Book Review: America the Philosophical

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By Joe Arcieri, Humanities Department

Carlin RomanoI have read articles by Carlin Romano, professor of philosophy at Ursinus College, on various web sites and found them informative. When I learned that his new book, America the Philosophical (2012), touted the U.S. as a center of philosophical thought, it sounded counterintuitive to me: many do not generally think of the U.S. in those terms. Since the book is located in the Humanities Department, I decided to read and review it.

At the beginning of America the Philosophical, Romano makes an astonishing claim:

America in the early 21st century towers as the most philosophical culture in the history of the world, an unprecedented marketplace of truth and argument that far surpasses ancient Greece, Cartesian France, 19th-century Germany, or any other place one can name over the past three millennia.

America the PhilosophicalReally? Could the culture that gave us The Jerry Springer Show and Joanie Loves Chachi also be the incubator of the world’s foremost philosopher-kings-and-queens?

Romano’s book is in part a response to Richard Hofstadter’s book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963). Hofstadter portrayed the United States as a “business civilization” marked by materialism, conspicuous consumption, and a strong hostility to the life of the mind.

Besides giving the titans of American philosophy (Ralph Waldo Emerson, William James, John Dewey, etc.) their due, Romano bolsters his case by considering the works of some thinkers who are not generally thought of as philosophers at all, such as Martin Luther King and Cornel West.

Romano points out that the United States is now a much more open-minded and diverse nation than it was when Hofstadter was writing. He makes a persuasive argument that, despite subjecting us to a constant bombardment of kitsch, American culture is also a source of important philosophical achievement. Now all he has to do is convince the American intellectual establishment that he is right. There are worse lots in life, but not many.

If you are interested in further reading about the great American philosophers in Romano’s book, you can find many titles in the Pratt Library catalog by clicking on the author names in this post.

Joe has worked as a Reference Librarian in the Humanities Department at Pratt for two years. Before that, he was a Reference Librarian in the Social Science and History Department for twenty-four years.

Great post Joe! I have never thought about America being the most philosophical country currently, let alone the most philosophical country in history. Your post intrigues me and when I get a chance I will take a look at the book. Thanks!
Posted by: Ryan at 11/7/2012 6:51 p.m.

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