The Metaphysical Club

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The Metaphysical Club was a conversational philosophical club that the future Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the philosopher and psychologist William James, and the philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce formed in January 1872 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and dissolved in December 1872. Upon Peirce's arrival at Johns Hopkins University in 1879, he founded a new Metaphysical Club there. Despite the name, these academic philosophical discussion groups pursued critical thinking of a pragmatist and positivist nature and rejected the radical foundationalist European metaphysics, in favor of a moderate foundationalism.[1] In fact, it was within these philosophical discussions that pragmatism is said to have been born.[2]

Other members of the club included Chauncey Wright, John Fiske, Francis Ellingwood Abbot, Nicholas St. John Green, and Joseph Bangs Warner.[3] The Metaphysical Club is never mentioned by any person within the club other than Peirce. The only other known person to have mentioned the club was Henry James, the great novelist and brother of William James.

Louis Menand's The Metaphysical Club[edit]

The Metaphysical Club is a 2002 Pulitzer-Prize-winning book by Louis Menand about Holmes, James, and Peirce. While it ventures into many different directions, covering topics in American history, notable pioneers of American higher education and philosophy, it mainly concerns the erosion of metaphysics and its eventual replacement by pragmatism as a dominant force in shaping American philosophy and its conception of ideas. The title of the book stems from the club formed by Holmes, James and Peirce. It was founded and dissolved in 1872, and has no direct connection with the New Thought movement.

The book is split up into five sections. Four of those sections are biographical sketches of Holmes, James, Peirce, and John Dewey (although Dewey was not a part of the club, he is considered one of the central American pragmatists). Within these sketches, Menand also discusses various other thinkers including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Chauncey Wright, Louis Agassiz, and others.

Menand's picture of pragmatism has been criticized by philosophers Susan Haack,[4] Paul Boghossian,[5] and Thomas L. Short.[6]


  1. ^ Menand, Louis. The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (2001), New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, ISBN 0-374-19963-9 (hardcover), ISBN 0-374-52849-7 (paperback) p. 226, 274.
  2. ^ Peirce, C. S. (1929), "The Founding of Pragmatism", The Hound and Horn: A Harvard Miscellany v. II, n. 3, April–June, pp. 282–5 (see 283–4). Reprinted as "Historical Affinities and Genesis" in Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, v. 5, paragraphs 11–13 (see 12–13), dated by the editors as circa 1906. Also see Shook, John R. (undated), "The Metaphysical Club Archived 2009-01-26 at the Wayback Machine" at the Pragmatism Cybrary.
  3. ^ Menand (2001), p. 201.
  4. ^ Haack, Susan (1997), "Vulgar Rortyism" in The New Criterion, v. 16, n. 3, November 1997. Eprint. Review of Menand's anthology Pragmatism: A Reader.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Short, Thomas L. (2002), "Sham Scholarship" in Modern Age 44:4, Fall 2002. Critical review of Menand's The Metaphysical Club. Also criticizes Menand's grasp of history Eprint (the second review is the one by Short).

External links[edit]

  • Shook, John R. (undated), "The Metaphysical Club" at the Pragmatism Cybrary. Includes an account of the Club and individualized accounts of Chauncey Wright, Nicholas St. John Green, Charles Sanders Peirce, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., William James, and Joseph Bangs Warner, along with bibliographies, complete ones in the cases of Wright and Green.