Pragmatism and its Enemies (PHL3010)

StaffProfessor Sabina Leonelli - Convenor
Credit Value30
Academic Year2013/4
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This module will provide you with in-depth understanding of the content and historical roots of major trends in twentieth-century Western philosophy. Throughout the course, we will review the debates and exchanges between the protagonists of the ‘pragmatic turn’, such as John Dewey and Richard Rorty, and some of their main opponents. We will consider the historical and political context in which their debates developed, and the deep influence that these thinkers had on subsequent developments in philosophy, particularly in relation to our understanding of what constitutes reliable knowledge, politics and education within a democratic society. Finally, we will discuss whether pragmatist views help to confront and eventually resolve contemporary debates on key social issues, ranging from education to the status of scientific knowledge as a foundation for policy.

Many of the readings included in this course address questions about the justification of belief and its relationship to conceptions of identity, democracy, and community. We will pay particular attention to the pragmatist tradition’s uniquely deep commitment to pluralism and how this commitment affects philosophical responses to problems in epistemology and ethics. As a result, the module will teach you to apply philosophical concepts to current societal debates, and to think critically about the social role and implications of philosophical views.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. knowledge of, analyse and engage critically with, a range of perspectives on pragmatism and logical empiricism as two of the most influential philosophical trends in the 20th century
  • 2. in writing an ability to critically evaluate the historical and philosophical roots of current conceptions of democracy, scientific knowledge and truth in the Western world, as embodied in the debates surrounding pragmatism

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 3. in writing an ability to critically evaluate the political and social consequences of taking specific philosophical stances on what counts as knowledge, truth and human experience
  • 4. in writing and orally an ability to interpret, analyse, and discuss difficult philosophical texts
  • 5. in writing and orally an ability to understand historical, cultural and disciplinary differences in philosophical style and develop an awareness of the dynamics of scientific knowledge production

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 6. an ability to engage in complex arguments verbally and in small groups
  • 7. in writing an ability to analyse, critically engage with, and report accurately on existing written material whilst articulating it within a structured and cogent argument

Syllabus plan

The module will include the following main topics:

Topic I. Why Study Pragmatism

Topic II. Early American Pragmatism: William James, Charles Pierce and John Dewey

Topic III. The New Pragmatists

Topic IV. The Enemy: The Logical Empiricists

Topic V. The Significance of Pragmatism for Contemporary Society: Pragmatism and Economics, Scientific Knowledge, Politics and Education.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
scheduled learning activity 2211 x 2 hour lectures
scheduled learning activity 2211 x 2 hour seminars
scheduled learning activity11 hour seminar focused on essay writing (to help students prepare for assessment)
Guided independent study11011 x 10 hours for course readings
Guided independent study40Preparation of presentation
Guided independent study105Reading/research for and writing of essay

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Informal presentation15 min1, 2, 3, 4, 5Oral and Written feedback

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay705000 words1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7Written feedback
Formal Presentation3015 minutes1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6Oral and written feedback

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
EssayEssay (5000 words)1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7Deadline is September 1st
Formal PresentationWritten summary of presentation (1500 words)1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7Deadline is September 1st

Re-assessment notes

Two assessments are required for this module.

Where you have been referred/ deferred for the presentation, you will complete a written summary (1500 words) of your presentation. This will constitute 30% of the module (10 credits).

Where you have been referred/ deferred for the essay, you will resubmit a 5000 words essay by September 1st. This will constitute 70% of the module (20 credits).

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic readings:

Haack, S. (ed) 2006. Pragmatism, Old and New. Amherst NY: Prometheus.

Malakowski, A (2009) The New Pragmatism. Acumen.

Shook, M. and Margolis, J. (eds) 2009. A Companion to Pragmatism. Oxford: Blackwells.

Robert B. Talisse, Scott F. Aikin (2011) The Pragmatism Reader: From Peirce Through the Present.Princeton University Press.

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Pragmatism Cylibrary:

American Pragmatism programme on Philosophy Talk:

Available as distance learning?


Origin date

17 January 2012

Last revision date

17 January 2012

Key words search

pragmatism, logical empiricism, philosophy, twentieth century, truth, knowledge, politics, education