Skip to Gallatin Navigation Skip to Gallatin Main Content

Creative Democracy: The Pragmatist Tradition

Semester and Year FA 2017
Course Number IDSEM-UG1381
Section 001
Instructor Bill Caspary
Days W
Time 3:30 PM - 6:10 PM
Units 4
Level U
Requirement   SOC



From Emerson, through William James, to John Dewey, and beyond, Pragmatism has been a uniquely American contribution to political theory and philosophy. The pragmatists are concerned with action in the world, to address “the problems of men and women.” They construct a philosophy for understanding and guiding that action. That philosophy values imaginative vision and exploratory experimentation. It looks forward to the new rather than dwelling on explaining, justifying, or condemning what exists. Pragmatism, like classical political theory, is concerned with politics as a way of achieving a good society, in which people can lead good lives. It does not view politics narrowly in terms only of elections and governments. Reading pragmatism as philosophy, in the first half of the course we will consider ethics, theory of knowledge, theory of science and social science, and put these in the service of democratic theory. Through the lens of the “Dewey-Lippmann controversy” we will consider the capacity of citizens for informed responsible participation. In the second half of the course we will consider democratic experiments: economic democracy, civic journalism, progressive education, participatory action research, and conflict resolution. Possible readings include Emerson’s “The American Scholar;” James’s “Moral Equivalent of War;” Dewey’s  The Public and Its Problems , “Creative Democracy,” and “The Economic Basis of the New Society;” Walter Lippmann's  Public Opinion , Jay Rosen's.  What Are Journalists For , William & Katherine Whyte's,  Making Mondragon , and so on.


All Syllabi

Course Type

Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)