It’s all relative?

This useful, engaging and distressing book by Louis Menand won the Pulitzer Prize for history in 2002. It chronicles and exemplifies the skepticism that has characterized most intellectual discourse from the end of the 19th century through the beginning of the 21st. It recounts the development of American pragmatism, focusing on four central figures—Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., William James, Charles Sanders Peirce and John Dewey. Without analyzing or defending the philosophy of these writers, the book lauds them. It exudes a sense that perspectives other than theirs are no longer competitive or respectable. They were, Menand tells us, “the first modern thinkers in the United States.”

 

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