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  • Cited by 3
  • Print publication year: 2007
  • Online publication date: June 2012

7 - Pragmatism and romanticism


At the heart of pragmatism is the refusal to accept the correspondence theory of truth and the idea that true beliefs are accurate representations of reality. At the heart of romanticism is the thesis of the priority of imagination over reason – the claim that reason can only follow paths that the imagination has broken. These two movements are both reactions against the idea that there is something non-human out there with which human beings need to get in touch. In this chapter I want to trace the connections between James' and Dewey's repudiation of what Heidegger called “the Western ontotheological tradition” and Shelley's claim that poetry “is at once the center and the circumference of knowledge.”

I shall begin with the quest for the really real. Common sense distinguishes between the apparent color of a thing and its real color, between the apparent motions of heavenly bodies and their real motions, between non-dairy creamer and real cream, and between fake Rolexes and real ones. But only those who have studied philosophy ask whether real Rolexes are really real. No one else takes seriously Plato's distinction between Reality with a capital R and Appearance with a capital A. That distinction is the charter of metaphysics.

Parmenides jump-started the Western philosophical tradition by dreaming up the notion of Reality with a capital R. He took the trees, the stars, the human beings, and the gods and rolled them all together into a well-rounded blob called “the One.”