Journal of the History of Philosophy 8 (1):112-114 (1970)
|Abstract||Puritans and Pragmatists: Eight Eminent American Thinkers. By Paul K. Conkin. (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1968. Pp. viii+49S. Cloth, $12.50; Paper, $5.95) Recent American Philosophy. By Andrew Reck. (New York: Pantheon, Random House, 1964. Pp. xiii+343. $5.95) These two volumes supplement each other in several ways: the one introduces eight of the most important philosophers in American history, the other introduces ten less famous but more recent philosophers; the one portrays major makers of the American heritage, the other expounds various types of philosophical systems, each in its own terms; the one can be read like history and biography, the other must be studied carefully; the one is written for the so-called intelligent layman, the other is composed for professional students of philosophy. Together they give a better account of the varieties of American philosophical thought than either gives, and together they provide an excellent orientation both historically and analytically. Professor Conkin of the Universities of Maryland and Wisconsin presents Jonathan Edwards, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles S. Peirce, William James, John Dewey, and George Santayana as interesting individuals with impressive minds; the biographical and philosophical portraits are blended with rare skill and insight, so that, despite the varied idioms of their thinking and writing, these philosophers are described in a manner and a language that is intelligible and enjoyable to a literate reader, whether he has studied philosophy or not. The book will certainly be enjoyed by a large number of readers as both history and "wisdom literature." The eight eminent Americans are presented as a sequence, set against the backdrop of a "Puritan Prelude," so that they compose a continuity of New England tradition and share in a "common moral tenor." This intellectual history reflects the imaginative and literary skill of a trained historian. Three of the eight are presented as "diverse Puritans," another three as equally diverse pragmatists. Emerson is presented as "in transition" and Santayana as "in retreat." A few specialists will be irritated by the vague generalizations that serve to make a single story out of these eight characters. The author himself accurately predicts that "the most perceptive reader may find the unity too elusive to be convincing" and "some may even resent as distracting my efforts to identify it" (p. vi). One is apt to wonder what each of the eight would say if they could read the book and would find themselves set up in historical order and continuity. It is, to be sure, a commonplace that no person sees himself in proper historical perspective; but these eight are "eminently" qualified to make some intelligent remarks about themselves and their "predecessors." It seems appropriate, therefore, in this connection to report a few self-orienting remarks of Santayana. He was evidently pleased when he saw that Will Durant, in his The Story of Philosophy, has listed him to follow Herbert Spencer. And he said with some emotion: "I wish I could go down in history not as an American but as the last of the Victorians." And while he was writing his novel and was engrossed in it as autobiography he commented: "Of course, I never thought of myself as the last Puritan, for I never was one, but I might be considered as the dialectically ultimate Puritan, who worried conscientiously because he believed he should not have a con- science.|
|Keywords||American philosophy History of philosophy Santayana|
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