Philosophy Americana: Making Philosophy at Home in American Culture

Philosophy Americana: Making Philosophy at Home in American Culture

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 308
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    Philosophy Americana: Making Philosophy at Home in American Culture
    Book Description:

    In this engaging book, Douglas Anderson begins with the assumption that philosophy-the Greek love of wisdom-is alive and well in American culture. At the same time, professional philosophy remains relatively invisible. Anderson traverses American life to find places in the wider culture where professional philosophy in the distinctively American tradition can strike up a conversation. How might American philosophers talk to us about our religious experience, or political engagement, or literature-or even, popular music? Anderson's second aim is to find places where philosophy happens in nonprofessional guises-cultural places such as country music, rock'n roll, and Beat literature. He not only enlarges the tradition of American philosophers such as John Dewey and William James by examining lesser-known figures such as Henry Bugbee and Thomas Davidson, but finds the theme and ideas of American philosophy in some unexpected places, such as the music of Hank Williams, Tammy Wynette, and Bruce Springsteen, and the writingsof Jack Kerouac.The idea of philosophy Americanatrades on the emergent genre of music Americana,rooted in traditional themes and styles yet engaging our present experiences. The music is popularbut not thoroughly driven by economic considerations, and Anderson seeks out an analogous role for philosophical practice, where philosophy and popular culture are co-adventurers in the life of ideas. Philosophy Americana takes seriously Emerson's quest for the extraordinary in the ordinary and James's belief that popular philosophy can still be philosophy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4831-5
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-18)

    America does not think much of its philosophers. Philosophy lives a ghostly life or, often, one of mistaken identity. We do not teach philosophy in our high schools. A majority in America have no idea what philosophy is about or why it might be interesting, if not important. Folks commonly think philosophers are psychological counselors. This may seem strange or simply false to those whose lives have been rooted in academic or professional settings, but it is a commonplace in rural, laboring, underclass, and unschooled settings. This should not be surprising, since our bookstore chains usually fill their “Philosophy” sections...

    (pp. 19-32)

    When James named “pragmatism” in 1898 , he gave life to a new intellectual phenomenon in American culture. Though Charles Peirce had provided the groundwork for this new phenomenon some twenty years earlier, it was not until James named it that pragmatism became a matter of controversy and interest for a much wider intellectual community.¹ Between 1900 and 1916 many rallied behind the new outlook, giving it definition and purchase, while others vehemently opposed its apparent relativistic and subjectivistic traits. For most of the twentieth century, pragmatism remained in a somewhat dormant state, kept alive by Dewey’s longevity and a...

    (pp. 33-49)

    Josiah Royce is more often than not at the margins of contemporary discussions of American philosophy. His idealism, carefully organized and deductively neat, has not fared well in an age whose foci are plurality, diversity, and novelty. There is no getting around the systematic and, often, deductive nature of Royce’s worldview. Nevertheless, if we look at his life, his historical writings, and his long friendship with William James, we see some existential tempering of the hardheaded Royce we often portray in discussions of American thought. The insularity of the systematic result of much of Royce’s thought is at odds with...

    (pp. 50-64)

    Royce offered us work as philosophical wanderers in a wilderness, but he gave little articulation to the nature of that wilderness.¹ I turn now to Henry Bugbee’s thoughts on such a wilderness, and I begin by noting that Bugbee was deeply influenced by Gabriel Marcel, who, in turn, was much indebted to the work of Royce.² Thus, there is a natural continuity that underlies the discussion at hand. In his essays “Walking” and “Wild Apples,” Henry Thoreau spoke of wilderness as a metaphorical expression of the inner wildness necessary for us to overcome the deadening effects of overcivilization. He also...

    (pp. 65-84)

    How are we, then, to get around in an everyday sort of wilderness? My aim in this chapter is to work toward a middle ground where American idealism and pragmatism share an answer to this question. The first part is not exactly about W.E. Hocking or Gabriel Marcel or Henry Bugbee, but it is an attempt to work within the philosophical spirit that they have bequeathed to us. I think of this spirit in part as having grown out of the philosophical space Hocking cultivated for himself between the range and vision of Royce’s idealism and the attention to the...

    (pp. 85-93)

    Wilderness living requires both working certainties and practical wisdom. Stories of both are legion and legendary in American pioneer living—and, indeed, in Native American living. But the stabilizing and enabling capacities of these two live in concert not only with their wilderness setting but also with a wilder dimension of human experience. In the past hundred years there has been an extensive harvest from the intellectual fields in which Henry Thoreau worked. Interpretations are occasionally so diverse that I am tempted to think of Thoreau as chameleon. I lay aside this temptation, however, in recalling a steadiness and surety...

  11. SIX “AFTER ALL, HE’S JUST A MAN”: The Wild Side of Life in Country Music
    (pp. 94-111)

    In his appeal to a wildness that might temper our over-civilization, Thoreau acknowledged that there is wildness afoot in our culture. Some of this wildness does underwrite or enable political agency, as it did for Thoreau himself in his small efforts at civil disobedience. But some of the wildness also produces collateral damage; it was just such damage that caused many to worry over the aims of John Brown’s abolitionist activism even as Thoreau gave him his highest praise. Hank Williams, whose life I will consider in this chapter, understood experientially what Thoreau meant by “wilding” and “acting,” but he...

