Roundtable New Histories of American Philosophy: International and Interdisciplinary Perspectives

AHA Session 20
Thursday, January 6, 2011: 3:00 PM-5:00 PM
Room 311 (Hynes Convention Center)
Robert Westbrook, University of Rochester
Empiricism's Magic: On the Therapy of Logical Analysis
Joel Isaac, Queen Mary, University of London
The Ways of Wisdom: Popular Philosophy in Modern America
Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Bruce Kuklick, University of Pennsylvania

Session Abstract

The purpose of this session is to bring into focus the ongoing transformation of the study of the history of American philosophy. Over the past forty years, historical accounts of transcendentalism, pragmatism, and “professional” academic philosophy by the likes of Bruce Kuklick, Laurence Buell, David Hollinger, Charles Capper, James Kloppenberg, George Cotkin, and Robert Westbrook have broken disciplinary boundaries by combining intellectual history with social and cultural history, political theory, biography, the history of religion, and literary studies. Recently, however, new thematic and methodological interests have emerged in the work of younger scholars of American philosophy. A concern for transnational perspectives, already evident in the earlier generation, has grown into an exploration of reception histories, in which the writings of major European philosophers have been placed in a multilayered American context. At the same time, the field has opened up to the methods and interpretive frameworks of sociology, the history of science, and cultural studies. The result is that the historiography of American philosophy today fuses American and European intellectual history and spans several disciplines. It is time of take stock of these changes, and to explore potential unifying themes and common methodological approaches. This roundtable responds to this challenge by bringing together younger and more senior scholars of American philosophy to begin a conversation about the present state and future aims of their shared field. The session will open with four short papers by Professor Francesca Bordogna of Northwestern University, Professor Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen of the University of Wisconsin – Madison, Professor Martin Woessner of the City College of New York, and Dr. Joel Isaac of Queen Mary, University of London. With expertise in the work and American reception of such thinkers as William James, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and W. V. Quine, these speakers will assess recent innovations in the study of American philosophy. Of particular concern in all of the presentations is the persistence and transformation in the twentieth century of philosophical practices of the self, or what the historian of ancient philosophy Pierre Hadot has called “spiritual exercises.” Despite the professionalization of philosophical discourse in modern America, engagements with questions of the sacred, of spiritual discipline, and of pre-modern understandings of the world endured in a variety of arenas. This is a topic that each of our speakers examines: Bordogna in the case of the Italian “magic pragmatists,” Isaac in the case of the transatlantic tradition of logical analysis, Ratner-Rosenhagen in the context of mid-twentieth-century “wisdom literature,” and Woessner with respect to the American reception of Heidegger. Professor Bruce Kuklick of the University of Pennsylvania, author of several important studies of American philosophy, will comment on the presentations. The session chair is the historian and political theorist Professor Robert Westbrook of the University of Rochester. This combination should engender a lively and productive exchange of views.

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