1. W. E. B. Du Bois argued that “the history of the American Negro” is at some level largely concerned with the possibility that “a man [can] be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon bu his fellows, without having the doors of opportunity closed roughly in his face”. Write an essay discussing Du Bois analysis of the problem of the color line, paying special attention to his insistence that race is something that is social constructed rather than biologically determined.
It might seem strange for a modern person to think that a century ago someone who claimed that a Negro can be a decent member of the American society was considered to be a revolutionary philosopher. Though, the reality of the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century offered a great number of example to support the idea that racial segregation exists and does not seem to lose popularity. The notion of the color line was used many times in the Du Bois’ book The Souls of Black Folk to define the discrimination of the Negroes in the United States. The concept of the color line does not lose its urgency even nowadays and can be applied to the examples from the history in a much broader sense than Du Bois suggested. Discrimination and drawing the color line than separates “the normal people” from “the worse population” is a socially constructed hatred, that penetrates the cultural patterns and causes a series of violence, that is based on prejudices.
First of all, it is necessary to understand the initial meaning that Du Bois put into the notion of the color line. It was the question of the opposition of the white and the black people in the United States, and the discrimination of the African Americans due to the color of their skin and numerous prejudices that they are not able to study and to work, they are lazy and criminal by their nature, and that is why they do not deserve equal opportunities as the white people. The ideas of social Darwinism that became extremely popular in the USA in the 1870s and were not forgotten even in the the middle of the 20th century gave theoretical background for racial segregation in all spheres of the American life. Black children had to go to other schools with a more primitive schedule, black people had to go to the other hospitals, because they simply insult the white Americans with their looks, and as the result all those black people lived in their close black communities (Juguo, 2001). It is considered that the ideas of social Darwinism that led to such situation with the Negroes in America, became the first stage for the development of the ideas of Nazism, fascism and eugenics. Such connection proves another time how devastating the results of the ideas that one nation is superior to the other can be.
In general, the problem of the color line can be called a problem of racial exploitation and racial domination in other words. It is not a news that certain inequality and exploitation exists everywhere, and the desire of people to gain power is in their nature (Keene, 2001). Though, it is possible to state that the segregation does not depend upon the biological difference of the nations that much as it is often assumed. It has more features of a socially constructed set of values, that is initially based upon the misjudgments and pure emotions.
According to Du Bois, there are several different ways of drawing the color line and implication of the racist ideas. The first issue that the philosopher emphasizes is that racism itself is the violence and the violent imposition. It penetrates the world of “the others”, who are considered to be more primitive and inapt of developing themselves, and destructing their habitual living (Du Bois, 1903). Such method of drawing the color line is present in imperialistic ideas, in colonialism, in neo-colonialism, in occupation, in enslavement and in certain aspects in globalization. It is crucial to underline that the color line appears because the specific ideology is imposed.
The propaganda, which is the main issue that leads to the appearance of the color line, is a complicated machine that needs many aspects to function effectively. The accent on emotions in creating the racist discourse becomes evident after analyzing examples from the world history. As it was mentioned earlier, the racial segregation and drawing the color line between the white and the black Americans started from the belief that the Negroes were inapt by their nature to study and to work without strict supervision of the white master. There is nothing logical in such argument and if the person makes even a minor attempt to think why are the Negroes more lazy than the Caucasians, he/she will obviously find no data to support such claim. However, the idea that he/she is better than someone just because his/her color of skin is not black is pleasant on the emotional level to the white American. He/she can be a lazy idiot, who lives in extreme poverty, he/she can be alcohol addicted, but he/she is better than a Negro. Perhaps, it gives the person certain positive emotions when the logic is not his/her strongest side. Another well known example of the efficient propaganda of segregation is the Nazi policy towards the Jews, who were blamed in the poverty of the German workers and in kidnapping German children to use their blood in religious rituals. The reasons might seem strange for the person nowadays, but it is necessary to remember that millions of people who supported Hitler believed in it and the propaganda effectively cultivated their hatred.
The structure is an indispensable part of the effective machine of propaganda that popularizes the ideas of racism and segregation. The governmental institutes are in fact the most important guardians of the ideological course. Du Bois mentions in his work that the white people feel their superiority over the rest of the races in the world and make everything possible to control them (Du Bois, 1903). The appearance of such international organizations life the World Bank, the International Monetary Bank or the World Trade Organization are obviously not fighting for the equal rights in all the countries. They guarantee the financial well fare of the super powerful government of the United States and increase the opportunities of the white race to dominate the others.
The ideas of Du Bois concerning the racial segregation and the color line can find many analogues in the contemporary world. The globalization process led to the unification of the world view of people all over the world. People get comparatively the same education, they are tough the same point of view, being the Western oriented person means to be in trend. All these issues are the signs of cultural colonialism in certain aspects. It is possible only to hope that such expansion will not lead to the outbursts of violence on the basis of being “the other”, because the ideas what is right and what is wrong have already penetrated the cultural patterns.
2. What is “pragmatism”? How does a pragmatist assess whether a philosophical proposition is true or false? On what basis did the pragmatist philosophers such as William James and John Dewey claim that the pragmatic method for determining truth was a new American contribution to philosophy?
