Stephen C. Pepper and the Pragmatist Tradition

Although Stephen C. Pepper came from the tradition of American pragmatism, it appears that he never labelled himself as a pragmatist.

In a 2019 article, [Scott Stroud]( reaffirms Pepper's history, his contribution to philosophy may be broader that the categorization of pragmatism suggests. > Pepper’s thought is useful because it bridges the time between Dewey’s most vibrant work in the 1920s and 1930s and the beginning of the modern revival of pragmatist study. His work also offers an explicit critical alternative to the aesthetics of Dewey. Why consider Pepper a pragmatist? The use of this term is a tricky matter. After the initial excitement evinced by William James around the turn of the twentieth century, even pragmatist mainstays such as Charles S. Peirce and John Dewey began to shy away from using this term (Shusterman, 2014). [pp. 268-269] > Nevertheless, there are four connections between Pepper and the pragmatist tradition. > * First, Pepper was influenced by George Santayana and Ralph Barton Perry at Harvard, thus associating him with the evolving tradition of American pragmatism (Reck, 1968). > * Second, Pepper emphasized a contextual notion of experience, a central concept of many pragmatists. He intriguingly describes his basic strategy in metaphysics as fundamentally experiential: “the use of one part of experience to illuminate another” (1982, 197–98). His commitments to naturalism and experience even led him to criticize Dewey’s aesthetics as not being pragmatist enough (Pepper 1989). In light of the convergence of Pepper’s philosophical position with that of recognized pragmatist figures and the extent to which he was influenced by pragmatist thinkers, one can make the case that he is part of an expansive pragmatist tradition in the same way that, according to Cornel West (1989) and Peter Simonson (2001), Jane Addams, W. E. B. Du Bois, George Santayana, and Walter Lippmann are. > * Third, Pepper’s commitments explain why he did not self-describe as a “pragmatist.” In an autobiographical preface, he explains his disenchantment with dogmatic idealism and materialism. He warmed to the mediating form of pragmatism but “soon came to the conclusion that pragmatism was just one more theory, prob- ably no better or worse than the other two.” Instead of defending “pragmatism,” he turned “toward a study of evidence and hypothesis -- toward a reliable method rather than a reliable creed” (1942, vii). This general method was grounded in topics dear to pragmatist thinkers (experience and com- munity) and was formed in sympathetic engagement with their thought. > * Finally, some, such as Richard Rorty (Hare, 1982; Reck, 1982) use Pepper to correct key pragmatist thinkers. [p. 269, editorial paragraphing added] > While one must acknowledge Pepper’s complex relationship to the pragmatist tradition, his pragmatism can complement existing studies of the rhetorical thought of figures from John Dewey (e.g., Clarke 2012; Crick 2010; Danisch, 2007), William James (Stob 2012; 2013), to Richard Rorty and Stanley Fish (Danisch 2012; Horne 1989). His critics even foreshadow his rhetorical potential (Hartshorne 1980). [p. 269] Stroud continues on a discussion of acts of criticism. ## Reference Stroud, Scott R. 2015. “Pragmatism, Pluralism, and World Hypotheses:Stephen Pepper and the Metaphysics of Criticism.” _Philosophy & Rhetoric_ 48 (3): 266–91.