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By M. Gail Hamner

Hamner seeks to find what makes pragmatism uniquely American. She argues that the inextricably American personality of pragmatism of such figures as C.S. Peirce and William James lies in its frequently understated confirmation of the USA as a uniquely non secular kingdom with a God-given challenge and populated by means of God-fearing citizens.

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Moreover, both James and Helmholtz attained wide popularity in their lifetimes and have become mythic figures in intellectual history. Nonetheless, I find it more noteworthy to clarify the links between Helmholtz and Peirce as men who theorize across many discourses and who attempt to construct syntheses or generalizations among them. Moreover, both men meditate extensively not only on the changing meaning of science but also on the communal character of a “good” scientist and the transcommunal duties that science can perform in society and in history.

Meaning remains virtual, however; it remains vague and useless until narrowed and focused by an act of interpretation (a human or other “interpretant”) according to particular purposes. 14 Peirce's rejection of nominalism results in his conviction that the philosophical and scientific position of skepticism requires a prior assumption of the possibility of certainty. By denying this possibility, Peirce critiques the sufficiency of efficient causation and bolsters his claim for the personal and cosmic scope of purposiveness.

7 Indeed, Peirce and James both cite Helmholtz. 8 Predictably, the two Americans appropriate Helmholtz quite differently. Peirce categorizes him strictly as a physicist and physiologist, while James labels him a psychologist, even when the pragmatist culls quotations from the Handbuch der physiologischen Optik and Die Lehre von den Tonempfindungen als physiologisch Grundlage für die Theorie der Musik, which are texts structurally oriented to the physiology of sensation. 9 Indeed, the ambiguous intellectual position of psychology underscores the importance of Helmholtz for my argument.

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