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Manual Philosophical Pragmatism and International Relations: Essays for a Bold New World

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Shane J Ralston. Introduction Shane J. Ralston Are the study of international relations and the practice of foreign policy making related to the philosophical tradition known as pragmatism or American pragma- tism? If so, what is the nature of that relationship? Should pragmatist ideas in- form international relations scholarship? Ought foreign policy practitioners con- sult with living pragmatist philosophers or read tracts by dead ones for instance, John Dewey and Charles Sanders Peirce before carefully crafting policy deci- sions?

These questions are difficult ones to answer. The process tends to intimidate — even overwhelm — the casual observer of trends in global affairs. Nevertheless, answering these ques- tions is important as both a theoretical and practical matter. The juxtaposition brings two disciplinary perspectives into conversation: the first — international relations — tracing its roots to the intrigues of European geo-politics, at least since the Treaty of Westphalia; and the second — philosophical pragmatism — originating in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century America, as an alterna- tive to the dominant philosophical traditions of Britain and continental Europe.


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These perspectives also point to a century-long history of U. According to some authorities, America-the- superpower is currently in decline. Similarly, philosoph- ical pragmatism has since transcended its distinctly American roots, influencing minds, theories, practices and institutions in all parts of the globe. The essays in this collection offer up thoughtful examinations of the intersection between interna- tional relations scholarship, foreign policy practice and philosophical pragma- tism.

A Plurality of Pragmatisms The reader will likely be struck by how many meanings — or to use the more technical-linguistic term, denotations — attach to the word pragmatism.

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Given the possibility of confusing shallow and sophisticated pragmatisms, it is perhaps appropriate then to introduce the essays by clarifying these multiple and often overlapping meanings. Pragmatism is a thoroughly contested concept. Indeed, disputes center on at least three different usag- es. The contributors to this collection typically appeal to one or more of these senses, sometimes carefully distinguishing them and at other times conflating or even equivocating between them.

Therefore it proves helpful for under- standing, appreciating and critically engaging the essays to have a ground map of the plural senses in which the term pragmatism will be employed in this vol- ume. Americans are often said to be a particularly pragmatic people, and many Americans pride themselves on a sensibility others are inclined to label shallowly opportunistic. Although the classical pragmatists were by no means doctrinaire in their as- sumptions, several key commitments can be distilled from their diverse writings.

First, classic pragmatists placed immense importance on the idea that experience begins and ends in the middle of things, rather than from an initial position e. Second, human experience is not simply a spectator-like event or a matter of grasping knowing the unique essences of objects in the world around us.

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For Dewey, this interaction involves human adjustment, adaptation and growth. Through the use of various instrumentalities tools, techniques, methods, approaches , humans manipulate conditions in their environment — whether by inquiring into prob- lems, appreciating art or engaging in political action — and, in turn, their atti- tudes and habits are transformed by the interaction.

Third, and lastly, classic pragmatists attempt to overcome dualisms or entrenched conceptual oppositions, for instance, between the individual and society, means and ends and rationalism and empiricism. Forging continuity between theory and practice is a primary concern for paleo-pragmatists.

New pragmatism revives features of classic pragmatism as well as ideas found in continental, postmodernist and ana- lytic philosophy. According to Rorty,.

New pragmatists part company with classical pragmatists on the issue of whether experience or language is a more primary resource for coming to know, as well as the extent to which science and the scientific method are significant drivers of that process. In contrast to Rorty, Dewey conceived scientific method and social inquiry as empowering members of a community to resolve their shared prob- lems through consensus-directed inquiry.

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Science and the enrichment of com- munal experience were drivers for coming to know. For Rorty and other similarly inclined neo-pragmatists, science is not a privileged method for accessing reality; rather, it is one of many plausible in- struments and vocabularies for describing the world.

The dominance of the sci- entific worldview for Rorty ought to give way to a multiplicity of theoretical, theological and philosophical perspectives, conversational networks, public ex- pressions of solidarity and private quests for self-realization. There are multi- ple permutations, as well as entirely novel versions, prevalent in both the schol- arly and non-scholarly literatures. Unfortunately, I am unable to settle this issue within the present introduction.

Nevertheless, I hope that the reader will reflect upon the matter, if just for the reason that agreeing upon how to define pragmatism will likely engender greater unity among international relations scholars and pragma- tist philosophers. Pragmatism and Policy Relevance In his book The Public and its Problems, the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey argued that governing is at its worst when reserved to the very few, the experts. Inquiry about global affairs is at its worst when sequestered to the activities of a few academi- cians whose rarefied knowledge bears little or no relation to the practical de- mands of everyday policy making.

The relationship between the community of international relations scholars and the foreign policy establishment has been strained by a similar concern for policy relevance. With the behavioral revolution in the s and the introduction of rational choice and formal theory in the s and 90s, international relations scholar- ship has become increasingly specialized and less relevant to foreign policy practice. Though some scholars write for practitioner journals for instance, Foreign Affairs and Foreign Policy , tenure committees tend to view these piec- es as having less value than publications in ranked scholarly journals.

The questions international relations scholars typically ask are too technical and intramural to impact foreign policy decision-making, and the attention of foreign policy professionals all too often recedes at the mention of grand theories and scholarly treatises. Despite the doom and gloom, there is still a bright spot of hope for resolv- ing the problem of policy relevance.

In the past twenty years, calls for interna- tional relations scholars to generate ideas and theories that inform foreign policy practice have resulted in a sizeable literature on bridging the gap. In this way, the authors offer a pragmatist vision of a bold new world of policy-relevant international relations scholarship, wherein theory and practice stand together, not apart or bifurcated into two incompatible worlds.

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Contributions to the Volume The first two chapters address the relationship between philosophical pragma- tism and international relations theory. Compared to the three major theories — realism, liberalism and constructivism — pragmatism gravitates most towards liberalism and constructivism and least towards the most dominant IR theory today, realism. For real- ists, geopolitical power has the most causal weight; for liberals, economic inter- ests; and for constructivists, perceptions and concepts.

While the first two chapters grapple with theory, the next two take a more practical turn, suggesting that philosophical pragmatism can help the interna- tional relations scholar and foreign policy practitioner address matters of war and peace. However, the tragedy and hopefulness bound up in human struggles related to war and peace beg for a more holistic approach — one that pragmatism is perhaps better suited than realism to provide. Chapter four argues for a pragmatic approach to peace- keeping, built upon original empirical research: a series of interviews of peace- keeping mission personnel in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Bruneau Harold A. Michael Fleet Brian H. Philosophy of Democratic Government Charles R. Walgreen Foundation Lectures.


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