The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America

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The Metaphysical Club
Author Louis Menand
Publisher Octavo
Publication date
ISBN ISBN 0-374-52849-7

The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America is a Pulitzer Prize-winning 2001 book by Louis Menand, an American writer and legal scholar. The Metaphysical Club recounts the lives and intellectual work of the handful of thinkers primarily responsible for the philosophical concept of pragmatism, a principal feature of American philosophical achievement: William James, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Charles Sanders Peirce, and John Dewey. Pragmatism proved to be very influential on modern thought (for example in spurring movements in modern legal thought such as legal realism).

Menand traces the biography of each of these individuals, connecting them in places and showing how all were in a sense influenced by their times and by thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson. The book begins by examining the family history and early life of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the future U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and goes on to recount the acquaintance among Holmes, James, Peirce, Dewey and others, and how their association led to James' development of pragmatism.

A main focus of the book is the American Civil War's influence on Americans and on the men the book focuses on in particular and how that influence inspired the contributions of pragmatism. For Holmes, the Civil War destroyed his entire perspective on the world and greatly shaped his judicial philosophy, which, later on, emerged at roughly the same time as Dewey, James and Peirce were beginning to develop pragmatist ideas. Other influences treated by the book were the emerging sciences of statistics and evolutionary biology.

Menand's picture of pragmatism has been criticized by philosophers Susan Haack,[1] Paul Boghossian,[2] and Thomas L. Short.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Haack, Susan (1997), "Vulgar Rortyism" in The New Criterion, v. 16, n. 3, November 1997. Eprint. Review of Menand's anthology Pragmatism: A Reader.
  2. ^ Boghossian, Paul (2001), "The Gospel of Relaxation" in The New Republic, September 2001, critical review of Menand's The Metaphysical Club. MS-Word doc Eprint.
  3. ^ Short, Thomas L. (2002), "Sham Scholarship" in Modern Age 44:4, Fall 2002. Critical review of Menand's The Metaphysical Club. First Things Eprint (the second review is the one by Short).

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Founding Brothers
Pulitzer Prize for History
Succeeded by
An Army at Dawn