The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America

The Metaphysical Club
Author Louis Menand
Publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date
Pages 384
ISBN 0-374-19963-9

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, which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for History. The book 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, shows ways in which they were connected and 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, then describes how Holmes, James, Peirce, Dewey and others were acquainted with each other, and how their association led to James' development of pragmatism.

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

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

See also


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