History, Informally Speaking: Margolis’ Cultural Pragmatism

Contemporary Pragmatism 19 (2):113-125 (2022)
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This essay aims to adumbrate the relationship between ordinary language, history, and cognition in Joseph Margolis’ pragmatist account of the historical constitution of the human, cultural world. It emphasizes the important connections between his arguments for the essentially practical grounding of all forms of cognitive activity; the existential primacy of the historically evolved ordinary language in the formation of aptly socialized human persons as well as of productively functioning human societies; the transformational role of consciousness in history, including the history of cognition; and the insuperable informality inherent in all philosophical attempts to justify our historically articulated norms of cognition and our way of life. Margolis’ analysis of these relationships claims to show that cultural tolerance and historical plasticity deserve to displace the philosophical ideas of invariance and fixity as the favored resources of conceptual and social stability. This recognition, on Margolis’s view, constitutes pragmatism’s distinctive promise and advantage.
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