    (pp. 112-128)

    One of the themes of rural life, of country music, and, emphatically, of Hank Williams’s music that I paid little attention to in my description of hillbilly politics is that of religious experience. Williams sang “I Saw the Light” just as truly as he sang “Lovesick Blues.” Like country music, religion and religious experience have become outcast topics in many academic settings. Yet it seems to me experientially unsound, as William James suggested, to try to assess American—or human—culture without some account of the religious dimension of experience. In this and the subsequent two chapters I aim to...

    (pp. 129-141)

    In discussing Dewey’s consideration of practical wisdom, I noted the critiques of his work that suggested he did not pay enough attention to the receptive side of the intellect. Yet I believe hedidattend to receptivity, even to the point of defining a religious dimension of human experience. Dewey notoriously rejectedreligionsand their dogmatic attachment to the supernatural. Nevertheless, like James, he notably defendedthe religiousas an important feature of our natural, human condition. Furthermore, as Kestenbaum convincingly argues, Dewey retained a naturalized view of transcendence in which our ideals and meanings stand beyond us:

    The transcendent...

  14. NINE “BORN TO RUN”: Male Mysticism on the Road
    (pp. 142-154)

    Mystical experience is an American quest. And because of our habitual attention to place and land, this quest, I think, is more closely oriented toward a Deweyan “sensible mysticism” than toward a traditional otherworldly mysticism. From the Puritans to the Lakota, it is part of the fabric of American cultures. The Buffalo Rose Tavern in Golden, Colorado, is one site of such a quest. An oldtime saloon, wood all around, carved, burned, and worn, and tractortrailer running board chrome metal on the walls of the men’s room. Two old white men playing blues and playing it well in one corner...

  15. TEN PHILOSOPHY AS TEACHING: James’s “Knight Errant,” Thomas Davidson
    (pp. 155-166)

    At the outset of this book, I mentioned that philosophers in America are, almost universally, also teachers. Most of this teaching involves American youth from all segments of our culture, those who are openly “in transition” to American adulthood. Many schools are also heavily populated with students from other places and cultures. One of the things that bring them together, regardless of background, is the music they listen to. These are the folks who might understand the mystical features of the musics they hear, even when it’s not Springsteen. The other thing they share is the experience of learning. If...

  16. ELEVEN LEARNING AND TEACHING: Gambling, Love, and Growth With Michael Ventimiglia
    (pp. 167-187)

    In previous chapters I have turned to the experiential stories of others to deal with the philosophical issues at hand. In this chapter, I join Michael Ventimiglia in drawing on our own experiences as teachers to provide an existential baseline for our discussion of the art of educating. Teaching and learning, when seriously undertaken, are difficult tasks. No simple recipes will yield excellence in teaching. Yet, some attitudinal orientations seem crucial to effective teaching, even as the specifications of teaching styles remain different. Among these we would include the willingness to risk oneself as a teacher. It is this willingness,...

    (pp. 188-205)

    Where I grew up, the first question asked when you met someone was “What do you do?”

    “I’m a philosopher.”

    “Yeah, but what do youdo?”

    What do philosophers do? When philosophy first got hold of me, I became an argument-riffer. I learned to play arguments like scales on a guitar, and I learned their variations and modifications. I had an outstanding teacher of argument-riffing, Chris Russell. Russell was steeped in ancient and medieval logic, and made me read everything from Aristotle to Peter of Spain and Lewis Carroll. It was only some years later that I realized the importance...

    (pp. 206-220)

    Some years ago, inConditions Handsome and Unhandsome: The Constitution of Emersonian Perfectionism, Stanley Cavell rekindled an interest in Emerson as a philosopher.¹ I have already noted Cavell’s influence on my thought and my belief that his work fits well with my account of philosophy Americana; his redemption of Emerson has created a new audience for American thought. His project of redeeming Emerson was one he began inThe Senses of Waldenand has been developing since.² The project is an important one, and Cavell has indeed illuminated much in Emerson that has been otherwise overlooked or misconstrued. Moreover, Cavell’s...

  19. FOURTEEN EMERSON AND KEROUAC: Grievous Angels of Hope and Loss
    (pp. 221-233)

    In 1969 Gram Parsons, a young Harvard dropout, had a vision of bringing generations together through music. Parsons was born Cecil Ingram Connors III in the American South in 1946. Having worked his way through a number of bands, Parsons joined the Byrds in 1968 and was a key influence in their recording perhaps the first full-blown country-rock album,Sweetheart of the Rodeo. Later he helped found the Flying Burrito Brothers, hung around Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones while they recordedExile on Mainstreet, and, just before he died, traveled and played with his band Fallen Angels, which included...

  20. FIFTEEN PRAGMATIC INTELLECTUALS: Facing Loss in the Spirit of American Philosophy
    (pp. 234-254)

    My final remarks are not so much a philosophical discourse as an essay or an exhortation from the vicinity of the heart. This stems not from any disdain on my part for philosophical discourses, but from the way I see the question at hand: the question of the future of pragmatism and, perhaps, of American philosophy more widely conceived. It is a question from which I cannot extricate myself. Because I work under the influence of American thinking, any answer I give bears personal consequences. And as was noted in chapter 2, it is precisely this personal dimension that, for...

  21. Notes
    (pp. 255-280)
  22. Bibliography
    (pp. 281-288)
  23. Index
    (pp. 289-294)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 295-296)