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An examination of the Philosophy of Pragmatism as applied by Jane Addams

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  1. Introduction
  2. Pragmatism Defined
    1. According to this author, ?The pragmatic method is primarily a method of settling metaphysical disputes that otherwise might be interminable.?
    2. When placed in this context, it becomes evident that the philosophy of pragmatism is one that is grounded in the development of behavior and action based on the empirical results that are acquired in a given situation.
  3. Jane Addams and Pragmatism
  4. The Success of Hull House
  5. Conclusion

Researchers examining the life of Jane Addams argue that she was ?the leader and prophet of the settlement movement in America.? While Addams is best known for her creation of Hull House in Chicago's urban center, her work, ideologies and philosophy continue to transcend social discourse. Because of the work undertaken by Addams, society has garnered a more integral understanding of sociology and the dynamic interplay of social variables on the construction of culture.Arguably, the contributions made by Addams are quite extensive. Even though Addams appears to have undertaken a wide range of projects throughout her lifetime, when one looks at the driving force behind her actions and ideologies, it becomes evident that the impetus for Addams' actions lies in her philosophy of pragmatism. Given that the philosophy of pragmatism has had such a notable impact on Addams and her contributions to society, it is important to consider how this philosophy shaped Addams' life. Utilizing this as a basis for inquiry, this investigation examines the philosophy of pragmatism as applied by Addams. In addition, this investigation considers how this pragmatism aided in the development of Hull House and the long-term success of this institution. By examining the basic context of pragmatism and how Addams employed this philosophy, it will be possible to garner a more integral understanding of this philosophy and its importance to Addams' success.

[...] Examining what has been written about Jane Addams and her use of pragmatism, it becomes evident that Addams utilized a form of pragmatism that was somewhat different than the type described by James.[xv] Although many of the underlying tenets of the philosophy remained the same, the specific manner in which pragmatism was applied by Addams was notably different.[xvi] In particular, one author notes that Addams was part of a larger ?social pragmatism? movement that took place in the US in the early part of the twentieth century.[xvii] Central to this form of social pragmatism was the use of communication.[xviii] Specifically, communication was identified as a central means for individuals to share their ?socially anchored expressiveness.?[xix] The use of communication was seen as a means for individuals to create social self fundamentally forged in relationship with others.?[xx] From this process of creating the social self pragmatists of this era were able to include ?cooperation, group identification, and moral life? into the very fabric of their philosophy.[xxi] Finally, communication was seen as an essential means of ?generating meaning, establishing social order, and creating human experience, including aesthetic experience.?[xxii] This sums up the state of pragmatism that existed before and during Addams' entrance into this practice. [...]


[...] As noted by one scholar, Addams and her colleagues ?worked to eliminate the root causes of poverty and alienation and to provide opportunities to the disenfranchised.?[l] This scholar goes on to note that those in charge of Hull House believed that, society would ultimately benefit when democracy fulfilled its potential.?[li] Unfortunately, with the destruction of Hull House came the destruction of the pragmatic spirit that served as the impetus for its development. Even though Hull House was enormously successful in the early part of the twentieth century, pragmatism has given way to other social and moral movements that no longer focus on the ideals espoused by Addams and this organization. [...]


[...] Scholars note that it was this form of pragmatism that had an influence on the development of Hull House.[xxiii] Given that the development and evolution of Hull House was so firmly grounded in the pragmatic philosophy of Jane Addams, it is helpful to consider how this pragmatism played a role in the establishment of this institution. One author examining the development of Hull House notes that every aspect of the institution's development was predicated upon some aspect of pragmatic thought.[xxiv] According to this author most of Addams' decisions were made based on the firsthand information that she acquired from her contacts.[xxv] settling on Halsted Street she deliberately put herself in a position to know intimately the people who were having the hardest time to survive in the city of Chicago. [...]

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