The Hidden God: A Posthumanist Genealogy of Pragmatism
Doctor of Philosophy
Departing from humanist models of American intellectual history, this dissertation proposes an alternative posthumanist approach to the thought of Jonathan Edwards, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Charles Sanders Peirce. Beginning with Perry Miller’s influential scholarship, American thought is often cast as a search for “face to face” encounters with the unaccountable God of Calvinism, a figure that eventually evolves to encompass Romantic notions of the aesthetic, imagination, or, most predominately, individual human feeling. This narrative typically culminates in the pragmatism of William James, a philosophy in which human feeling attains priority at the expense of impersonal metaphysical systems. However, alongside and against these trends runs a tradition that derives from the Calvinist distinction between a fallen material world and a transcendent God possessed of absolute sovereignty, a tradition that also anticipates posthumanist theory, particularly the self-referential distinction between system and environment that occupies the central position in Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory. After systems theory, the possibility for “face to face” encounters is replaced with the necessary self-reference of communication and observation, an attribute expressed in Edwards, Emerson, and Peirce through, respectively, the figures of “true virtue,” an absent and inexpressible grief and, in its most abstract form, Peirce’s concept of a sign. In conclusion, Edwards, Emerson, and Peirce represent an alternative posthumanist genealogy of pragmatism that displaces human consciousness as the foundational ground of meaning, communication, or semiosis.