The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism

Univ of Wisconsin Press
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Taking Emerson as his starting point, Cornel West’s basic task in this ambitious enterprise is to chart the emergence, development, decline, and recent resurgence of American pragmatism. John Dewey is the central figure in West’s pantheon of pragmatists, but he treats as well such varied mid-century representatives of the tradition as Sidney Hook, C. Wright Mills, W. E. B. Du Bois, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Lionel Trilling. West’s "genealogy" is, ultimately, a very personal work, for it is imbued throughout with the author’s conviction that a thorough reexamination of American pragmatism may help inspire and instruct contemporary efforts to remake and reform American society and culture.

"West . . . may well be the pre-eminent African American intellectual of our generation."—The Nation

"The American Evasion of Philosophy is a highly intelligent and provocative book. Cornel West gives us illuminating readings of the political thought of Emerson and James; provides a penetrating critical assessment of Dewey, his central figure; and offers a brilliant interpretation—appreciative yet far from uncritical—of the contemporary philosopher and neo-pragmatist Richard Rorty. . . . What shines through, throughout the work, is West's firm commitment to a radical vision of a philosophic discourse as inextricably linked to cultural criticism and political engagement."—Paul S. Boyer, professor emeritus of history, University of Wisconsin–Madison.



Wisconsin Project on American Writers

Frank Lentricchia, General Editor


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About the author

Cornel West is the Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion at Princeton University, and author of the influential Race Matters. His recent work includes two books he coauthored on public policy issues: The Future of American Progressivism and The War Against Parents.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Univ of Wisconsin Press
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Published on
May 9, 1989
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Pages
292
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ISBN
9780299119638
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / General
Philosophy / Movements / Pragmatism
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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The Metaphysical Club is the winner of the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for History.

A riveting, original book about the creation of modern American thought.

The Metaphysical Club was an informal group that met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1872, to talk about ideas. Its members included Oliver Well Holmes, Jr., future associate justice of the United States Supreme Court; William James, the father of modern American psychology; and Charles Sanders Peirce, logician, scientist, and the founder of semiotics. The Club was probably in existence for about nine months. No records were kept. The one thing we know that came out of it was an idea -- an idea about ideas. This book is the story of that idea. Holmes, James, and Peirce all believed that ideas are not things "out there" waiting to be discovered but are tools people invent -- like knives and forks and microchips -- to make their way in the world. They thought that ideas are produced not by individuals, but by groups of individuals -- that ideas are social. They do not develop according to some inner logic of their own but are entirely depent -- like germs -- on their human carriers and environment. And they thought that the survival of any idea deps not on its immutability but on its adaptability. The Metaphysical Club is written in the spirit of this idea about ideas. It is not a history of philosophy but an absorbing narrative about personalities and social history, a story about America. It begins with the Civil War and s in 1919 with Justice Holmes's dissenting opinion in the case of U.S. v. Abrams-the basis for the constitutional law of free speech. The first four sections of the book focus on Holmes, James, Peirce, and their intellectual heir, John Dewey. The last section discusses some of the fundamental twentieth-century ideas they are associated with. This is a book about a way of thinking that changed American life.

