- Gabriel Marcel and American Philosophy: The Religious Dimension of Experience by David W. Rodick
In Gabriel Marcel and American Philosophy, David W. Rodick investigates Gabriel Marcel's relationship to classical American philosophy—more specifically, to Josiah Royce's idealism, William James's radical empiricism, William Ernest Hocking's empiricism, and Henry G. Bugbee's experiential naturalism—to provide Marcel scholars and scholars of classical American philosophy with a fruitful perspective for understanding Marcel's thought (x, 18–19). He also seeks to capture Marcel's dynamic and concrete approach to philosophizing along with examining its "relevance to the contemporary world—a world in which philosophy, confined to the ivory tower, remains at risk of becoming somewhat of a caricature of itself" (xi). In addition, Rodick contends that "Marcel's most important legacy is his sustained commitment to unity of Christian philosophizing" (13). By Christian philosophizing, he means conducting philosophical inquiry in the spirit of "seeking truth wherever it may be—searching for insights wherever authentic intellectual experience is found" (45). Such philosophizing aims to "[reach] a level of understanding sufficiently universal to be appreciated by non-Catholics and even by non-Christians, so long as there is a commitment to what is essential" (13).
Rodick begins this monograph by briefly summarizing in chapter 1 the content to be presented in chapters 2–7. In chapter 2 Rodick characterizes Marcel as a Jamesian radical empiricist who sought to better understand the presence of l'inverifiable, the unseen and unverifiable, at the heart of our intersubjective experience (19–21). He then explains precisely why Marcel was disappointed [End Page 75] with Royce's idealism—that it could not adequately account for the possibility of our directly and immediately experiencing others, much less account for our actual unmediated encounters with them. Yet Marcel admired Royce's conception of loyalty and its practical import for how we live in the world. Marcel sought to keep the practical import of Royce's conception of loyalty, but without "the idealistic leitmotiv of Royce's thought" (28), that is, the view that there is an actual trans-empirical Absolute in which all beings are unified within one spiritual life (26–27).
In chapter 3 Rodick argues that La Métaphysique de Royce (Royce's Metaphysics) and, to a lesser extent, Marcel's 1912 article, "Les conditions dialectiques de la philosophie de l'intuition," show why Marcel went from being dissatisfied with idealism in the early 1910s to abandoning his commitment to idealism by 1915. Rodick contends that Marcel's early interest in idealism originated from his experiential recognition that our world is a broken one and that we need to be saved from the world's brokenness. He had believed that idealism could save us from that brokenness by providing us with a comforting sense of spiritual unity with others. Marcel's commitment to idealism waned, however, when he realized that the spiritual unity promised by idealism is too stifling and promises us a false sense of security. Yet even after Marcel's break with idealism in the mid-1910s, Royce's idealism still appealed to Marcel because Royce took the apparent brokenness of the world seriously and sought to overcome that brokenness by having people act to form more inclusive communities.
In chapter 4 Rodick puts Marcel in conversation with other Royce scholars by imagining how Marcel would respond to the ongoing debate over whether Royce's thought underwent major transitions throughout his career or remained the same despite the changes in its formulation. Rodick refers to these two positions as the transition thesis and the continuity thesis. Proponents of the transition thesis contend that Royce's thought underwent transitions over the course of his career. The most noticeable transition occurred with his Peircean insight of 1912. This is when Royce integrated Charles Sanders Peirce's triadic logic and semiotics into his idealism. He reconceived his idealism so that it became one in which finite human persons live and have their being in the Absolute and where their...