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Fateful Shapes of Human Freedom

John William Miller and the Crises of Modernity

Vincent Colapietro

Publication Year: 2003

Colapietro writes a new and important chapter in American thought by recovering Miller's neglected insights into the interplay between fate and freedom in human history. We are met with the paradox that the forms in which freedom expresses itself, while subject to fate, are not overcome by it, but remain genuine fruits of human purpose. Miller emerges as a worthy follower of Royce and Hocking."--John E. Smith, Yale University "Colapietro argues that Miller successfully overcomes the dilemmas of recent historicism, but especially of nihilism and dogmatism. 'Learned' in the best sense of the word, he finds that Miller's ignored work is topical and important, and allows an engagement with, for example, not only Heidegger and Sartre, but with Foucault and Derrida. The comparisons are always provocative. Highly recommended."--Peter Manicas, University of Hawaii "This is an important book. John William Miller's ideas are profoundly relevant to understanding and dealing with a range of contemporary problems--whether they relate to the nature of historical understanding, to the conduct of life, or to the history of philosophy itself--and deserve the systematic presentation and interpretation that Colapietro offers here."--Robert H. Elias, Professor Emeritus, Cornell University John William Miller's radical revision of the idealistic tradition anticipated some of the most important developments in contemporary thought, developments often associated with thinkers like Heidegger, Benjamin, Foucault, Derrida, and Rorty. In this study, Vincent Colapietro situates Miller's powerful but neglected corpus not only in reference to Continental European philosophy but also to paradigmatic figures in American culture like Lincoln, Emerson, Thoreau, and James. The book is not simply a study of a particular philosopher or a single philosophical movement (American idealism). It is rather a philosophical confrontation with a cluster of issues in contemporary life. These issues revolve around such topics as the grounds and nature of authority, the scope and forms of agency, and the fateful significance of historical place. These issues become especially acute given Colapietro's insistence that the only warrant for our practices is to be found in these historically evolved and evolving practices themselves.

Published by: Vanderbilt University Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

There are of course far too many debts to acknowledge here. But the personal and intellectual support and encouragement of certain friends and colleagues have been, without exaggeration, indispensable. ...


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xv

John William Miller (1895–1978) was an American philosopher who exerted a tremendous personal influence on his many students but, because he published very little during his career, had little impact on professional philosophy during his lifetime, beyond the circles of his acquaintances.1 ...

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Chapter 1 Crises of Modernity

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pp. 1-28

Karl Marx claimed humans make history but not in circumstances of their own choosing.2 The circumstances in which we live, however, are ineluctably maintained by our efforts to make a life for ourselves. Yet they are of such a character and complexity that they cannot be maintained without being revised: ...

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Chapter 2 Revision of Philosophy

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pp. 29-85

Just as the movement beyond modernity requires a revision of history, so the turn toward history requires a revision of philosophy. The revision of philosophy John William Miller advocates demands a conceptualization of the midworld, a domain of both experience and the actualities to which experience attests that is not reducible to appearance or reality, ...

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Chapter 3 The Midworld

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pp. 86-132

John William Miller, like Theodor Adorno, a contemporary philosopher also engaged in thinking through German idealism, affirmed the actuality of philosophy but affirmed it provisionally (Adorno 1977, 120). The actuality of philosophy today depends on its renewed actualization in altered circumstances. ...

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Chapter 4 Historical Displacements and Situated Narratives: Locating Responsibility

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pp. 133-186

Miller was a man of his time. His being so signals not so much a limitation as an exemplary confrontation with the finite actuality of a particular phase of late modernity. Paradoxically, his relevance to our time is largely a function of his confrontation with the actuality of his time. ...

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Chapter 5 Critique, Narration, and Revelation

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pp. 187-272

The pivotal point of the previous chapter is one of John William Miller’s most basic affirmations: a price is to be paid for critique. In particular, self-critique requires the self-maintenance of those discourses, institutions, and practices on which all forms of criticism depend.1 ...


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pp. 273-298


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pp. 299-310

Name Index

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pp. 311-314

Subject Index

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pp. 315-323

E-ISBN-13: 9780826591579
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826514097
Print-ISBN-10: 082651409X

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2003

OCLC Number: 62190002
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Fateful Shapes of Human Freedom

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Subject Headings

  • Miller, John William.
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