Ranging from Joseph Bellamy to Hilary Putnam, and from early New England Divinity Schools to contemporary university philosophy departments, historian Bruce Kuklick recounts the story of the growth of philosophical thinking in the United States.
Readers will explore the thought of early American philosophers such as Jonathan Edwards and John Witherspoon and will see how the political ideas of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson influenced philosophy in colonial America. Kuklick discusses The Transcendental Club (members Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson) and describes the rise of pragmatism centered on Metaphysical Club of Cambridge (and members William James, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Charles Peirce). He examines the profound impact Darwinism had on American philosophy and looks at Idealists such as the Kantian Josiah Royce and the Hegelian John Dewey. The book shows how, in the twentieth century, the Nazi conquest of Europe unleashed a flood of European intellectuals onto these shores, including such major thinkers as Theodore Adorno, Erich Fromm, Rudolph Carnap, and Alfred Tarski. Finally, Kuklick examines the contributions of such contemporary philosophers as Sidney Hook and Willard Quine and such books as John Rawl's A Theory of Justice and Herbert Marcuse's One Dimensional Man. Kuklick pulls no punches in portraying the state of American philosophy today and its contested role in the intellectual life of the nation and the world.
The range of philosophical thought in our nation's history has been great, from Edwards's Religious Affections to Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and Bruce Kuklick has captured it all in a book thatblends intricate details with sweeping vision.
Offering a thoughtful, inclusive overview of American philosophical activity from colonial divines to present-day academics, Kuklick, a historian at the University of Pennsylvania, defines philosophy expansively as "more or less systematic writing about the point of our existence, and our ability to understand the world of which we are a part." This broad definition allows him to include the philosophical aspects of writers often neglected in philosophy surveys, including Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Dense but clear, the book grounds its panoply of thinkers in their social context, particularly that of an evolving academic establishment for which Kuklick has some choice words ("constipated arrogance," in one case). The history is broken into three overlapping periods: a religiously inspired era (1720-1868), in which ministers, theologians and other amateurs shared equal status with professional philosophers; the "Age of Pragmatism" (1859-1934), dominated by Peirce, James and Dewey; and the contemporary "professional" period (1912-2000), in which American philosophy became more refined and internationally prestigious, but also more fragmented and remote from the public. Running themes include the "long circuitous march from a religious to a secular vision of the universe," the long-running match between idealism and materialism; and the frequent inattention of American philosophy to political and social concerns. Admittedly selective, the book becomes too much so at the end: the last 40 years are largely reduced to Kuhn and Rorty, skimming over almost everything else. Yet the book generally succeeds in identifying broad trends while spotlighting curious and significant points. Readers looking for a grounded narrative of American thought's development and contexts will find this book an accurate and compelling guide.
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Oxford University Press, Incorporated
April 23, 2003
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