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Active Life, The

Miller's Metaphysics of Democracy

Michael J. McGandy

Publication Year: 2005

The ancient antagonism between the active and the contemplative lives is taken up in this innovative and wide-ranging examination of John William Miller’s effort to forge a metaphysics of democracy. The Active Life sheds new light on Miller’s actualist philosophy—its scope, its systematic character, and its dialectical form. Michael J. McGandy persuasively sets Miller’s actualism in the context of Hannah Arendt’s understanding of the active life and skillfully presents actualism as a response to Whitman’s challenge to craft a democratic form of metaphysics. McGandy concludes that Miller reveals how the philosophical and the political are inextricably connected, how there is no active life without the contemplative life, and that the contemplative life is founded in the active life.

Published by: State University of New York Press


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xlll

This book begins with two suppositions: The idea of the active life is worth retrieving and the philosophy of John William Miller commands serious attention. Neither the idea nor the philosophy is given much consideration in current discussions. Yet the possibility of a viable and compelling metaphysics of democracy...


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pp. xv-xvll

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Introduction: The Active and Contemplative Lives

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pp. 1-11

John William Miller provides us with a philosophy of the act that is the basis for and ingredient to the active life.1 This is a life of deeds and legislation, power and responsibility, as well as originality and fate. It is a way of life that looks askance on the divine and the eternal and elevates the political and mortal. The...

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Chapter 1. A Metaphysics of Democracy?

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pp. 13-37

It is no news that metaphysics is in disrepute. Metaphysics has been on the defensive since the advent of modernity, as has talk of ontology, teleology, and utopia. Whether one attends to the Anglo-American or Continental traditions, it is understood that respectable philosophizing should avoid metaphysics—its terms and concepts...

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Chapter 2. Action

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pp. 39-69

The recovery of metaphysics and the illustration of its pertinence to liberal democracy begin with the concept of action. For while the reasons for the split between the contemplative life and the active life can be described in many ways, perhaps the most critical formulation addresses the misunderstanding of the...

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Chapter 3. Symbol

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pp. 71-108

The subordination of the active life to the contemplative life is premised on the allegedly dubious status of action. Ephemeral and futile, action was displaced by the permanent and the practical in the modes of philosophical contemplation and scientific fabrication. If the active life is to be recuperated, as well as its correlates in...

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Chapter 4. History

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pp. 109-145

Contingency establishes authority. Democratic authority is based in this paradoxical circumstance. The contingent and incomplete appear to threaten authority, everywhere showing its inner frailty and outer limits. Yet, John William Miller asks, “What is in control?” The answer is found by insisting on the functioning unity of...

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Chapter 5. Democracy

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pp. 147-183

The expression a metaphysics of democracy is inspired by Walt Whitman’s Democratic Vistas.1 Miller himself only used the phrase a couple of times in his writing, the most prominent example appearing in the essay “Idealism and Freedom” where he states: ...

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Epilogue: The Scholar and the Citizen

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pp. 185-192

In Miller’s estimation, the Eleaticism of Parmenides or the Ionianism of Heraclitus offers few resources for understanding democracy. At their extreme, monism or radical pluralism destroys the bases of authority. These conceptual and practical confusions are related to the split between the active life and the contemplative...


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pp. 193-213


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pp. 215-222


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pp. 223-231

E-ISBN-13: 9780791482865
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791465370
Print-ISBN-10: 0791465373

Page Count: 252
Illustrations: 6 figures
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 63148245
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Active Life, The

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Subject Headings

  • Act (Philosophy).
  • Miller, John William.
  • Democracy -- Philosophy
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