   A bold, insightful book that rejects the myth of America the Unphilosophical, arguing that America today towers as the most philosophical culture in the history of the world, an unprecedented marketplace of truth and argument that far surpasses ancient Greece or any other place one can name.
   With verve and keen intelligence, Carlin Romano—Pulitzer Prize finalist, award-winning book critic, and professor of philosophy—takes on the widely held belief that ours is an anti–intellectual society. Instead, while providing a richly reported overview of American thought, Romano argues that ordinary Americans see through phony philosophical justifications faster than anyone else, and that the best of our thinkers abandon artificial academic debates for fresh intellectual enterprises, such as cyberphilosophy. Along the way, Romano seeks to topple philosophy’s most fiercely admired hero, Socrates, asserting that it is Isocrates, the nearly forgotten Greek philosopher who rejected certainty, whom Americans should honor as their intellectual ancestor. 
   America the Philosophical introduces readers to a nation whose existence most still doubt: a dynamic, deeply stimulating network of people and places drawn together by shared excitement about ideas. From the annual conference of the American Philosophical Association, where scholars tack wiseguy notes addressed to Spinoza on a public bulletin board, to the eruption of philosophy blogs where participants discuss everything from pedagogy to the philosophy of science to the nature of agency and free will, Romano reveals a world where public debate and intellectual engagement never stop. And readers meet the men and women whose ideas have helped shape American life over the previous few centuries, from well-known historical figures like William James and Ralph Waldo Emerson, to modern cultural critics who deserve to be seen as thinkers (Kenneth Burke, Edward Said), to the iconoclastic African American, women, Native American, and gay mavericks (Cornel West, Susan Sontag, Anne Waters, Richard Mohr) who have broadened the boundaries of American philosophy. 
   Smart and provocative, America the Philosophical is a rebellious tour de force that both celebrates our country’s unparalleled intellectual energy and promises to bury some of our most hidebound cultural clichés.
Record unemployment and rampant corporate avarice, empty houses but homeless families, dwindling opportunities in an increasingly paralyzed nation—these are the realities of 21st-century America, land of the free and home of the new middle class poor. Award-winning broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Dr. Cornel West, one of the nation’s leading democratic intellectuals, co-hosts of Public Radio’s Smiley & West, now take on the "P" word—poverty.

The Rich and the Rest of Us is the next step in the journey that began with "The Poverty Tour: A Call to Conscience." Smiley and West’s 18-city bus tour gave voice to the plight of impoverished Americans of all races, colors, and creeds. With 150 million Americans persistently poor or near poor, the highest numbers in over five decades, Smiley and West argue that now is the time to confront the underlying conditions of systemic poverty in America before it’s too late.

By placing the eradication of poverty in the context of the nation’s greatest moments of social transformation— such as the abolition of slavery, woman’s suffrage, and the labor and civil rights movements—ending poverty is sure to emerge as America’s 21st‑century civil rights struggle.

As the middle class disappears and the safety net is shredded, Smiley and West, building on the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., ask us to confront our fear and complacency with 12 poverty changing ideas. They challenge us to re-examine our assumptions about poverty in America—what it really is and how to eliminate it now.
In his major bestseller, Race Matters, philosopher Cornel West burst onto the national scene with his searing analysis of the scars of racism in American democracy. Race Matters has become a contemporary classic, still in print after ten years, having sold more than four hundred thousand copies. A mesmerizing speaker with a host of fervidly devoted fans, West gives as many as one hundred public lectures a year and appears regularly on radio and television. Praised by The New York Times for his "ferocious moral vision" and hailed by Newsweek as "an elegant prophet with attitude," he bridges the gap between black and white opinion about the country's problems.

In Democracy Matters, West returns to the analysis of the arrested development of democracy-both in America and in the crisis-ridden Middle East. In a strikingly original diagnosis, he argues that if America is to become a better steward of democratization around the world, we must first wake up to the long history of imperialist corruption that has plagued our own democracy. Both our failure to foster peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the crisis of Islamist anti-Americanism stem largely from hypocrisies in our dealings with the world. Racism and imperial expansionism have gone hand in hand in our country's inexorable drive toward hegemony, and our current militarism is only the latest expression of that drive. Even as we are shocked by Islamic fundamentalism, our own brand of fundamentalism, which West dubs Constantinian Christianity, has joined forces with imperialist corporate and political elites in an unholy alliance, and four decades after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., insidious racism still inflicts debilitating psychic pain on so many of our citizens.

But there is a deep democratic tradition in America of impassioned commitment to the fight against imperialist corruptions-the last great expression of which was the civil rights movement led by Dr. King-and West brings forth the powerful voices of that great democratizing tradition in a brilliant and deeply moving call for the revival of our better democratic nature. His impassioned and provocative argument for the revitalization of America's democracy will reshape the terms of the raging national debate about America's role in today's troubled world.




From the Trade Paperback edition.
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