I recently read a short paragraph in Russell’s “History of Western Philosophy” which stunned me—it was the shock of recognition—to the extent that I put down the book and stared into space for a good ten minutes.
From Russell’s chapter on John Dewey:
Dewey's divergence from what has hitherto been regarded as common sense is due to his refusal to admit "facts" into his metaphysic, in the sense in which "facts" are stubborn and cannot be manipulated. In this it may be that common sense is changing, and that his view will not seem contrary to what common sense is becoming.
Was Russell’s 1943 hypothesis about a possible change in the nature of common sense a brilliantly prescient insight? Or was Russell’s biting summing up of Dewey’s pragmatism just another example of the irony (as if common sense could ever change) he often uses in this book to demolish a philosophical argument he disagrees with?
To put the question in another way: Might the propensity of many 21st century Americans—perhaps the majority of them—to regard as factual whatever information makes them most comfortable be a popular re-emergence, simplified (and trivialized) over three generations, of the pragmatic theory of truth developed by Pierce, James and Dewey? Or did Russell just get lucky?