Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

Document Type



This dissertation examines the political significance of the two leading strains of common sense thought in the history of American philosophy—Scottish Common Sense and Pragmatism—as suggested in the writings of John Witherspoon and James McCosh in the Scottish Common Sense line, and of the more famous co-founder of Pragmatism, William James. These two strains of American common sense are placed in context of the larger Western common sense tradition. Each is shown to aim at finding a solid middle ground epistemologically between skeptical doubt and idealistic certitude that could serve as a stable basis for moral and political life. Witherspoon, the first great advocate and popularizer of Scottish Common Sense in America, gave the United States its first coherent, systematic common sense political theory, and that theory is here traced out as a common sense theory of politics for the first time. The first systematic text-based treatment of the moral and social thought of McCosh, the last great proponent of Scottish Common Sense in the American setting, is also provided. In James’ case, the first systematic treatment of the place of common sense in his philosophic worldview is rendered, and it is argued in the process that he is rightly understood as a kind of common sense philosopher. Together, Witherspoon, McCosh, and James offer a vision of man and society that avoids the rigidity of dogmatic foundationalism, on the one hand, and the slackness of foundationless ethics and politics, on the other.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Ellis Sandoz