- McDermott:A Life in Philosophy
John J. McDermott was born on 5 January 1932, in Richmond Hill, Queens, New York City, and died on 30 September 2018, in College Station, Texas.
McDermott received his undergraduate education at St. Francis College in Brooklyn, graduating cum laude in philosophy in January 1953. His graduate study in philosophy was at Fordham University in the Bronx, from which he received his MA in June 1954 and his PhD "with great distinction" in January 1959. His dissertation—"Experience Is Pedagogical: The Genesis and Essence of the American Nineteenth Century Notion of Experience"—was completed under the guidance of his doctoral advisor Robert Channon Pollock. In 1964–65, McDermott held a postdoctoral fellowship in American Studies at the Union Theological Graduate School.
McDermott's teaching experience in higher education began in 1954 at St. Francis College. In 1956, he joined the philosophy faculty of Queens College, City University of New York, where he taught until June 1977. Later that year, he moved to Texas A&M University (TAMU), where he was still teaching at the time of his death. At TAMU, McDermott was University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Humanities in Medicine, Regents Professor, and Presidential Professor of Teaching Excellence. Throughout his career, he also served on numerous departmental, college, and university committees. He received an E. Harris Harbison National Award for Gifted Teaching from the Danforth Foundation in 1969; and an LL.D., honoris causa, from the University of Hartford in 1970. He held additional teaching positions at Fordham University, Manhattanville College, the University of San Francisco, Russell Sage College, and Stony Brook University.
McDermott also worked closely with such academic associations as the Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy, of which he was a cofounder; the American Montessori Society; the American Council of Learned Societies; the National Humanities Faculty; and the American Philosophical Association. [End Page 90]
McDermott's major publications were The Writings of William James: A Comprehensive Edition (1967); The Basic Writings of Josiah Royce (1969; 2 vols.); The Philosophy of John Dewey (1973; 2 vols.); The Culture of Experience: Philosophical Essays in the American Grain (1976); A Cultural Introduction to Philosophy: Vol. 1—From Antiquity to Descartes (1985); Streams of Experience: Reflections on the History and Philosophy of American Culture (1987); and The Drama of Possibility: Experience as Philosophy of Culture, edited by Douglas R. Anderson (2007). Two further volumes were planned but never completed: "A Cultural Introduction to Philosophy: Vol. 2—From Descartes to the Twentieth Century," and "A Cultural Introduction to American Philosophy." McDermott was a co-founder and advisory editor of the nineteen-volume edition of The Works of William James (1975–88); and the general editor of The Correspondence of William James (1992–2004; 12 vols.). A volume of essays exploring McDermott's ideas and importance appeared in 2006: Experience as Philosophy: On the Work of John J. McDermott (edited by James Campbell and Richard E. Hart). This volume also contains a complete bibliography of McDermott's writings up to that point.
Those are the cold facts of the career of John McDermott, but they tell us little of his presence, his personality, his soul. This vital information was gained most easily via his direct pedagogy—in his classrooms for the truly blessed, in occasional lecture halls for the less fortunate. Most people who have become familiar with his message have done so indirectly, although still very profitably, through his work as a prolific and wide-ranging writer. Those who will learn of his work in the future similarly must do so through his written work.
In any number of places, McDermott articulated aspects of his philosophical vision for us, but I would suggest beginning with his 2006 essay "Afterword: You Are Really Able" (in Experience as Philosophy: On the Work of John McDermott, edited by James Campbell and Richard E. Hart, Fordham UP, 2006, pp. 237–71). This essay was his response to a conference at which nine of his colleagues and students offered papers on aspects of his thought. In this essay, in addition to his direct response to those papers, McDermott lays out in careful detail four "working philosophical assumptions...