The Pragmatism working group is a made up of faculty and graduate students interested in the history and contemporary theoretical implications of Pragmatism. Over the last two years, we have invited a number of scholars to campus to lead discussions of primary works by Peirce, James and Dewey that have played a role in their own work. For instance, last fall we had the political scientists Melvin Rogers and Alexander Livingston in to talk about Dewey and political theory. In the spring, we had the anthropologist Eduardo Kohn in to talk about why he thought Peirce was useful in his anthropological work in the Amazon. We spent the time together talking about Peirce in the context of the turn to “post-human anthropology.”
Over this time, the working group has taken up many of the peculiarities of nineteenth century philosophy surrounding the emergence of Pragmatism—for instance, most recently, Peirce on protoplasm; and we have done so with an eye, for the most part, on philosophical precedents, namely Kant and Hegel. And yet, we have not much considered a parallel tradition of equal importance, which has been lurking somewhat below the surface of our discussions, namely developments in the natural sciences. We have caught a glimpse of it by way of frequent allusion to Charles Darwin; but we wanted to go more into depth on the topic. So this year, the group will take up this second branch of nineteenth century thought with a series of directed readings of Alexander von Humboldt and Darwin.
In the fall, we will turn our attention to Humboldt’s most widely read and influential work, Views of Nature. Spring semester will be devoted to a more wide-ranging engagement with Darwinian ideas in pragmatist thinking, then and now. As in years past, the group will be inviting a number of specialists to campus to share their work and lead seminars on primary materials. Current plans include a visit from Leila Gomez, Associate Professor of Spanish and Comparative Literature at the University of Colorado, Boulder, who will lead a seminar on Humboldt on November 16. Planning is also in the works for a one-day symposium, “Humboldt, Darwin and Pragmatist Worldviews,”with Laura Walls (Notre Dame), Steven Meyer (Wash U, St. Louis) and Joan Richardson (CUNY) currently scheduled as participants, to be held on March 8, 2019.