Although very seldom explored, the relationship between philosophical pragmatism and liberation theology is not terribly difficult to establish.1 A shared emphasis on the continuity between theory and practice supplies one point of contact. Common recognition of the crucial role in human inquiry played by properly engaged communities constitutes another. The eschewing of a rigid contrast between nature and the supernatural, or between body/materiality and spirit, is a further tendency that both pragmatists and liberationists tend to display. All of these convergences are significant and will merit some attention here. Nevertheless, to observe them is only to scratch the surface of a relationship that runs surprisingly deep. In making this claim, I am talking primarily about the intellectual resonance of one way of thinking with another. I am not denying that there might be actual historical connections between pragmatism and liberation thought, but neither am I choosing to explore them for present purposes. My primary interest is in how liberation theology might be conceived, its method and purposes illuminated, from the perspective supplied by philosophical pragmatism.That interest can be more narrowly defined in terms of limits set both by the range of my expertise and the length of this essay. Although other forms of liberation thought are by no means irrelevant to this inquiry, my choice is to focus on Latin American liberation theology in its archetypal formulations (most especially as embodied in the work of the “father” of that movement, Gustavo Gutierrez). In a similar fashion, the pragmatic perspective that I employ here is one most closely associated with the classical pragmatism of Charles Peirce, William James, and John Dewey; among these three, the thought of Peirce has for my purposes a special significance. (I also am inclined to take Josiah Royce seriously, when he identified himself as an “absolute pragmatist” in his later work.)My discussion here represents both the summary and an extension of arguments presented in a recently published book.2 That book is itself firmly rooted in earlier investigations; especially relevant to the topic now under consideration are my previous attempts to link philosophical pragmatism to various traditions of what I call “martial spirituality.”3 I want to suggest that such a spirituality is the natural concomitant of any theology conceived as a theology of liberation. It takes the form of spiritual exercises designed to enable a practitioner effectively to resist attempts made by others to capture and control her attention. Consequently, philosophical pragmatism can be portrayed as embodying resources for the elaboration of a nuanced and robust ethics of attention of the sort that liberation theologians may judge to be invaluable.While in one respect properly to be regarded as a sequel to earlier work, this essay should also be conceived as the prolegomenon to a theology of liberation firmly rooted philosophically in pragmatic perspectives. I cannot develop the full argument for such a theology here, but only supply a map of the territory that would need to be carefully explored in making one. These deliberations represent a survey of pragmatic conceptions that might be judged useful for doing liberation theology. But the proof will always be in the pudding; the utility of any particular philosophical idea can only be demonstrated by actually applying and so testing it. This is my best attempt to supply a set of suggestions for future inquiry of that sort.I turn first to the task of providing an overview of the possible links between liberationist and pragmatist thought. Against this background, I then proceed to explore and develop a few of the connections that are less obvious than others and so much easier to ignore. Those involving Peirce's ideas—his “pragmaticism,” his “agapism,” his commitment to “fallibilism,” his classification of certain philosophical disciplines as “cenoscopic,” and his conception of the form that freedom takes as self-control—are readily and typically neglected. That will not be the case in the account that I provide here; indeed, these Peircean perspectives will draw the bulk of my attention.At the same time, but in far less detail, Royce's deliberations on loyalty and community will receive some consideration, as will James's voluntarism, along with his rationale for and pursuit of a “moral equivalent of war.” Dewey is the pragmatist whose philosophy has probably been regarded as most friendly to and useful for the project of articulating a liberation theology. Yet, it is not primarily to his political philosophy or his theory of democracy that I will turn my attention here, but rather, to what he had to say about the dynamics of habit formation, especially as it bears on the concept of “adjustment” formulated in his lectures on A Common Faith.To the extent that Latin American liberation theologians have drawn upon specific philosophical traditions for inspiration and intellectual resources, they have often looked to Marx or Marxism, as well as to various schools of Roman Catholic personalism. Since these theologians are themselves predominantly Catholic, the former choice has frequently been frowned upon by ecclesiastical authorities, while the latter has seemed relatively uncontroversial. It should be noted at the outset that pragmatism is itself a philosophical perspective that typically has been regarded with a good deal of suspicion by the Roman Catholic Church.4 But these are the historical connections with which I indicated at the outset that I would not be preoccupied here.Marxism does share with pragmatism a clear disdain for the radical separation of theory from practice, suggesting the relevance of both schools of thought for any liberation theology likewise committed to establishing their continuity. This is not a simple issue, but rather, complex and multi-faceted. In the first place, theory must be perceived