Restoring America’s Homegrown Philosophy

Robert Schwartz, UWM Distinguished Professor of Philosophy

Restoring America’s Homegrown Philosophy

UWM claims its own champion of Pragmatism, a uniquely American approach to philosophy that is undergoing a revival.

To philosopher Robert Schwartz, successful inquiry must be understood and judged in terms of its consequences for current problems. That is why he is a voice for Pragmatism, which was prominent in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Pragmatism holds that concepts and theories are best thought of as intellectual instruments.

“The aim of inquiry is not the discovery of eternal truths, but the invention of tools to better meet present cognitive and physical needs,” says Schwartz. “Its goals, then, are not fixed in advance of inquiry. They evolve and change to cope with unexpected experience.”

Many philosophers find this pragmatic approach unpalatable because it questions the significance of projects that search for permanent answers to what are actually evolving questions.

But in his recent book, “Rethinking Pragmatism,” Schwartz argues that pragmatism offers more insight into the nature of inquiry in science and ethics than current popular accounts.

“It’s fine to say that science aims at truth,” Schwartz says. “In practice the most we can claim is that new theories work better than the old.”