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The Drama of Possibility

Experience as Philosophy of Culture

John McDermott

Publication Year: 2007

This book traces the trajectory of John J. McDermott's philosophical career through a selection of his essays. Many were originally occasional pieces and address specific issues in American thought and culture. Together they constitute a mosaic of McDermott's philosophy, showing its roots in an American conception of experience. Though he draws heavily on the thought of William James and the pragmatists, McDermott has his own unique perspective on philosophy and American life. He presents this to the reader in exquisitely crafted prose. Drawing inspiration from American history, from existentialist themes, and from personal experiences, he offers a dramatic consideration of our culture's failures and successes.McDermott crosses disciplinary boundaries to draw on whatever works to help make sense of theissues with which he is dealing-issues rooted in medical practice, political events, pedagogical habits, and the worlds of the arts. His work thus resists simple categorization. It is precisely this that makes his vibrant prose appealing to so many both inside and outside the world of American philosophy.

Published by: Fordham University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. iii-iv

Table of Contents

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pp. v-vii

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pp. ix

The preparation of this volume is due to the initiation, encouragement, editing, and indefatigable patience of Douglas Anderson. Equivalently essential was the extreme care given this manuscript by my loyal research assistant, David Henderson. ...

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Introduction: Reading McDermott

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pp. 1-4

Editing a book requires an economy of judgment and patience. This is especially true when, as in the present instance, the pool of essays from which one is selecting runs rich and deep. As editing goes, this has certainly been the most rewarding endeavor in my career. ...

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Prelude: Remarks Upon Receiving the 2004 Presidential Teaching Award

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pp. 5-7

I try to live and teach on behalf of the democratic maxim that everyone is educable. More, I believe that each person who comes to me in a pedagogical setting has the ability to turn their experimental history into an abiding nutritional resource such that they can live on behalf of a reflective intelligence, an aesthetic sensibility, and a commitment...

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pp. 9-12

I am privileged to have these essays published once again, this time in a volume which brings some coherence to my work over the last fifty years. Surely, I and my editors are aware of the difficulties extant in the presentation of material from the past, especially as our cultural situation moves with increasing speed sufficient to convince some among us that only recent reflections have purchase or merit. ...

Part 1: An American Angle of Vision

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pp. 13

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1. Threadbare Crape: Reflections on the American Strand

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pp. 23-36

...The admonishing word is practice. No less than the austere, American theologian Jonathan Edwards holds that ‘‘holy practice’’ is the ‘‘greatest sign of grace’’ and that ‘‘Christian practice’’ is the principal sign of those twelve which distinguish ‘‘Truly Gracious and Holy Affections.’’ Of a profoundly different cast of mind and presentation...

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2. An American Angle of Vision, Part 1

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pp. 37-59

It is of singular importance that within the past half decade, two massive institutional structures, the Roman Catholic Church and the United States of America, have raised, under the aegis of charismatic leadership, the question of renewal. In both instances, there has arisen strong opposition, although the reasoning behind this has differed. ...

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3. An American Angle of Vision, Part 2

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pp. 60-88

In the case of America, to which Santayana’s text primarily refers, the stakes are somewhat higher than that of an intellectual drama. For better or worse, the American perspective is engaged with other major cultures in formulating the dominant metaphors for world culture.1 As with all massive cultural formulations, we find in America the perils and fruits of original attitudes not institutionalized elsewhere. ...

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4. Spires of Influence: The Importance of Emerson for Classical American Philosophy

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pp. 89-105

Perhaps the title of this chapter should be ‘‘Why Emerson?’’ as that would better reflect how I came to write this piece. It is not so much that I have had to become convinced of the singular importance of the thought of Emerson, for the writing and teaching of Joseph Blau,1 as well as that of Robert C. Pollock,2 long ago made that clear to me. ...

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5. Josiah Royce's Philosophy of the Community: Danger of the Detached Individual

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pp. 106-130

It is fitting that the Royal Institute of Philosophy series on American philosophy include a session on the thought of Josiah Royce, for his most formidable philosophical work, The World and the Individual,1 was a result of his Gifford lectures in the not-too-distant city of Aberdeen in 1899 and 1900. ...

