One of the most long-standing and potent charges against pragmatism
from the point of view of political philosophy has been that of acquiescence.
1 Whatever the personal, moral or political commitments of
particular pragmatists, this criticism alleges, pragmatism is vulnerable
to appropriation by whatever social forces are most powerful. This
criticism takes various forms (MacGilvray 2000), but its core can be
fairly simply stated. On the one hand, pragmatism (at least in its
Deweyan version) subsumes theoretical reasoning within practical
reasoning. For the Deweyan account, inquiry is understood as a particular
kind of activity. Like other activities, it is pursued in order to
achieve particular goals. In its course one’s goals may change, new
conceptions of what one is doing emerge and indeed who one is may
emerge, etc. But inquiry should be understood as goal-directed activity,
and successful inquiry as that which allows us to deal with the
environment in better ways. On the other hand, Deweyan pragmatism
is notoriously reticent about setting out ‘final ends’ for the sake of
which this activity takes place (Richardson 1999: 122). Inquiry is
then viewed as instrumental and goal-directed, but the goals to which
it is or should be directed are left out of the picture of practical reasoning.
Accordingly, social consensus or power rushes to fill the vacuum.
The dilemma that this position presents for the pragmatist, then,
is that either she abandons the aspiration to say something critical
about existing social and political arrangements or she abandons the
pragmatist view of inquiry: she cannot have both.