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Book Reviews How Philosophy Uses Its Past. By John Herman Randall, Jr. Foreword by Cornelius Krus~. (The Matehette Lectures, Wesleyan University, 1961; New York and London: Columbia University Press, 1963. Pp. xiv + 106. $3.50.) One could easily characterize this small volume as a minor masterpiece on a major theme. It is an admirable statement from the pen of one of America's leading thinkers in both the history of philosopy and philosophy "proper." Actually the distinction between these two fields of philosophic activity becomes superfluous since Professor Randall has an elaborate theory of his own, whereby to do philosophy and do it well involves, in a serious and inescapable way, competent performance in the history of philosophy. How Philosophy UsesIts Past may have to be read, and I propose here that it should, as the general introduction to Randall's projected three volumes of his monumental The Career of Philosophy, of which only Volume One has been published. The close analyses of specific men and issues presented in the latter work can be seen as the evidence meant to corroborate the thesis asserted in How Philosophy Uses Its Past. In his own words: "It remains true that it is impossible to gain insight into the history of philosophical ideas--into the dimensions of philosophizing--without being led to formulate a philosophy of cultural change" (p. 20). Randall has made in this volume a significant contribution if only by way of focusing his powerful lens on three central issues: (1) how genuine philosophizing is still "metaphysical" thinking; (2) why it is necessary to undertake a thorough investigation of the antecedents leading up to our prevailing philosophies of experience; (3) how to understand the seemingly chaotic situation in our philosophical affairs, under the age-old distinction of the "one and many." In a critical and appreciative article on Lovejoy, Randall stated his reservations toward Lovejoy's "atomistic" conception of intellectual history and proceeded to note that the history of philosophy has a philosophic function iust as philosophy has historical dimensions such that when adequately explored can tell us much about the nature and limits of our own philosophizing .1 A permeative thesis in the volume under review is that to do "history of philosophy" is to do "philosophy." To show how and why Randall believes this to be the case, we must consider in some detail three of his main themes: the redefinition of metaphysics, the broader conception of experience, and the "one and many" aspect of contemporary philosophy. One may go so far as to say that Randall is doing philosophy just as he is formulating a theory of the philosophy, for the sake of responding philosophically to the stated problems. But to respond philosophically is something that one must learn in conjunction with the examination of the historical past of philosophy. Randall thus believes, on the evidence gathered, that philosophy has revealed itself to be "a clarification and criticism of fundamental beliefs involved in all the great enterprises of human culture, science, art, religion, the moral, social and practical activity, when some new idea or some altered experience has impinged upon them and generated intellectual tensions and maladjustments" (pp. 19; 100). This way of understanding philosophy affects his approach to every problem he mentions. Indeed, even the denial of the importance of the history of philosophy is rooted in historical processes which must be understood before the denial can be fully illumined. Without historical knowledge, he argues even our decisions will suffer (p. 14). Randall calls his approach to defining philosophical problems "operational." Accordingly, we do not know whether we have a philosophical problem until a philosophical response has occurred. Looking back from the response to what it was that philosophers responded to, we See Randall's "Arthur O. Lovejoy and the History of Ideas," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research,XXII (1963), 475-479; also book under review, p. 36. [1071 108 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY discover that these were problems that emerged "whenever strife of ideas and experiences forced men back to the fundamental assumptions in any field" (p. 18). Briefly put, the response has always been that of analysing, clarifying, criticizing and reconstructing "fundamental assumptions." The problems vary and...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 107-110
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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