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6. Possibility or Else!: The Philosophy of William James

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pp. 131-139

I am pleased and privileged to be a guest at Blinn College, which is doing fine work in the educating of many persons here in the Brazos Valley and central Texas. Now, speaking for myself, I have trouble getting through the day, while maintaining some semblance of personal equilibrium. ...

Part 2: Environing

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pp. 141

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7. A Relational World: The Significance of the Thought of William James and John Dewey for Global Culture

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pp. 145-166

One can say with confidence, alas, that systemic intractability, ethnic and religious self-righteousness, and wholesale hubris are now endemic to global society. We have only to witness contemporary Lebanon in order to realize how a people can become victimized by the hanging on of ancient rivalries, hates, and jealousies...

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8. Nature and Nostalgia and the City: An American Dilemma

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pp. 167-184

Generalizations about national cultures are notoriously inexact, for exceptions abound. The judgments of a single perceiver, however imaginative, are often narrowing. This is especially true of interpretations of a culture as vast and complex as America. ...

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9. Space, Time, and Touch: Philosophical Dimensions of Urban Consciousness

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pp. 185-203

Urban experience is a vast and complex process of interwoven institutions, events, and perceptions. It can be subjected to analysis only from a wide range of perspectives and disciplines, each of them limping in turn from an unavoidable narrowness, although each providing necessary data and, hopefully, vision. ...

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10. Glass Without Feet: Dimensions of Urban Aesthetics

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pp. 204-218

Some time last year, I made my way to the area adjoining the Galleria in the imposing new outer city of Houston. Entering one of the more formidable glass towers so as to experience its inside, I was stopped by a security guard, who asked me if I had an appointment with anyone in the building. ...

Part 3: Turning

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pp. 219

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11. Why Bother: Is Life Worth Living? Experience as Pedagogical

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pp. 223-235

We must beware of our penchant to dismiss the cliche´ phrase, especially posed as a seemingly trite rhetorical question. At first glance, the query as to whether life is worth living strikes us as somewhat routinely jocular, a sort of throwaway question to which one would not expect a reply, let alone an answer. ...

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12. Ill-At-Ease: The Natural Travail of Ontological Disconnectedness

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pp. 236-261

I am grateful for the honor and privilege of delivering the Annual Patrick Romanell Address. One accepts the invitation with alacrity and then, faced with the task of beginning to compose a text for such an auspicious occasion, insecurity sets in. One soon becomes, as it were, ‘‘ill-at-ease.’’ ...

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13. "Turning" Backward: The Erosion of Moral Sensibility

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pp. 262-277

Ihave to say that I am aware that my presentation of a stand-up, beltit-out-in-public lecture at this time has the odor of a troglodyte. We seem to be caught between two depressing ‘‘stools’’ (the pun is intended); the first features the glitz of pop culture, showboat sports, and preening politicians. ...

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14. The Inevitability of our Own Death: The Celebration of Time as a Prelude to Disaster

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pp. 278-290

How strange, how singular, how unusual is our understanding of death! Each of us claims to know of death, yet our experience is necessarily indirect, vicarious, and at a distance. It is always someone else’s death that we experience. Yet the power of that experience of the death of an other is such as to suffuse our very being with an intimacy...

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15. Isolation as Starvation: John Dewey and a Philosophy of the Handicapped

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pp. 291-304

As to the word ‘‘handicapped,’’ never has a historical definition, as found in our great dictionaries,1 been so out of touch with the contemporary meaning. Originally defined as a ‘‘capping of the hands’’ that would provide equity between the superior and inferior in sport and games, the word only later became associated with disabilities, physical and emotional. ...

Part 4: Bequeathing

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pp. 305

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16. Hast Any Philosophy in Thee, Shepherd?