not as utterly removed or separate from but as guiding practice in an especially intimate (even if not always immediate) fashion. Secondly, theory not only precedes and guides but also closely follows upon and so must be rooted in praxis. Finally, theorizing is itself a practice, a deliberate form of behavior comparable to many of the other practices in which human beings regularly engage. In all of its manifestations (and this is the value added to the discussion of such a topic by taking Peirce's pragmaticism into account), praxis is also to be regarded potentially as a sign. Our religiously meaningful conduct, properly regarded as semiosis, invites from theologians an interpretive response, while also itself constituting in certain cases the most adequate interpretation of some religious idea or belief. This is crucial for the project of liberation theology. What we do as a result of holding a certain belief—not episodically, but in a deliberate and ongoing fashion—is ultimately more important than anything that we might think or say.5 It is important not simply for practical or ethical reasons but for hermeneutical reasons as well; the deepest meaning, or as Peirce would put it, the “ultimate logical interpretant” of our belief will be the habit of conduct that it elicits. Informed by insights gleaned from philosophical pragmatism, liberation theologians will be supplied with a generously conceived notion of what it means “to give an interpretation.”It becomes readily apparent upon careful consideration that the pragmatic refusal to drive a deep wedge between theory and practice is related to the worry about any philosophical perspective that portrays thoughts, feelings, and actions as being sharply distinguishable or discontinuous. The fact that they are continuous can be established in various and different ways, but the Peircean strategy that portrays them all as forms of semiosis is in my estimation the most effective and useful of these. What any sign means might be taken to consist in certain thoughts that can be communicated in words; but it might also inhere in patterns of feeling or conduct not quite so readily manifested in language. Moreover, for an objective idealist like Peirce these are not categories perfectly distinct one from another. Feelings were vague thoughts as he described them in his philosophy, and thought achieves its final destiny only when it becomes concretely embodied in deliberate behavior.This allergic reaction to sharp dichotomies and rigid dualisms is symptomatic of the perspectives articulated both by pragmatists and liberation theologians. And, it can hardly be confined to the issue of theory's relation to practice. The “mind,” “spirit,” or “soul” of any given individual ought not to be contrasted with that person's body as something separable; that is to say, the former are all realities best conceived as being thoroughly embodied. (In semiotic terms, this could be translated into the Peircean claim that every sign must have a sign vehicle.) Gutierrez is quite explicit on this issue, arguing that the Pauline contrast between “spirit” and “flesh” is not a dividing of the human person into separate components, but rather, a distinction made between two fundamentally different ways of being disposed toward the world, a choice between spiritual life and death.6 That choice does not involve disdain for the body as a strategy for pursuing spiritually edifying purposes.The rejection of any crude body/soul dichotomy, while it cannot be conflated with, nevertheless, is certainly related to a nervousness about discourse that marks clear boundaries between nature and spirit, or between the natural and the supernatural. Now, it can certainly be argued with a high degree of confidence that the classical American pragmatists ought all to be acknowledged as embracing some form of philosophical naturalism.7 On the other hand, any claim that liberation theologians can all comfortably be labeled as “religious naturalists” would be a bit more difficult to establish. What is not so hard to demonstrate is their resistance to any concept of the supernatural that reduces nature and history (liberationists are typically more concerned about the latter) to a purely secular status. To put it most directly, the God of liberation theology is one who acts in the world and in human history, ultimately, for purposes established by such a theology's recognition of the ubiquity of poverty, suffering, injustice, and oppression in the world. Consequently, there is an emphasis on divine immanence characteristic of such a perspective that renders certain forms of supernaturalism somewhat untenable.This last set of considerations raises an important question. Is there a tension between pragmatism and liberation theology when one turns to their respective evaluations of the coherence of theism and the plausibility of personalism? I do not raise the question as a prelude to plunging into the sort of historical analysis from which I have already distanced myself at several points in this discussion. I want only to observe that most contemporary theologies indebted to pragmatism—typically species of religious naturalism of the sort frequently defended in the pages of this journal—tend either to abjure God-talk altogether or to use it at all only in the carefully qualified sense that “God” is not to be envisaged as a personal agent displaying consciousness, purposes, intentions, and the like. These naturalistic perspectives, especially in their most recent manifestations, have tended also to embrace posthumanism and to resist any ideas or ideals infected by anthropomorphism. Yet, among the original pragmatists, Peirce and Royce were clearly theists, William James also, albeit in a more tentative way (tentative, both in the forcefulness with which he argued for such a belief and with regard to his characterization of any deity as being necessarily finite). John Dewey stands alone among this group