De-centering facts, de-centering the past de-centering epistemology: Carl L. Becker, pragmatism & the proto-postmodernism of historiography

Fisher Review 1 Becker

A micro-review I wrote for one of my History Classes this term, which I am particularly proud of.

I don’t think I do a very good job of explaining Pragmatism or the Pragmatist version of Experience here.  But, if you’re interested, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is a good place to get more in depth.  The following is from section 4.3, “The pragmatist conception of experience.”

Dewey’s account of experience contributes an additional twist. Like Peirce, he thought that experience was ‘full of inference’. Experience is a process through which we interact with our surroundings, obtaining information that helps us to meet our needs. What we experience is shaped by our habits of expectation and there is no basis for extracting from this complex process the kind of ‘thin given’ beloved of sense datum theorists. We experience all sorts of objects, events and processes, and we should not follow philosophers who seek to impose a distinction between the thin uninterpreted data of experience and the inferential processes which lead us to interpret what we experience as books, people and so on. The dichotomy between the passive given of experience and the rich results of our active conceptualization is not supported by our experience. It is yet another of the philosophers’ distortions.


Here is a link to the original Becker publication.  This is an important document of a thinker ahead of his time.  He apparently wrote a history of the founding of Cornell, which took the form of a series of lectures and which might be an interesting context for my Black Mountain project.

Becker Western Pol. Quart. 1955.