evolution of cognition, particularly in the context of his Darwin-inspired critique of Herbert Spencer.

“The Subterranean Influence of Pragmatism on the Vienna Circle: Peirce, Ramsey, Wittgenstein,” by Cheryl Misak. The abstract reads,

An underappreciated fact in the history of analytic philosophy is that American pragmatism had an early and strong influence on the Vienna Circle. The path of that influence goes from Charles Peirce to Frank Ramsey to Ludwig Wittgenstein to Moritz Schlick. That path is traced in this paper, and along the way some standard understandings of Ramsey and Wittgenstein, especially, are radically altered.

“Pragmatisms and Logical Empiricisms: Response to Misak and Klein,” by Thomas Uebel. The abstract reads,

This paper responds to the generous comments by Alexander Klein and Cheryl Misak on my “American Pragmatism and the Vienna Circle: The Early Years”. First, besides offering some clarification of my original thesis, I argue that Jerusalem was not liable to the anti-Spencerian criticisms by James that Klein adduces in the course of defending James against the charge of psychologism. Then I investigate the impact of Wittgenstein’s Ramsey-derived pragmatism, importantly foregrounded by Misak, on the Vienna Circle and argue that it was mainly limited to Schlick but not recognized as pragmatist, also leaving unaffected the impact of James’s pragmatism on Frank, Hahn and Neurath specified in my original paper. That said, Klein’s and Misak’s comments add significantly to our understanding of long-neglected transatlantic philosophical connections in the early twentieth century.

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About Jacy Young

Jacy Young recently completed a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) of Canada Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Surrey in the UK. She earned her doctorate in the History and Theory of Psychology at York University in 2014.

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