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pp. 309-317

I am deeply grateful to Professor Pat Alexander for her invitation to address this distinguished gathering. Gratitude is offered, also, to my two former doctoral students at Texas A&M, who will offer a panel discussion on the significance of philosophical perspectives for educational psychology. ...

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17. The Cultural Immortality of Philosophy as Human Drama

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pp. 318-344

The history of philosophy in Western civilization is a vast intellectual map characterized by periods of speculative explosions followed by larger periods of absorption and redress. If we accept the common wisdom that Western civilization began with the Greeks, then the paramount role of philosophy is obvious...

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18. To be Human is to Humanize: A Radically Empirical Aesthetic

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pp. 345-371

Two themes occupy us in the present essay. First, we contend that modern art works a revolution in man’s view of himself; it broadens the ways in which he relates to the world and the ways by which he is informed.1 Second, we hold that the most fruitful philosophical statement of the meaning of modern art...

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19. Experience Grows by its Edges: A Phenomenology of Relations in an American Philosophical Vein

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pp. 372-389

It is to take a precarious and even treacherous path to begin an essay on philosophy with an acknowledgment of one’s ‘‘own particular view.’’ Foundationalism, in either its Cartesian or contemporary analytic formulation, forbids such an allegedly subjective point of departure. ...

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20. The Aesthetic Drama of the Ordinary

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pp. 390-402

Traditionally, we think of ourselves as ‘‘in the world,’’ as a button is in a box, a marble in a hole, a coin in a pocket, a spoon in a drawer; in, always in something or other. And yet, to the contrary, I seem to carry myself, to lead myself, to have myself hang around, furtive of nose, eye, and hand, all the while spending and wasting, eating and fouling...

Part 5: Teaching

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pp. 403

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21. The Gamble for Excellence: John Dewey’s Pedagogy of Experience

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pp. 407-426

In 1977, Elizabeth Flower and Murray G. Murphey published a stunning work of historical exposition and commentary on the development of American philosophy. The task of writing the long, detailed chapter on the thought of John Dewey fell to Elizabeth Flower, who for decades has been celebrated in philosophical circles for her analytic...

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22. Liberty and Order in the Educational Anthropology of Maria Montessori

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pp. 427-448

Unfortunately, except when it is centered on a notable and precocious performance here or there, the media’s attention to children is generally focused on the heinous crime of child abuse. For those of us for whom children are a sacred trust, the increase of such abuse is bewildering. ...

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23. The Erosion of Face-To-Face Pedagogy: A Jeremiad

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pp. 449-457

The jeremiad is rooted in wisdom literature and has many variations. Nominally, in this chapter I use that which has come to us courtesy of the prophet Jeremiah—neither a full lamentation nor a Cassandra-like prophecy of doom, but rather a DEW line, an early-warning system, or the ever present and ever dangerous ‘‘tipping phenomenon.’’ ...

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24. Cultural Literacy: A Time for a New Curriculum

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pp. 458-475

In our time and in our nation, public precollegiate education is in serious disarray. It is now a nationally observed phenomenon that despite good intentions on the part of teachers and despite generally intelligent students, even those students who proceed to colleges and universities seem culturally deprived. ...

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25. Trumping Cynicism with Imagination

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pp. 476-491

John J. McDermott is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Texas A&M University. Professor McDermott is one of the leading scholars of American philosophy and a renowned educator. A riveting, animated speaker, John McDermott demonstrates a vast knowledge of the history of philosophy from Plato to Dewey and the remarkable...

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pp. 493

In April 1988, I spoke to the Conference of National Health Care Professionals on the topic of ‘‘Vulnerability, Dignity or Despair.’’ At the end of my presentation, I told the ‘‘Cigar Man Story.’’ More than a year later, I received a letter from a psychiatrist in Baltimore. ...


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pp. 495-555


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pp. 557-564

American Philosophy Series: Douglas R. Anderson and Jude Jones, series editors

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pp. 565-566

E-ISBN-13: 9780823247745
Print-ISBN-13: 9780823226627
Print-ISBN-10: 082322662X

Page Count: 416
Publication Year: 2007