Return to Pragmatism

The American people were led to embrace the pragmatist philosophy not because of its actual, theoretical content (of which they were and remain largely ignorant), but because of the method by which that content was presented to them. In its terminology and promises, pragmatism is a philosophy calculated to appeal specifically to an American audience . . . .

The pragmatists present themselves as the exponents of a distinctively “American” approach, which consists in enshrining the basic premises of [German philosophy] while rejecting every fundamental idea, from metaphysics to politics, on which this country was founded. Most important of all, the Americans wanted ideas to be good for something on earth, to have tangible, practical significance; and, insistently, the pragmatists stress “practicality,” which, according to their teachings, consists in action divorced from thought and reality.

The pragmatists stress the “cash value” of ideas. But the Americans did not know the “cash value” of the pragmatist ideas they were buying. They did not know that pragmatism could not deliver on its promise of this-worldly success because, at root, it is a philosophy which does not believe in this, or any, world.

When the Americans flocked to pragmatism, they believed that they were joining a battle to advance their essential view of reality and of life. They did not know that they were being marched in the opposite direction, that the battle had been calculated for a diametrically opposite purpose, or that the enemy they were being pushed to destroy was: themselves.

Copyright © 1986 by Harry Binswanger. Introduction copyright © 1986 by Leonard Peikoff. All rights reserved. For information address New American Library.


Excerpts from The Ominous Parallels, by Leonard Peikoff. Copyright © 1982 by Leonard Peikoff. Reprinted with permission of Stein and Day Publishers. Excerpts from The Romantic Manifesto, by Ayn Rand. Copyright © 1971, by The Objectivist. Reprinted with permission of Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc. Excerpts from Atlas Shrugged, copyright © 1957 by Ayn Rand, The Fountainhead, copyright © 1943 by Ayn Rand, and For the New Intellectual, copyright © 1961 by Ayn Rand. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Ayn Rand. Excerpts from Philosophy: Who Needs It, by Ayn Rand. Copyright © 1982 by Leonard Peikoff, Executor, Estate of Ayn Rand. Reprinted by permission of the Estate of Ayn Rand. Excerpts from “The Philosophy of Objectivism” lecture series. Copyright © 1976 by Leonard Peikoff. Reprinted by permission. Excerpts from Alvin Toffler’s interview with Ayn Rand, which first appeared in Playboy magazine. Copyright © 1964. Reprinted by permission of Alvin Toffler. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc.