About the Project

Richard Rorty (1931-2007) and Stanley Cavell (b.1926) are philosophical contemporaries most recently moved to question the writing of philosophy in America. Intriguingly, the figures diverge significantly in their chosen philosophical inheritance. Cavell seeks to inherit the transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau (figures he regards as America’s most likely exemplars for intellectual life and national regeneration) while Rorty presents his work as a radical re-description of the classical pragmatism of William James and John Dewey. Undoubtedly, it is significant that two of the most influential voices in contemporary philosophy – both inspired by the promise of a distinctively American tradition – so resist and embrace the standard narratives of U.S. intellectual history.

What is offered in Cavell’s work is a perfectionist promise of our own lives’ validation, a validation before ourselves and before others. This promise might be glossed, alternatively, as the potential to authorize our own voice – in the history of philosophy as well as the history of culture. It is of the first importance for Cavell, and this carries particular resonance in his engagements with Hollywood film, that cultural participants never cede their aesthetic experience but work to possess it. For Rorty, controversially, self-creation is fully removed from public life. Finding voice and finding conviction, though of great personal interest, is not communally or inter-subjectively important. Achieving America, by the same token, is a matter for politics before philosophy.   

This project is inspired by such compelling conceptions of the American. Directed by the recent work of Rorty and Cavell, it expands to consider the history of philosophy in America as well as the distinctively American grain of such philosophical writing. Captured in William Carlos Williams’ resonant phrase are intimations of character as well as constitution, mood as well as ethos, spirit as well as style. This project aims to touch on all these aspects of American philosophical writing. It moves beyond the pragmatist and transcendentalist inheritance to encourage a fuller and finer attunement to philosophical America. To invoke William James, what we are finally concerned with are the varieties of American philosophical experience, the varieties of American voice.







The American Voice in Philosophy project is supported by:

  • The IRCHSS (“New Ideas” Award in the Humanities and Social Sciences)
  • UCD School of Philosophy
  • The International Journal of Philosophical Studies
  • UCD Clinton Institute for American Studies.
  • Society for the Advancement of American Philosophy
  • UCD Seed Funding

Principal Investigators

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