It is possible to state that pragmatism dominates the American philosophy. It is entirely an American school of thought and it did not lose its popularity during the last century. The ideas of pragmatism are often called the new way to call the old manner of thinking and it is considered to reflect the American national spirit and identity.
As a philosophical tradition, pragmatism was born in the United States in the end of the 19th century due to the efforts of Charles S. Pierce, William James and John Dewey. It started from the rejection of the idea that the main function of thought is to represent and to describe the surrounding reality. The pragmatics claimed that a thought is a means of solving problems, acting and predicting, as it is the result of the interaction of the reality and the human mind. The pragmatic tradition tries to find the optimal balance between the idealistic ad the empirical approaches, taking the best things out of them (James, 1907).
The basis of the pragmatic thinking is using the practical consequences of beliefs and ideas as the starting point for understanding everything. William James defined pragmatism as the approach when the philosopher does not focus on the supposed categories, principles and things that he/she sees at the first glance, but rather pays attention to the facts, consequences and the things he/she sees in the end of the analysis (James, 1907). As it is evident form this description of the pragmatic tradition, little attention is paid to the systematic doctrine of philosophical thought, underlining instead the attitude and the method of research. The systematic doctrine is opposed to the scientific method and experimental inquiry, which changed the essence of philosophy in the end of the 19th century.
Perhaps, the most well known idea of the pragmatic philosophical discourse is the point of view concerning the truth that was developed by James. It can be summarized that according to him, the truth is an absolutely individual issue that changes because of the surrounding circumstances and is right only for the particular person. William James worked on his pragmatic theory of truth that was opposite to the traditional understanding of the nature of truth in the end of the 19th century. He wrote that the “truth happens to an idea”. The main distinction from the traditional philosophical thought of that time was the truth used to be a static and fixed notion. James wanted to understand how the truth changes when the circumstances that influence it start to change. According to the point of view of the pragmatic school of thought, something that does not lead to changes in the surrounding is not important and can be disregarded. Something becomes the truth when the consequences of this idea are satisfactory or at least they work. The pragmatics considered the truth to be the constantly developing notion that is relative. The main notions that determine the truth in the pragmatic discourse are the results, the consequences, the satisfaction and the workability.
A good example that shows how to determine what is true and what is false for the pragmatist point of view is the idea of the existence of God. In fact, there are no objective proofs that support the idea of the existence of God. No one saw him and taped his appearance on the camera, no one can state for sure that it is the real God he/she talked to, and in general the idea of the existence of someone who watches the humankind without stopping is rather fantastic. However, it is possible to prove from the pragmatic point of view that God really exists. First of all, it is necessary to understand that the truth of the existence of God will be right for the particular person. Second, it is crucial to understand whether the notion of God is the best way to give the particular person happiness. In case when God fits the best the place of the leader and the guiding power in the life of the person, his existence is satisfactory. If the theological explanation of the reasons of the unknown events persuades the particular person the best, than God really exists and his existence is also satisfactory and workable. Such person will come to the agreement with his/her surrounding reality and that is why the solution that God really exists is right for him/her (James, 1897).
In fact, people are living in the world that is determined by their personal experience. It is difficult to state whether it is the universal individualism and the tendencies of the contemporary world that make the ideas of pragmatism applicable to the majority of people, or it is the American influence on the formation of the globalized culture. Perhaps, the impact of the American contribution to the world philosophy is rather significant and should not be underestimated.
William James and John Dewey claim that the pragmatic method for determining truth was a new American contribution to philosophy because of a number of reasons. First of all, pragmatism developed on the basis of the absolutely American reality. It used the main aspects of the American life and its spirit of liberty and democracy as the starting point in creating the philosophical world view. Such freedom of choice, relativism and the possibility of existence of numerous individual truths was no characteristic to the spirit of the old Conservative Europe as the cradle of the Western philosophical thought. The pragmatic philosophical ideas expanded the spirit of the upcoming changes long before those changes really came to the rest of the world (Dewey, 1918). Perhaps, it is possible to say that nowadays it is the United States that determine the way of thinking in the globalized society.
According to the ideas expressed by William James and John Dewey, there is no use in philosophy for the sake of the philosophy only. They mere theory that can not have a practical implication can not be interested to people and the ideas of the philosophers should meet the human needs and make their lives better. As the pragmatic ideas suppose, people can change the form of the surrounding reality and make the world better, which was the desire of the creative people of all times and pragmatism just re-branded this eternal desire to fit the modernity.
Du Bois, W. E. B. (1903). The Souls of Black Folk, New York: New American Library, Inc.
Keene, J. D. (2001). “W.E.B. Du Bois and the Wounded World: Seeking Meaning in the First World War for African Americans”, Peace & Change 26, 2, 135-52.
Juguo, Z. (2001). W.E.B. Du Bois: Quest for the Abolition of the Color Line, New York: Routledge.
James, W. (1907). “What Pragmatism Means”, Social Progress and the Power of Intellect. n.d.
James, W. (1897). “The Will to Believe”, Toward a Secular Culture. n.d.
Dewey, J. (1918). “Philosophy and Democracy”. Social Progress and the Power of Intellect. n.d.