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Pragmatism is often thought to be incompatible with realism, the view that there are knowable mind-independent facts, objects, or properties. In this article, I show that there are, in fact, realist versions of pragmatism and argue that a realist pragmatism of the right sort can make important contributions to such fields as religious ethics and philosophy of religion. Using William James's pragmatism as my primary example, I show (1) that James defended realist and pluralist views in metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and philosophy of religion, and (2) that these views not only cohere with his pragmatism but indeed are basic to it. After arguing that James's pragmatism provides a credible and useful approach to a number of basic philosophical and religious issues, I conclude by reflecting on some ways in which we can apply and potentially improve James's views in the study of religion.

Keywords: William James; philosophy of religion; pragmatism; realism; religious ethics

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Department of Religious Studies1294 University of OregonEugene, OR 97403-1294541.346.4998, Email:

Publication date: December 1, 2008

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