of thinkers in restricting the word “God” to its use as a label for certain empowering ideals. Moreover, I would argue that Peirce, Royce, and James, in addition to their theism, all clearly affirmed some type of philosophical personalism; in the case of Peirce, he was explicit in his defense of a rather thoroughgoing anthropomorphism.Consequently, insofar as liberation theologians tend to endorse both theism and personalism in one form or another, certain strands of pragmatism may prove to be more useful than others in the articulation and defense of such affirmations. Nevertheless, the challenges confronting twenty-first century liberation theologians are formidable enough that they should embrace whatever ideas prove to be even of limited utility, wherever they might happen to find them. Clearly, there are contemporary forms of religious naturalism with deep roots in pragmatism that supply a meaningful framework for liberation practices and the development of political strategies of resistance, yet without being wedded to philosophical personalism or embracing any kind of traditional theism.8I have suggested that all of the classical American pragmatists can be identified as naturalists, yet only on the assumption that “naturalism” is a vague term that designates a broad range of philosophical doctrines. In my own analysis of naturalism as a philosophical perspective, I tend to emphasize its character as a position involving the rejection of any kind of rigid nature/culture distinction.9 Nevertheless, I recognize that it is more commonly identified with the belief that there is nothing beyond the world of nature, nothing that can be regarded as “supernatural.” That having been said, “nature” itself is a notoriously vague term, one that can be interpreted in a capacious fashion (as both Spinoza and Emerson did, and also in contemporary thought as it is employed, for example, in the ecstatic naturalism of Robert Corrington); alternatively, it can be applied much more narrowly (as it is by those naturalists who endorse some form of austere materialism or physicalism). Since any concept of the supernatural must be defined dialectically in terms of its relationship to the natural, this vagueness matters a great deal and will inevitably attach to that concept as well. But only the crudest kind of supernaturalism will result in a two-story picture of reality, with a spiritual being (or beings) hovering over the natural world like a distant ghost. A genuinely sophisticated theology of divine transcendence will need also to supply an account of those respects in which God is immanent in the world. For a theology of liberation, that sort of account will take on a special significance. However else the Deity is understood, God must be a power working in the world, inspiring and enabling resistance to oppression in its various forms. Any God who is conceived as being above and opposed to the created world will be relatively meaningless for the purposes of such a theology.Now, I think that only the conceptually crudest forms of theism are bound to a two-story portrayal that invokes a supernaturalism of this sort. Even so, it is this sort of naïve supernaturalism against which many naturalists appear to be reacting when they formulate their own arguments. It would be a bit of a distraction from the task at hand to argue that any genuinely adequate doctrine of divine transcendence will entail rather than preclude a theory of immanence, or that if the logic of theism is pursued with rigor it will actually require the acceptance of some form of panentheism.10 But I think that both of these claims can be readily defended.The upshot of any argument of this type, I want to suggest, would be the conclusion that a crude “two-story” supernaturalism on the one hand and a pantheistic naturalism on the other do not exhaust the range of possibilities for how one might think about God's relationship to the world. Neither a theology rooted in pragmatism nor one shaped by the goal of liberation will be inclined to embrace a rigid dichotomy between nature and the supernatural; moreover, neither will be required to conflate them. The meaning of religious ideas and ideals, including those identified and circumscribed by God talk, will from both perspectives be most perfectly embodied in deliberate human behavior, concrete actions with discernible effects in nature and in history; if not altogether reducible to such effects, nevertheless, such meaning will be perceived as inextricably linked to them. Following Peirce, while any meaning might be distinguishable from the sign to which it is attached, its relationship both to that sign and to the sign's object should be regarded as continuous. More explicitly, this is a continuity that links deliberate human conduct with both the “book of nature” as a complex symbol whose meaning it might come to embody and a divine reality as the potential “object” of such a sign. To be sure, nothing asserted about such continuity, from a Peircean perspective, should be taken as anything more than a claim for the most extraordinarily sparse and fragmentary embodiment of this symbol's meaning. At best, we are afforded only a “glimpse” of that meaning, with the role that we play in its development being only a very minor part of the drama of creation.The centrality and significance of communities for human inquiry—with an emphasis on inter-subjectivity and a thoroughly communicative rationality—has also been identified as an important point of contact between pragmatism and liberation thought. Even the apparently “solitary” inquirer is always already deeply embedded in and empowered by some identifiable community of inquiry. As Peirce, Royce, and Dewey all concurred (William James was an outlier on this issue), how individuals come to know about themselves is derivative from and a consequence of their interaction with other selves. This knowledge is different from but not fundamentally different in