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Symposia. Pragmatism and Phenomenology. A Metaphilosophical Reconsideration

A Meta-Philosophical Introduction to the Encounter between Pragmatism and Phenomenology

Jason Bell and Danilo Manca

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  • 1 See Ferri 2019; Manca & Nunziante 2020.

1The history of the encounters between pragmatism and phenomenology is long, fruitful, yet also tormented. From the time of the 19th century American phenomenology of Josiah Royce up to the arrival of Husserl’s phenomenology in North America, pragmatism was always one of the leading American philosophical movements that actively contributed to the re-elaboration of the issues and strategies of phenomenology in order to make them comply and adjust to the new context. This was possible, in the first place, thanks to the activity of those American scholars who visited Husserl in Germany (e.g., Winthrop Bell, William Ernest Hocking, Marvin Farber, Dorion Cairns, Charles Hartshorne), but also, in the second place, thanks to the many European scholars forced to emigrate to America due to racial laws and World War II (e.g. Alfred Schütz, Aron Gurwitsch).1

  • 2 Just as examples, let us mention Rosenthal and Bourgeois 1980, 1983; Švec & Čapek 2017; Gallagher 2 (...)

2Over the past fifty years, scholars with different approaches and perspectives have shown how the encounter between phenomenology and pragmatism has accompanied the rise and fall of the analytic-continental divide.2

  • 3 As Danilo Manca has argued elsewhere (see Manca & Turbanti 2022), the word “metaphilosophy” is ofte (...)

3The main ambition of this symposium is to contribute to the broad debate that has developed around this encounter by means of reflections that work on a meta-philosophical level.3 In other words, in the exploration of the possible paths taken by the encounter between pragmatism and phenomenology, we want to show ways that philosophical investigation essentially attends (at least implicitly) to the very activity of philosophizing. In fact, in order to take part in – or engage with – the philosophical tradition, one is bound to investigate the genesis and nature, the limits and potentialities of the philosophical activity itself. In the pragmatism-phenomenology encounter, a special focus is to be given to the problem of how mind and world, science and common sense, nature and culture, praxis and theory stand together.

4The essays of this symposium could be divided into two groups. The first group investigates crucial moments of the history of the encounter between pragmatism and phenomenology. The second group focuses on the way in which, nowadays, these two traditions of thought intersect, thereby contributing together to shaping and re-shaping the enactive approach to mind. At the same time as they show the importance of an ongoing dialogue between pragmatism and phenomenology, these contributors also show how the history of philosophy and ongoing analysis can be both complementary aspects of meta-philosophy (rather than warring opponents, as they are sometimes falsely considered to be), with history showing and suggesting theories of analytic importance.

5Jacquelyn Ann K. Kegley addresses the role that Josiah Royce’s re-elaboration of the issues and strategies of phenomenology in the American context plays in order to better understand to what extent the interaction between pragmatism and phenomenology offers a valuable resource for re-imaging the limits and potentialities of philosophical inquiry. What emerges is that the aspect in which Husserlian phenomenology and classical pragmatism find their matching point is their conception of science as a good habit of universalization based on the expressive capacity of the self, and as an in fieri process in constant need of auxiliary devices.

6In his article, Jason Bell shows that Husserl is a pragmatist in a foundationally theoretical and historical sense. He explores the way in which the Peircean conception of habit, as it also works in Josiah Royce’s and William James’ perspectives, influenced Husserl’s thought from his earliest writings (in particular Husserl’s review of the first volume of Schröder’s monumental lectures on the algebra of logic) to the later works.

7If the two articles that open the volume dwell on the horizon within which the encounter between first-generation pragmatism and phenomenology took place, the next two articles focus on two later thinkers who operates at the borders between the two traditions. Claudia Cavaliere delves into Sellars’s early writings to show to what extent it is possible to see him as providing a new theory about synthetic a priori knowledge. This was achieved through the interweaving of themes from phenomenology (considered from the naturalized point of view defended by Farber), pragmatism (via C.I. Lewis especially) and logical empiricism. Ondřej Švec shows in what sense Patočka’s account of existence as movement provides a much more fruitful ground than Heidegger’s fundamental ontology (widely appreciated in the pragmatist variants fostered by Rorty and Brandom) for including some basic tenets of pragmatism, such as the emphasis on the primacy of practices over theory, the anti-intellectualist account of sense-making, and the fundamental dependency of the subject upon the public space of shared concerns.

8In the essay in the middle of the volume, Shaun Gallagher goes from the contemporary forms of intersection between phenomenology and pragmatism as regards the embodied and enactive approach to cognitive sciences all the way back to its beginnings, thereby confirming the impression first emerged from Bell’s and Kegley’s texts: in the last decades there is no pragmatic turn per se in either phenomenology or cognitive sciences, because those tendencies were always there. This is why, as is evident from the case of Royce as well as from both Peirce’s early turn to something akin to phenomenology and Husserl’s recognition of phenomenological motifs in James’ earlier work, either tradition shows elements at work in the other (often more or less latently, but sometimes explicitly). On the other hand, the embodied, situated, and enactive approach to the mind represents “nothing else but” another decisive field in which the dialectical exchanges and intersections between phenomenology and pragmatism are renewed and nurtured.

