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Pragmatism: Key Resources (April 2013): Behavioral Sciences Aspects

By John R. Shook and Tibor Solymosi

Behavioral Sciences Aspects

Since classical pragmatism was intimately involved with the rise of scientific psychology and early brain science, not surprisingly, pragmatist views on mind, intelligence, and knowledge receive fresh confirmations from behavioral and brain sciences.  J. J. Gibson’s “ecological psychology,” following themes from William James and James’s student E. B. Holt at Harvard, was the most self-consciously pragmatist paradigm during the middle of the twentieth century.  Its emphasis on the embodied and dynamic bases for “mind” remains active today.  This tradition is traced in Eric Charles’s edited A New Look at New Realism: The Psychology and Philosophy of E. B. Holt and Harry Heft’s Ecological Psychology in Context: James Gibson, Roger Barker, and the Legacy of William James’s Radical Empiricism.  A parallel stream arrived from Francisco Varela; a highly influential work is The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience, by Varela with Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch.  Thompson later wrote Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind while at the University of Toronto.  Detectably pragmatist versions of cognitive science are also found in Action in Perception by Alva Noë, and in Andy Clark’s Supersizing the Mind: Embodiment, Action, and Cognitive Extension.  Mark Rowlands offers a balanced survey of this uprising against internalism and representationalism in Body Language: Representation in Action.  The greatest pragmatist rebellion against representationalism comes from psychologist Anthony Chemero in Radical Embodied Cognitive Science.

Scholars familiar with the behavioral and brain sciences are producing, in growing numbers, treatises defending pragmatist themes.  Notable books include Kim Sterelny’s Thought in a Hostile World: The Evolution of Human Cognition; Jay Schulkin’s Cognitive Adaptation: A Pragmatist Perspective; Owen Flanagan’s The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material World; W. Teed Rockwell’s Neither Brain nor Ghost: A Nondualist Alternative to the Mind-Brain Identity Theory; and Richard Shusterman’s Body Consciousness: A Philosophy of Mindfulness and Somaesthetics.  Developmental and social psychology has not been left behind; recent important books include Radu Bogdan’s Our Own Minds: Sociocultural Grounds for Self-Consciousness and David Franks’s Neurosociology: The Nexus between Neuroscience and Social Psychology.  George Mead’s early social psychology is more frequently cited; getting reacquainted with Mead is possible with Filipe Carreira da Silva’s G. H. Mead: A Critical Introduction.  The tradition of symbolic interactionism bridges Mead through Herbert Blumer and Erving Goggman to the present; see Norman Denzin’s survey, Symbolic Interactionism and Cultural Studies: The Politics of Interpretation.  The related fields of semiotics and biosemiotics long have been indebted to pragmatism, going back to Peirce’s systematic theories of signs and communication.  State-of-the-art works are Marcel Danesi’s The Quest for Meaning: A Guide to Semiotic Theory and Practice, Marcello Barbieri’s edited Introduction to Biosemiotics: The New Biological Synthesis, and Donald Favareau’s edited Biosemiotics: An Examination into the Signs of Life and the Life of Signs.

Works Cited