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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 2, 1998

American Philosophy

Sami Pihlström
Pages 27-33

Narrativity, Modernity, and Tragedy
How Pragmatism Educates Humanity

I argue that the modernist notion of a human self (or subject) cannot easily be post-modernistically rejected because the need to view an individual life as a unified ‘narrative’ with a beginning and an end (death) is a condition for asking humanly important questions about its meaningfulness (or meaninglessness). Such questions are central to philosophical anthropology. However, not only modern ways of making sense of life, such as linear narration in literature, but also premodern ones such as tragedy, ought to be taken seriously in reflecting on these questions. The tradition of pragmatism has tolerated this plurality of the frameworks in terms of which we can interpret or ‘structure’ the world and our lives as parts of it. It is argued that pragmatism is potentially able to accommodate both the plurality of such interpretive frameworks—premodern, modern, postmodern—and the need to evaluate those frameworks normatively. We cannot allow any premodern source of human meaningfulness whatsoever (say, astrology) to be taken seriously. Avoiding relativism is, then, a most important challenge for the pragmatist.

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