- America the Philosophical by Carlin Romano
America the Philosophical is a wake-up call to the institutional practice of Philosophy in the United States. Romano's claim is twofold; an incisive critique of the narrow way in which academic Philosophy—Philosophy with a capital "P"—is currently practiced; and a celebration of the vast amount of philosophical (with a small "p") energy displayed in American culture. Romano, a philosopher, lawyer, journalist, literary critic, and Professor of Philosophy, is able to marshal a unique set of skills, experiences, and insights to support his claim.
America the Philosophical stands in a long line of compelling appeals to American Philosophy. Emerson's Divinity School Address represents a "first wave" of appeals for the importance of the American angle of vision—a "spiritual declaration of independence." John Dewey's call for a "recovery of philosophy" away from abstract considerations to "problems of men" constitutes a "second wave." Richard Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, emphasizing the need for Philosophy to engage the contemporary intellectual landscape in conversation, represents a "third wave."
Romano's book, admonishing the hyper-professionalization of Philosophy and its excessive formalism, while celebrating the proliferation of philosophical activity within the interstices of American culture, stands as a tsunami like "fourth wave"—a contemporary example of what Rorty envisioned as "philosophy and the conversation of mankind." Whereas Rorty's initial interlocutors consisted of figures such as Dewey, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein, Romano's conversation involves a much more diverse cast of characters.
The book consists of six parts and an Epilogue. Part 1, "American Philosophy and the Tradition," is intended to "enter the map of mainstream American philosophy . . . at both its fringe and center" (19). This section concludes with a chapter entitled "Rorty's Revolution." According to Romano, "[i]n American philosophy itself, Rortyism blew in like a gust through a dusty attic" (130). In his attempt to champion philosophy's role as a partner in conversation, Rorty opened up a "demilitarized zone between analytic and continental philosophy" (139).
Within the demilitarized zone of conversation, any type of uniformity might best be characterized as a coat of many colors. In Part 2, "Abandoning Toothless Truth: Other White Males Muscle In," Romano asks: "Can philosophy, one of Western Civilizations most highly revered 'high brow' activities, flourish as a practice of Rortyian persuasion?" (161). The question [End Page 128] should be: "Can Philosophy, as it is currently practiced, survive as part of a multi-lingual conversation? The proliferation of other voices in the conversation of humankind: Psychiatry (Robert Coles), Literary Criticism (Harold Bloom), History (Francis Fukuyama), Linguistics (George Lakoff and Mark Johnson), Journalism (Hugh Hefner), and Broadcasting (Bill Moyers) signify a rather significant disconnect between academic Philosophy and the pressing concerns of American culture. According to Romano: "We think differently and more inclusively about America today, and we need to think differently and more inclusively about American philosophy, too" (48).
Part 3, "The Rising Outsiders," reports on the rise of new, dissident voices within the disciplinary landscape. African American, Native American, Gay, Feminist, and interdisciplinary figures, like Susan Sontag, are profiled in an effort to show that philosophy need not be restricted to "formal, bloodless categories." A compelling moment in this section is when Anita Allen, the Henry R. Silverman Professor of Law and Professor of Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, reflecting upon the benefits of combining a career in philosophy with a career in law, offers the following diagnosis of Philosophy: "The ability to interact with the world isn't that great. . . . [T]he methodologies are narrow. I feel that philosophy is hoisting itself by its own petard. Its unwillingness to be more inclusive in terms of issues, methods, demographics, means that it's losing out on a lot of vibrancy, a lot of intellectual power" (441).
Part 4, "Gutenberg's Revenge: The Explosion of Cyberphilosophy," exposes an increasing recognition of the "fleeting nature" of new media: "The book's prestige is actually increasing in an age when everything seems so ephemeral" (470). Amidst an impressive review of cyber commentators, Romano identifies a growing tide...