- American Philosophy: From Wounded Knee to the Present by Erin McKenna and Scott L. Pratt
Erin McKenna and Scott L. Pratt. Bloomsbury, 2015.
American Philosophy: From Wounded Knee to the Present by Erin McKenna and Scott Pratt is an introduction to the history of American Philosophy from the period of 1894 to the present, grounded in an outlook informed by classical pragmatism. Spanning thirty-two chapters and covering dozens of figures, the text is as comprehensive a survey of American Philosophy as I have ever come across. While the book includes a list of the usual suspects with chapters devoted to figures like Emerson, James, and Dewey, the book is also a veritable Who's Who of who is missing from the American canon. For those working in the American tradition with a predilection toward pluralism, this characteristic is particularly noteworthy. The range of voices contained in this edition marks both a culmination of long-standing efforts of scholars working in American Philosophy to make the discipline more inclusive and a much-needed entry point for future students whose identities, interests, and ideas have historically been ignored in the field.
One of the more unusual and refreshing features of this introductory text is that instead of taking for granted the nature of philosophy or pretending they offer a neutral and objective presentation of the field, the authors begin by acknowledging that the category "philosophy" is itself both contested and still evolving. From this starting point, McKenna and Pratt engage in a little philosophical experimentation themselves, introducing us to the incredibly fertile concept of "philosophies of resistance." Understood as an approach to philosophy that challenges both the intellectual and systemic boundaries of thinking in a manner that disrupts relations of dominance, the idea of "philosophies of resistance" seems to share in common commitments to social justice, pluralism, experimentation, fallibilism, and historicity. However, the book does not define what is meant by resistance (which would run the risk of foreclosing its meaning going forward) so much as offer a series of portraits of philosophical resistance in action. While, on a couple of occasions, the authors ran the risk of extending the concept too far (for example, by including figures such as Otto Neurath and May Brodbeck under this title), on the whole, the book constructs a compelling narrative re-imagining the possibilities available to American Philosophy now, while also reconstructing its past. [End Page 102]
The book is broken up into six parts, with the first three sections covering the periods 1894–1918, 1918–39, and 1939–79, respectively, while the last three are organized according to the following themes: "Applying Philosophy," "Social Revolutions," and "American Philosophy Today." While the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee is the framing narrative for the book as a whole, it is the 1893 Chicago World's Fair and its approach to cultural progress that provides the historical bearings for Part 1. Through this lens, McKenna and Pratt introduce the book's unifying theme of pluralism and its conception of a socially engaged philosophical tradition that is distinguished by its concrete efforts to address and ameliorate the various problems that have plagued the nation for the past century and a half. Opening with a discussion of Simon Pokagon, Ida Wells-Barnett, and T. Thomas Fortune, we are presented with various critical responses to the fair's depiction of growth and prosperity—responses that set the stage for a reading of philosophy as historically grounded, and specifically as both determined by and responsive to relations of dominance. The following two chapters turn to Indigenous and feminist thought from the period, emphasizing the relational character of American Philosophy in response to the exclusionary and patronizing views of race and sex largely on display at the Expo.
In the fourth chapter, the book turns back the clock to look at the influence of the Transcendentalists. The authors' approach to some of these better-known figures is novel: rather than provide a standard overview of general themes and fundamental principles governing the thought of Emerson, Thoreau, and Fuller, McKenna and Pratt read these figures through the lens of a...