Pragmatism: What’s the Use?   /   Fall 2001   /    Reviews

African American Pragmatism

A Review Essay

J. Kameron Carter

Cornel West (2018). Via Wikimedia Commons.

“ALAIN LOCKE WAS A PRAGMATIST.” SO BEGINS Leonard Harris’ book The Critical Pragmatism of Alain Locke: A Reader on Value Theory, Aesthetics, Community, Culture, Race, and Education, an important collection of essays that assesses Locke’s thought, evaluat- ing his relationship to modern philosophy—American pragmatism, in particular—in light of the questions he raised about value, identity, pluralism, multiculturalism, and education. If the value of a collection of this sort is whether the essays stimulate readers to a fresh appraisal of and engagement with, its central figure, then certainly Harris’ editorial labors have not been in vain. With this collection of critical essays, Harris, a philosopher and well-respected Locke scholar in his own right, provides a complement to his previously published anthology, The Philosophy of Alain Locke, a collection of primary texts expressing Locke’s philosophy and its pragmatist bent. Ranging over a broad field of topics and disciplines, The Critical Pragmatism of Alain Locke brings together essays from a number of scholars to assess and recommend Locke’s critically pragmatic orientation. That orientation offered, first, a cultural, or non-property-based, analysis of race, what Locke calls “secondary race consciousness” and “social race.” However, that orien- tation offered, second, a class- or property-based analysis of race as well. That is, it offered an analysis that understood the notion of race as emerging from the exigencies of political economy and its history, both domestically and internationally. These two dimensions of Locke’s analysis of race together constitute his critical pragmatism.

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