The American Evasion of Philosophy: A Genealogy of Pragmatism

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Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1989 M05 9 - 292 pages

Taking Emerson as his starting point, Cornel West’s basic task in this ambitious enterprise is to chart the emergence, development, decline, and recent resurgence of American pragmatism. John Dewey is the central figure in West’s pantheon of pragmatists, but he treats as well such varied mid-century representatives of the tradition as Sidney Hook, C. Wright Mills, W. E. B. Du Bois, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Lionel Trilling. West’s "genealogy" is, ultimately, a very personal work, for it is imbued throughout with the author’s conviction that a thorough reexamination of American pragmatism may help inspire and instruct contemporary efforts to remake and reform American society and culture.

"West . . . may well be the pre-eminent African American intellectual of our generation."—The Nation

"The American Evasion of Philosophy is a highly intelligent and provocative book. Cornel West gives us illuminating readings of the political thought of Emerson and James; provides a penetrating critical assessment of Dewey, his central figure; and offers a brilliant interpretation—appreciative yet far from uncritical—of the contemporary philosopher and neo-pragmatist Richard Rorty. . . . What shines through, throughout the work, is West's firm commitment to a radical vision of a philosophic discourse as inextricably linked to cultural criticism and political engagement."—Paul S. Boyer, professor emeritus of history, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Wisconsin Project on American Writers

Frank Lentricchia, General Editor


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User Review  - mykl-s - LibraryThing

This is not an easy book for me. Much of the language is hard to master, with ordinary-sounding words used in surprising ways. For example "evasion," which seems to be about pragmatism's move away from epistemology, and about maybe much more. Read full review


1 The Emersonian Prehistory of American Pragmatism
2 The Historic Emergence of American Pragmatism
John Dewey
4 The Dilemma of the MidCentury Pragmatic Intellectual
WV Quine and Richard Rorty
Cultural Criticism and Political Engagement

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About the author (1989)

Cornel West is the Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion at Princeton University, and author of the influential Race Matters. His recent work includes two books he coauthored on public policy issues: The Future of American Progressivism and The War Against Parents.

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