The Pragmatism and Prejudice of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. 31-48 (Seth Vannatta, ed. Lexington Press 2019).
23 Pages Posted: 10 Jul 2019
Date Written: July 7, 2019
Scattered skeptical remarks and a general austerity that infused his writings have given Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes a reputation as some type of nihilist. Noted commentators such as Richard Posner and Albert Alschuler have claimed as much. This article seeks to correct this misunderstanding. Holmes was not a nihilist in the sense of being melancholy due to a belief that the world has no absolute moral values or gods. Instead, Holmes was a pragmatist in the spirit of William James and John Dewey. While Holmes had doubts about moral truth and deities, he ultimately thought that their existence (or non-existence) should have no bearing on our behavior or the law. We must, through our collective efforts, find values that work for us.
Keywords: Oliver Wendell Holmes, Friedrich Nietzsche, nihilism, existentialism, morality, pragmatism, William James, truth
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