9The theme of the nature and role of habits appears again in the article by Reynolds and Legg, whose main aim is to see in 4E (embodied, extended, embedded, enactive) cognition a habit-based epistemology alternative to the Cartesian-based epistemology. The authors find an innovative path for Peirce’s semiotics (that analyzes sign-use in terms of habits) to both break with the false dichotomy between embodiment and logical or intellectual structure, a dichotomy which often hampers the 4E approach to mind, and to challenge the assumption that the encounter between phenomenology and pragmatism in this field is too-limited to its connections with Dewey and Merleau-Ponty.

10Concluding this path, Danilo Manca’s article explores what happens to the primacy of the discursive space of reasons over other “fields” in which human beings are involved when a situated and enactive conception of mind is adopted. The author addresses Robert Brandom’s aporetic alternative between mind and language as the two possible birthplaces of intentionality. It also highlights the risk of endorsing an early cognitivist conception of mind as a private theater of inner episodes. By questioning Brandom’s distinction between sentience and sapience, Manca traces the origin of intentionality back to the activities and the pre-reflexive self-awareness of the living body. On the one hand, this paves the way for interpreting the social space of reason as presupposing the process of niche-construction, in which the organism and the environment shape one another by a process of mutual constitution. On the other, this allows us to make the case for a heuristic primacy of the practice of giving and asking for reasons in the philosophical explication of the role of language in the process of niche-construction. Thinking and conversation, rather than being in a dualistic metaphysical opposition with the world, are instead seen as creatively interpretive aspects of the world. Manca concludes by showing how the naturalized version of phenomenology defended by the enactive approach to the mind becomes a privileged point of view from which one can discuss the link and the opposition between Classical Pragmatism and the Neo-pragmatism that has adhered to the linguistic turn.

11We thank those who are contributing, in this symposium, to the deepening conversation between phenomenology and pragmatism and thereby to philosophy itself. We thank the editorial board of the journal (in particular, let us mention Roberta Dreon, Sarin Marchetti, Anna Boncompagni, and Guido Baggio).

12These scholars show how philosophy is an essential living activity, and not merely so many sundered historical schools. Philosophy is not an inflexible discipline, a fixed mode of looking at the world from a disenchanted, disembodied point of view. Rather, genuine philosophy is an enchanting, embodied practice involving individuals and communities, a style of thinking that changes an individual’s dreary, unavoidable interactions with its social space into occasions for critical inquiry, and deepening wisdom on both sides.

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Ferri Michela Beatrice (ed.), (2019), The Reception of Husserlian Phenomenology in North America, in collaboration with Carlo Ierna, Cham, Springer.

Gallagher Shaun, (2017), Enactivist Interventions. Rethinking the Mind, Oxford, Oxford University Press.

McGinn Colin, (2002), The Making of a Philosopher, New York, Harper-Collins.

Manca Danilo & Antonio Nunziante (eds), (2020), “Realismo, pragmatismo, naturalismo. Le trasformazioni della fenomenologia in Nord America,” Discipline filosofiche, XXX (1).

Manca Danilo & Giacomo Turbanti (eds), (2022), “Introduction to The Conceptual Framework of Persons. A Metaphilosophical Investigation,” Philosophical Inquiries, X (1), 43-8.

Moran Dermot, (2018), “Phenomenology and Pragmatism. Two Interactions. From Horizontal Intentionality to Practical Coping,” in Maria Baghramian & Sarin Marchetti (eds), Pragmatism and the European Traditions. Encounters with Analytic Philosophy and Phenomenology before the Great Divide, New York, Routledge, 567-620.

Rorty Richard, (1992), “Twenty-five Years After,” in Richard Rorty (ed.), The Linguistic Turn: Essays in Philosophical Method, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 371-4.

Rosenthal Sandra B. & Patrick L. Bourgeois (eds), (1980), Pragmatism and Phenomenology: A Philosophic Encounter, Amsterdam, B.R. Grüner Publishing Co.

Rosenthal Sandra B. & Patrick L. Bourgeois (eds), (1983), Thematic Studies in Phenomenology and Pragmatism, Amsterdam, B.R. Grüner Publishing Co.

Švec Ondřej & Jakub Čapek (eds), (2017), Pragmatic Perspectives in Phenomenology, London, Routledge.

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1 See Ferri 2019; Manca & Nunziante 2020.

2 Just as examples, let us mention Rosenthal and Bourgeois 1980, 1983; Švec & Čapek 2017; Gallagher 2017; Moran 2018.

3 As Danilo Manca has argued elsewhere (see Manca & Turbanti 2022), the word “metaphilosophy” is often criticized, even by those who somehow endorse it. For instance, Williamson (2007: ix) rejected it because “sounds as though it might try to look down on philosophy from above or beyond,” while the philosophical reflection on the activity of philosophizing is “automatically part of philosophy.” Already Rorty (1992: 374) had pointed out that “questions about the method of philosophy” or “the nature of philosophical problems” are “likely to prove unprofitable.” And yet, in the words of McGinn (2002: 199), the inquiry into the nature of philosophical practice is “perhaps the most undeveloped part of philosophy.”

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Electronic reference

Jason Bell and Danilo Manca, A Meta-Philosophical Introduction to the Encounter between Pragmatism and PhenomenologyEuropean Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy [Online], XIV-2 | 2022, Online since 17 October 2022, connection on 27 March 2023. URL:; DOI:

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About the authors

Jason Bell

University of New Brunswick

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Danilo Manca

University of Pisa

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