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Skype Meeting: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

  • Feb 28, 2013 · 8:00 PM

While he is not regarded as a philosopher in the traditional sense, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. is perhaps the quintessential pragmatist. This is a rare opportunity to read and discuss this seminal figure in American intellectual history. I would encourage everyone to attend.

Basic Reading:
The basic reading for this meeting is from Louis Menand's anthology
Pragmatism: A Reader pages 136-180. This includes the first and third lectures from The Common Law (1881), his essays "The Path of Law" (1897), "Natural Law" (1918), excerpts from two others and his famous dissenting opinion from Abrams v. United States.

Additional Reading:
For those who wish to do additional reading on the Great Dissenter or who don't have access to the Menand anthology there is a wealth of material available online:

In The Common Law (1881) Holmes sought to bring the ideas and approach of the Harvard Pragmatists to jurisprudence. Transforming the practice of law from a set of rules and principles based on logic, to a tool for adapting in a changing world based on experience. The complete text of The Common Law is available online. The Menand anthology includes Lectures I and III:
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/2449/pg2449.txt
http://www.general-intelligence.com/library/commonlaw.pdf


In Abrams v. United States he argued that political dissent did not interfere with the war effort and the dissidents should not be punished for their opinions rather than their acts. Holmes was influenced by Zechariah Chafee's 1919 article in the Harvard Law Review "Freedom of Speech in War Time" which is available online:
http://dx.doi.org/10.2307%2F1327107

His essay "The Path of Law" from the Harvard Law Review (1897):
http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/2373/pg2373.txt

In his majority opinion in Buck v. Bell (1927) he crafts an interesting yet controversial argument concerning the line between public and private welfare. Available online:
http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=274&invol=200


There is also an excellent anthology edited by later day Pragmatist Richard Posner called The Essential Holmes available at Amazon:
http://www.amazon.com/The-Essential-Holmes-Selections-Speeches/dp/0226675548

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  • Ana

    Dan, as i barely understood about pragmatism, please correct if i am wrong, told ya, just start studying... one of the most important pillars of pragmatism is "no values", values is a creating or an idealist idea who not correspond on facts of the reality. Submit 'practical problems" to values is not the task of philosophy.(Democracy and education. In John dewey: the midlle of works, p.7-8) We can understand philosophy here in a big or lato sence. So, this is one of the problems that the pragmatic tradition should face, as i note before in ethics issues. if cutting the fallopian tubes is a "practical problem"elected by a society, so... is facts against values. facts wins. cheers here for Hurssel and his theory of values.

    February 7, 2013

    • Dan M.

      I am not a Kant reader in any depth as of yet, but whenever I hear the phrase "categorical imperative" and "synthetic unity of apperception" I get a sense the struggle is between the continuity of the self (synth. unity) and her inherited capacities as a member of the class "humans" (categories...).

      February 26, 2013

    • Dan M.

      Sorry but I keep hitting return, and it submits and closes...I think with time James could be seen as aiming for the solid establishment of the continuous subject, established through continuous action, reflected upon to discover a "language" or better to say pattern or algorithm of values WHICH ARE MADE INTELLIGIBLE, HAVE VERIFIABILITY, FOR THE COMMUNITY, in relation to long-standing EMBRACED custom and convention. If VALUE sits down at the wedding reception at the seat whose place card reads "discourse" or "background" or "intelligibility"­ we should serve it, and hope that it finds the food transcendent.

      February 26, 2013

  • Jim

    Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200 (1927).

    It's a complex case with many subtle issues that are worth looking at in detail. Here is more info for anyone that wants to follow it closely:

    What was the law?
    http://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/VA/VA.html

    What was the case?
    http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/Buck+vs.+Bell

    What was the decision?
    http://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/274/200/case.html

    What was really going on?
    http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Buck_Carrie_Elizabeth_1906-1983#start_entry
    Stephen Jay Gould "Carrie Bell's Daughter" The Flamingo Smiles

    Side note: I found it a bit creepy that of the five buildings (pictured in the first link) that were "feeder institutions" for forced sterilization I have seen three of them and even been inside one (it's now a museum).

    February 7, 2013

  • Dan M.

    This is from Holme's BUCK VS. BELL DECISION, and although it is considered a more vicious expression of his judicial temperament, can any part of it's reasoning find sponsorship in Pragmatism?...

    We have seen more than once that the public welfare may call upon the best citizens for their lives. It would be strange if it could not call upon those who already sap the strength of the State for these lesser sacrifices, often not felt to be such by those concerned, in order to prevent our being swamped with incompetence. It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.

    February 6, 2013

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