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Matthew Festenstein

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.