|Publisher||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America is a Pulitzer Prize-winning 2001 book by Louis Menand, an American writer and legal scholar, which won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for History. The book recounts the lives and intellectual work of the handful of thinkers primarily responsible for the philosophical concept of pragmatism, a principal feature of American philosophical achievement: William James, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Charles Sanders Peirce, and John Dewey. Pragmatism proved to be very influential on modern thought, for example, in spurring movements in modern legal thought such as legal realism.
Menand traces the biography of each of these individuals, shows ways in which they were connected and how all were in a sense influenced by their times and by thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson. The book begins by examining the family history and early life of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., the future U.S. Supreme Court Justice, then describes how Holmes, James, Peirce, Dewey, and others were acquainted with each other, and how their association led to James' development of pragmatism.
A main focus of the book is the influence of the American Civil War on Americans in general and on the subjects of this book, as well as how the war inspired pragmatism. For Holmes, the Civil War destroyed his entire perspective on the world and greatly shaped his judicial philosophy, which developed at roughly the same time as Dewey, James, and Peirce were beginning to develop pragmatist ideas. Other influences treated by the book are the emerging sciences of statistics and evolutionary biology.