In simple English terms, how did Charles S. Peirce, William James, John Dewey, and Richard Rorty contribute to pragmatism?

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  • Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) is considered the father of American pragmatism, though he called it "pragmaticism" to separate his philosophical beliefs from other pragmatists. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "when he said that the whole meaning of a (clear) conception consists in the entire set of its practical consequences, he had in mind that a meaningful conception must have some sort of experiential 'cash value.'" Pierce began the tradition of considering thought as a mechanism with which to problem-solve and take action rather than describe or represent reality.
  • William James (1842-1910) considered "the meaning of ideas and the truth of beliefs not abstractly, but in terms of the practical difference they can make in people’s lives." (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). For example, James believed that "before we invest much time or effort in seeking the meaning of anything, we should consider what practical difference it would make if we could find out." With regard to Hegel's notion of God, James asked us to "consider the practical consequences for a believer: on the one hand, it would provide us with the optimistic, comforting assurance that everything will work out for the best; but, on the other, it also undermines the values of human individuality, freedom, and responsibility."
  • John Dewey (1859-1952) put forth "a naturalistic approach that viewed knowledge as arising from an active adaptation of the human organism to its environment." (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) Dewey's work as a pragmatist is perhaps best observable in his theories of education; for instance, to build an improved society, he believed that people should be taught through practical experience in each subject area and reflection on those experiences.  
  • Richard Rorty's  (1931-2007) combination of comparative literature and philosophy ushered in "neopragmatism."  Rorty's work encourages an understanding of life as the development of "tolerance and freedom" and a rejection of traditions that subjugate and oppress. "Truth and goodness" are accessed through active secular humanism, not in the belief of an authoritarian entity, be it "God, Nature, or Method." (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)