The Metaphysical Club

What might be most interesting about The Metaphysical Club is that it purports to be about how figures like Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, William James, Charles Pierce, and John Dewey (among others) created a new and modern American from the ashes of the Civil War, it manages to never explicate James’ nor Peirce’s nor Dewey’s philosophy nor that the first two are both considered the founders of American pragmatism (James association with it is mentioned once or twice; Pierce never) nor that Dewey’s has work might be connected to it over the course of three fourths of the book. Instead I found a series of frustrating threads, connecting Holmes to James and James to Peirce but not Peirce to Holmes in any meaningful sense. Supposed schools of thought like the Burlington transcendentalists (shouldn’t transcendentalist be capitalized, too, in this case, if it’s a legitimate, albeit no longer extant, school of American thought?) appear, are discussed in not insignificant length and then noted to be almost entirely meaningless to the topic and not influential at all. Jane Addams is the only woman noted beyond her relationship to a man and she gets briefly shoehorned into a lengthy rumination on Dewey’s Chicago.

With just over one hundred pages remaining (out of almost 450, not including end notes), there is finally a chapter entitled ‘Pragmatisms’ that returns us to Holmes and James and other figures that I had almost forgotten about at this point.

I will concede that this chapter, if expanded upon, would make a wonderful book.

The chapters which follow, less so. New figures are briefly introduced and no one gets enough attention (poor Alain Locke).

As a former unionist, I appreciate Menand giving us some examples of union organizing and actions, but it’s just another example of the maddening lack of a coherent narrative. American Philosophy discussed many of the same (and many more disparate) thinkers while still managing to make it all seem tied together (thankfully, not by the author’s apparent odiousness).