Pragmatist emancipation and embodied subjectivity

Sami Pihlström

Pragmatism is a philosophical approach seeking to critically emancipate us from various traditional assumptions that (in Charles Peirce’s famous words) “block the way of inquiry”, including the dichotomies between theory and practice, knowledge and action, nature and culture, as well as fact and value. Another such dichotomy is the one between mind and body (or the mental and the physical). Both classical and more recent pragmatists have argued that philosophical inquiries into human subjectivity need to be emancipated from the Cartesian assumption that there is a fundamental opposition between mind and matter. Human subjectivity, for pragmatists, is thoroughly embodied and thus fully embedded in the natural and social world. However, this “naturalization” of subjectivity and the related view of embodiment do not entail any reductive naturalism. I will argue that a pragmatically naturalized conception of embodied subjectivity can even accommodate a rearticulated account of the transcendental subject and thus emancipate even Kantian-inspired transcendental inquiries into subjectivity from any remaining Cartesian assumptions. What needs to be rejected in this emancipatory project is the kind of metaphysical realism presupposed not only by Cartesian dualism but also by most reductively naturalistic theories of the mind in contemporary philosophy.