Taking Emerson as his starting-point, Cornel West's basic task 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 ...
Taking Emerson as his starting-point, Cornel West's basic task 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 make and reform American society and culture.
Choose your shipping method in Checkout. Costs may vary based on destination.
Good. Connecting readers with great books since 1972. Used books may not include companion materials, some shelf wear, may contain highlighting/notes, and may not include cd-rom or access codes. Customer service is our top priority!
Choose your shipping method in Checkout. Costs may vary based on destination.
Good. Ships same day or next business day! UPS shipping available (Priority Mail for AK/HI/APO/PO Boxes). Used sticker and some writing and/or highlighting. Used books may not include working access code or dust jacket.
Cornel West has achieved public recognition as an intellectual activist, speaker, and writer on African-American studies and on black theology. He was one of a small number of University Professors -- those who are authorized to teach beyond Departmental boundaries -- at Harvard until 2001, when he took a position at Princeton. Although his PhD is in philosophy, West's philosophical studies are less well-known than is his social activism. But his early book, "The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism" (1989) is an impressive study of the history of a distinctly American movement in philosophy. The book covers a broad terrain, from philosophy to literary criticism to politics and social activism. The book includes much that is insightful in its exposition of major American thinkers, some material that is suggestive, and other material that may be provocative, if slapdash.
As the title suggests, a major theme of West's book is the manner in which American pragmatism "evades" philosophy. West argues that American philosophy does so by avoiding the Cartesian epistemological questions of representationalism (relationship between subject and object) that have been the bane of Western thought. West further argues that pragmatism "evades" philosophy by focusing on relations of social structure and power rather than mere intellectualizing. Finally, for West, pragmatism "evades" philosophy by focusing on the human subject, including particularly "constraints that reinforce and reproduce hierarchies based on class, race, gender, and sexual orientation." (p. 4)
West begins his study with an excellent discussion of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Many scholars have discussed the relationship between Emerson's transcendentalism and pragmatism. West gives a thoughtful analysis, focusing on Emerson's individualism, forward-looking vision and hope for a developing participatory American democracy. But West also sees Emerson as a representative of a modestly racist and hierarchical society bound too tightly, West argues, to middle-class American values and too little inclusive of women, African-Americans, immigrants, Indians, and other people.
West then proceeds through the early pragmatists, Charles Peirce and William James in treatments that are sympathetic but short. The philosopher that receives the greatest attention in the book is John Dewey with his instrumentalism and social and political concerns. James and Peirce had little direct to say about social issues, while Dewey, with his background in Hegel and in Darwin, tried to foster community involvement and empowerment, through finding an appropriate method to address and circumvent specific problems rather than through the use of philosophical abstractions.
West offers intriguing discussions of five thinkers who are not often grouped together, Dewey's student Sidney Hook, the sociologist C. Wright Mills, the African American scholar and activist W.E.B DuBois, the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, and the literary critic Lionel Trilling, as he shows the different ways each of these thinkers took and modified some of the tenets of pragmatism in the middle-years of the 20th Century. I found West's exposition of these thinkers helpful even though I have serious doubts about West's philosophical direction.
West returns to contemporary American philosophy in his treatment of the works of Quine and Richard Rorty, and he all-too-briefly discusses the views of radical thinkers including Roberto Unger and Foucault.
Throughout the book, West argues for what he terms a prophetic pragmatism which continues the non-Cartesian character of the pragmatic project but informs it for West with a social analysis that recognizes the claims of those West claims are excluded from full participation in American democracy -- African Americans, women, the poor, to have their voices heard. West's position has strong components of Marxism and of radical theology in addition to pragmatism. To me, West does not explain how these theories fit together or their relationship to pragmatism. He also does little to persuade the reader about the value of Marxism or, for that matter, of the value of his form of theology but rather seems to thrust these teachings upon the reader. Very properly, West invokes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as his paradigmatic type of leader. As West points out, King was not a pragmatist, and the connection West sees between King and even a "prophetic pragmatism" remains undeveloped.
The main point that West makes in his discussion of American philosophy up to the time of Dewey -- that it was overly concerned with matters such as the relationship between science and religion and insufficiently attuned to social issues has been made by other writers in less polemical studies of American thought. Interested readers may want to consult Bruce Kucklick's "A History of Philosophy in America 1720-2000" and Louis Menand's famous book, "The Metaphysical Club", both of which share, in general terms, West's views of the virtues and possible shortcomings of pragmatism. For those wanting alternative but related views, there is a recent study of the idealist philosopher Josiah Royce by Frank Oppenheim, S.J., "Reverence for the Relations of Life." This book is written from a modern, idealistic perspective. Oppenheim focuses on the work of Peirce and Royce, rather than Dewey, and describes them in terms of "prophetic pragmatism" due to their openness to spirituality in human life and to the attempt in Royce's case, to argue for the creation of a "beloved community" -- the term later adopted by Martin Luther King as the benchmark for a just and humane society.
Alibris, the Alibris logo, and Alibris.com are registered trademarks of Alibris, Inc.
Copyright in bibliographic data and cover images is held by Nielsen Book Services Limited, Baker & Taylor, Inc., or by their respective licensors, or by the publishers, or by their respective licensors. For personal use only. All rights reserved. All rights in images of books or other publications are reserved by the original copyright holders.