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Reviewed by:
  • The Blackwell Guide to American Philosophy
  • Ignas K. Skrupskelis
Armen T. Marsoobian and John Ryder, editors The Blackwell Guide to American PhilosophyBlackwell Publishing, 2004, xix + 411 pp.

Guides, companions, handbooks have become popular in philosophical publishing. The genre has an obvious advantage: it is convenient to [End Page 417] have in one place the work of many hands bearing on a single broad topic. Indeed, the series of Guides to which the volume under review belongs, can be seen as a modest parallel to the more ambitious series of Companions brought out by the same publisher. The Companions series includes a more broadly conceived and heftier Companion to American Thought. The focus of the Guide is narrower, restricted as it is, with some exceptions, to academic philosophy. Thus, the Guide and the Companion represent different takes on American culture, demonstrated by the fact that they share only one contributor—Joseph Margolis. The Guide was conceived, as the editors make clear, in the context of the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy. As a result, many of its contributors are well known in the Society and familiar to readers of the Transactions. The same cannot be said for the Companion to American Thought.

The Guide is divided into three parts. The first deals with historical traditions, offering essays on "Early American Philosophy" (John Ryder), "Idealism in American Thought" (Douglas Anderson), "The First Pragmatists" (Joseph Margolis), "Naturalism" (Michael Eldridge). The second part covers major figures, Peirce (Vincent Colapietro), James (William Gavin), Royce (Frank Oppenheim), Santayana (Herman Saatkamp), Dewey (Larry Hickman), Mead (Mitchell Aboulafia), Jane Addams (Charlene Seigfried), W.E.B. Du Bois (Shannon Sullivan), Whitehead (John Lango), C.I. Lewis (Sandra Rosenthal), Susanne Langer (Richard Hart), Quine (Peter Manicas), Alain Locke (Leonard Harris), Justus Buchler (Kathleen Wallace). The third part is devoted to major themes, "Community and Democracy" (James Campbell), "Knowledge and Action: American Epistemology" (Scott Pratt), "Religion" (William Dean), "Education" (Nicholas Burbules, Bryan Warnick, Timothy McDonough, Scott Johnston), "Art and Aesthetics" (Armen Marsoobian). The volume concludes with an epilogue, a reprinting of John McDermott's 1986 essay, "The Renascence of Classical American Philosophy."

The list of major figures honored by special essays includes mostly noncontroversial names. The absence of some greats is explained by the editors' decision, for reasons of space,—I think reasonable—to exclude writers earlier than Peirce and those still living. But some of the precious space is devoted to compensatory picks—Addams, Du Bois, Locke. These previously neglected writers, the editors explain, are included because they have attracted scholarly attention for reasons of "race and gender."

It is not clear to me what is the target audience of such guides. Is the intent to give the general, educated public a reasonably complete picture? Or, is the volume aimed at specialists looking to fill in gaps and for snapshots to get a sense of current research? My comments are based on the assumption that the first was the primary goal. The main question [End Page 418] becomes, thus, whether the volume gives a reasonably complete picture of significant philosophical activity in the United States during the period from Peirce into the middle third of the twentieth century. The short answer has to be that it does not.

Almost completely neglected are the religiously orthodox philosophers—of course, they are neglected in the established canon as well. It is true, that Borden Parker Bowne is discussed, but only briefly in the general survey of idealism. I think he deserves separate treatment if only to emphasize that there were academic philosophers who drew upon the Christian tradition. But completely absent is George Trumbull Ladd of Yale, author of at least five substantial philosophical treatises, and of a modern psychology earlier than James's. There is in Ladd's case a substantial body of work, almost completely unknown at present, but often cited in the older literature. Is his not just the kind of case for which a guide is most needed? Another forgotten philosopher deserving a better fate is James McCosh, president of Princeton. He is especially relevant in view of present day controversies between creationism and evolution. An orthodox Christian, he saw in biological evolution...


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