kind from knowledge of others. Moreover, human thought processes—once again, even when appearing to unfold in solitude—are essentially dialogical or conversational in form. The “self” is a constantly evolving story told about oneself, both to oneself and to others.In those instances when these others are no longer actually present, their voices and perspectives can still have a persistently shaping influence on the plot of that story. When Tennyson suggested that we are a part of all whom we have met, he implied also the reverse—that all whom we have met remain a part of us, either consciously so or in an unconscious but sometimes nevertheless deeply pervasive fashion.11 The human psyche is a radically social phenomenon, then, not at all a private matter, the human self a complex text recording the effective history of every significant encounter between self and others. Here is another pragmatic insight that should be regarded as most congenial for the purposes of liberation theology.12Latin American liberation theologians long ago adopted a methodological formula that can be simply stated but is nevertheless challenging to execute: “see, judge, act.” It may be a consequence primarily of my having wrestled with the nuances of Peirce's pragmaticism for more than forty years now, but on my interpretation of this formula, it has deep Peircean resonances. Consider first, how Peirce identified three “stages” of inquiry in the mature delineation of his pragmaticism, beginning with hypothetical insights generated in abduction, moving through a process of deductive clarification, and then culminating with the actual testing of such insights through experimental praxis (induction) (CP 6.468–77).13 Peirce also famously insisted that, in order to be fully authorized, an idea must “show its passport” both when it enters consciousness at the “gate of perception” and when it exits at the “gate of purposive action” (CP 5.212). His pragmaticism accommodates a thick conception of “experience,” one that embraces not only everything that we perceive to be the case, but also everything that we do in response to our perceptions. With regard to the latter, deliberate or “purposive” conduct, rather than random, episodic actions were the primary focus of Peirce's concern.Liberation theology is already consistent with philosophical pragmatism, then, insofar as the theological task is rooted in experience-as-perception and eventuates in meaningful practices. Although there may be some tendency to place a normative emphasis on the upshot of inquiry in praxis, I want to suggest that what and how we perceive can also be evaluated in positive or negative terms. The latter will itself be determined in large measure by the choices we make in directing our attention, also by the capacity we have developed to exercise attention effectively under various circumstances. Consequently, liberation theology must be rooted in an ethics of attention. Pragmatism supplies useful resources for analyzing and understanding such an ethic. The capacity just identified is one that can best be described in pragmatic terms as the product of a specific type of habit formation. Habits are crucially operative at every stage of theological inquiry, shaping human perceptions, judgements, and actions. Peirce, James, and Dewey all shed considerable light on the nature and function of habits so that, once again, they supply a potentially illuminating perspective on how the methodological formula embraced by liberation theologians might be understood and defended.One observation seems immediately pertinent for purposes of analysis here. The formula under consideration evokes a pattern that, while it may appear at first glance to be a purely linear one, ought instead to be conceived as something of a spiral. That is to say, I can certainly develop specific habits of perception by engaging in the frequent and disciplined practice of paying careful attention. (To use an appropriately Peircean example, think of the manner in which a sommelier develops her distinctive capacity for identifying even the quite subtle characteristics of a fine wine.) This is just to observe that the deliberate exercise of attention is itself already a form of practice. Yet, when liberation theologians (or pragmatists) talk about how perceptions and judgements must bear fruit in terms of the way that they shape our conduct, the behavior being specified is the upshot of inquiry, the natural result of having attended carefully and perceived correctly. The “pertinent” observation here is that such conduct, especially insofar as it takes the form of disciplined praxis, can also shape our habits of attention. Our interactions with other persons and with the environment, the choices that we make and the tasks in which we engage, even our play behavior and regular forms of recreation—all of these facilitate a gradual process of habit formation, shaping the sorts of persons that we become and so also the way in which we perceive the world.To put this all in explicitly Peircean terms, my repeated movement through the “gate of purposive action” can have a rather significant effect on how I am then predisposed to experience my passage through the “gate of perception.” Doing the purposeful and tangible work of liberation—work that is intended to ease suffering, reduce poverty, and resist oppression—cannot help but determine in a dramatic fashion how the one who engages in such work is now prepared to “see” the world—not from a distance but in the ongoing engagement with various things, persons, communities, institutions, and environments. Liberation theology requires an ethics of attention that is nuanced and robust enough not only to identify and prescribe an appropriate practice of paying attention, but also to supply an account of all of the various ways in which deliberate modes of conduct result in felicitous habit formation, including but not limited to our habits of attention.It can matter