The American Style in Philosophy

Two Day International Conference
June 11th-12th, 2012
University College Dublin

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Registration fee, to cover conference material and coffee, to be paid at the conference.

Students and Unwaged: 10 euro

Waged: 20 euro


Supported by:
The IRCHSS (“New Ideas” Award in the Humanities and Social Sciences) 
UCD School of Philosophy
UCD Clinton Institute for American Studies
International Journal of Philosophical Studies


Conference Outline

In comparing the styles of American and French philosophical writing, James Conant has noted the characteristic “diffidence” of writers like Thoreau when compared to the characteristic “brilliance” of intellectuals like Derrida. Conant provocatively suggests that this Parisian brilliance most typically registers “what is now taken as the sound of philosophy”. “The sound of much of the language in Thoreau’s Walden”, he writes, “is apt to strike a reader – at least on a first encounter – as not particularly philosophical at all, as not even trying to sound like philosophy”. (Conant, J., “Cavell and the Concept of America” in Russell Goodman (ed.), Contending with Stanley Cavell (Oxford University Press, 2005, 60). In comparing the sound of Emerson, James and Wallace Stevens with that of Nietzsche, Foucault and Derrida, Richard Poirier makes a similar point: “it should be apparent by now”, he writes, “that in presenting their case, the Americans simply sound different. They sound altogether less rhetorically embattled, less culturally ambitious, than do any of these European cousins.” (Poirier, J., Poetry and Pragmatism (Boston: Harvard University Press, 1992), p. 155).

Taking such soundings of American philosophy as points of departure and provocation, this two-day international conference moves from Emerson, James and Santayana, via Quine and Sellars, to the contemporary writings of Rorty, Putnam, Cavell and Nussbaum. It finds in the diversity of these American voices a surprising unity of philosophical aspiration, where writing style is considered not incidental but central to philosophical achievement. Of course, no stylistic choice can be presumed as impartial, not even the choice to write with supposed transparency. What distinguishes this particular cluster of figures is the inseparability of style from content in the very processes and development of their thought. There is a resulting inclination, as in poetic analysis, to direct quotation in discussion of their work. We propose these figures as supreme stylists of the American tradition who contest the traditionally marginal status of philosophical style in procedures both literary (Emerson and Nussbaum, Santayana and Cavell) and non-literary (Quine and Putnam). That such easy distinctions stand to be re-complicated is evidenced in the writings of James as well as Rorty. 

What, if anything, is to be gained by juxtaposing Quine’s striking naturalism with Santayana’s quiet composure? How do Cavell’s romantic procedures attune if at all with those of Emerson? How does Putnam’s work fit within the Pragmatist tradition? And most importantly, is there a characteristically American philosophical style? The conference attempts to find answers to these questions. 



The confernce has been conceived and organised by: 
Dr Áine Kelly, IRCHSS Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Philosophy, University College Dublin
Dr Sarin Marchetti, Visiting Postdoctoral Fellow, School of Philosophy, University College Dublin
Fergal McHugh, IRCHSS Doctoral Fellow, School of Philosophy, University College Dublin






American Style Conference Poster



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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