Thinking in the Circle: the American Indian Influence on the Development of the American philosophy of Pragmatism

Steve Sachs


Beginning with first contact with Indians, Europeans coming to North America to live were greatly impacted by their experience with the Indigenous population. A particularly important result of the interaction of Europeans and American Indians in North America has been the rise and evolution of the American philosophy of pragmatism. Pragmatism can generally be described as having the following qualities or emphases. Primary, in agreement with one of the major American Indian values, is the importance of diversity, a valuing of difference, and respect for all people, interests and views. This is sometimes called the importance of place, respecting that each location in time, space,... way of seeing is different and needs to be respected. From valuing diversity, comes the importance of inclusiveness, democracy, and individual rights. But the rights, and the diversity, arise within community. As Native people say, all are related. There are appropriate relations or balances to be maintained between the whole and the parts, and among the parts. This view also sees human understanding as limited, but capable of expanding and in need of learning through experience. Thus, life is experimental, and pragmatism deals with finding what is practical for each, within the context of the community, and for the good of theĀ  community. Pragmatism is essentially focused on problem solving, rather than ultimate knowledge. Since it concerns the need of limited people to learn through experience for the general, as well as the personal, good, there is a need for openness of discussion, and continual questioning. Pragmatism is opposed to absolutism and repression, and has often been a vehicle of resistance and liberation.

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