Year of manufacture: 2003
Author: Bruce Kuklick
Genre: Philosophy, History of Philosophy
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Number of pages: 248 in the file, 344 in the book
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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