a great deal, ethically speaking, whether we pay attention to one thing rather than another. It also matters how we feel and think about that to which we attend.14 Finally, our intentional behavior in response to any given object of our attention certainly should be regarded as morally significant. The assumption in every instance is that volition is somehow being exercised; otherwise, no ethical judgement would be warranted. Self-control, however, at least on the sort of account that Peirce supplied, is quite typically a matter of volition mediated by habit. I may not be able to control how I pay attention or what I feel in any given instant. A violent explosion may draw my attention away from an important task in which I am presently engaged, for example, but it is not likely that I would be judged blameworthy in such an instance. Human feelings are likewise not always responsive immediately to acts of volition. I cannot simply will myself to feel in a certain way about the object of my attention. What I can do, however, is to form a judgement about how ideally I ought to feel in certain situations, also how I ought to direct my attention when presented with various alternatives, and then deliberately cultivate those habits that will enable me to embody such ideals.These remarks are intended to suggest how the liberationist formula, “see, judge, act,” can be illuminated by pragmatic, explicitly Peircean concepts and categories. One can think of abduction as the “first” stage of inquiry, either a perceptual judgement that is automatic and unconscious or a hypothesis that results from extended contemplation of some phenomenon (a “seeing as,” whether this result is instant or gradual). Subsequently, that perceptual hypothesis will be deductively explicated for purposes of inquiry, in order to determine what else must be true if it is taken to be true and accurate. Finally, it will be tested in practice, actions constituting the inductive stage of inquiry, in order to determine the validity of what we perceive and judge to be the case. Now, to be sure, from the perspective of liberation theology, the primary purpose of such praxis will be emancipatory, relief or freedom from the suffering caused by poverty and various forms of oppression. As such, it will represent the meaningful culmination of a process. Yet, insofar as such a theology is itself an ongoing form of inquiry, inductive praxis (as Peirce observed) can be conceived as a matter of habit formation. It is not only the upshot of theology (taken from one perspective), but also the fertile soil for the generation and nurture of fresh theological insights (taken from another). It is not only the practical test of ideas already conceived, but also the laboratory in which new ideas can be formed. From a liberationist point of view, in fact, it is more common to regard theological reflection as being grounded in practice than to perceive practice as the eventual fruit of inquiry.15 The distinguishing of “roots” from “fruits” is complicated here, however, by the observation about inquiry's spiral movement.Up to this point, my discussion has focused on Peirce's pragmaticism, his distinctive theory of inquiry, and the central role played by the concept of habit in his philosophy. Other features of his thought are relevant to the task of establishing an illuminating pragmatic perspective on liberation theology. Philosophy in all of its modes and manifestations—as phenomenology or phaneroscopy, as normative science, or as metaphysics—was classified by Peirce as properly to be placed among those disciplines that he labeled as cenoscopy. In contrast to forms of inquiry that may require special equipment, allowing only limited access to the phenomena being studied, cenoscopy is concerned with what is available for inspection everywhere and to everyone, that is, with those features of human experience that can be regarded as commonplace and pervasive. The general availability of such phenomena, however, belies the fact that one might need to cultivate an extraordinary skillfulness (again, like that developed by a sommelier) in order actually to perceive them. Peirce remarked on numerous occasions that those facts that stand right before us and “stare us in the face” are not in every instance the ones most readily perceived (e.g., CP 6.162). In point of fact, it is precisely their commonplace nature that might account for their being so easily overlooked or ignored. This observation has obvious and significant implications for the articulation of an ethics of attention.There are several “facts” that often are but ought not to be overlooked from the perspective established by liberation theology. One pertains to what Gutierrez would describe as the utter “gratuitousness” of divine love.16 Another is the pervasive reality of human suffering, especially insofar as it results from the condition of poverty or is inflicted by acts or systems of oppression. A third is the necessary connection between those who suffer and other persons, a connection that can be called “solidarity” when it is recognized and affirmed, but can also warrant the harshest sort of judgement when there is a failure to do so.Beginning with the third of these facts, Peirce deemed it to be the “vulgarest delusion of vanity” for anyone to conclude that “I am altogether myself, and not at all you” (CP 7.571). Peirce's synechism, his doctrine of the real continuity of all things, ought not to be interpreted as being metaphysically meaningful but without any kind of moral significance. Indeed, to reject such a doctrine is to embrace a “metaphysics of wickedness.” For Peirce, the self is a living symbol, not an isolated monad, but necessarily and tangibly related to everything that it represents and to everyone who engages it in acts of interpretation.17 The self is constituted by such relations so that to be a self is always already to-be-in

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