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Book Chapter

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Stanley Cavell


Here is a common picture of what American philosophy looks like to and within many American philosophy departments. To a considerable degree, it does not exist at all. Most departments do not feel obliged to teach American philosophy as they do modern philosophy (Descartes to Kant) and ancient Greek philosophy. It is normally not part of the requirements for a major. Of course, writings by Americans are mostly what do get taught, but they are taught as just philosophy, not as American philosophy. When it is taught, it is taught as a peripheral history course, typically focusing on the major pragmatist thinkers from the late nineteenth to the mid twentieth century: Peirce, James, and Dewey, with perhaps a turn toward Rorty to round things off. These figures are thought to emphasize the importance of paying attention to what works: to experimental science in the pursuit of knowledge and to liberal reform in politics. The only way to discern what works – in either epistemology or politics – is through trial and error. Epistemology and social theory in any more visionary sense are evaded. Our going practices of experimental science, particularly natural science, have shown themselves to be good enough: neither in need of nor admitting of any further epistemic support from foundationalist theories of justification. In politics, liberal decency, respect for rights, and reliance on markets are about the best we can do.

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Cambridge University Press


Richard Thomas Eldridge


This material has been published in Stanley Cavell, edited by Richard Thomas Eldridge. This version is free to view and download for personal use only. Not for re-distribution, re-sale or use in derivative works. © Cambridge University Press, 2003.

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