Russell B. Goodman – Emerson’s Philosophical Style

I examine some ways in which how Emerson writes serves and propounds his philosophy.  Emerson’s greatest works are essays, like “Self-Reliance,” “History,”  “Circles,” “Experience,” and “Nominalist and Realist,” and I consider some examples from these essays in which Emerson works with the incompleteness, spontaneity and personality that the essay allows.  In the background and sometimes the foreground of my discussion lie the Essays of Michel de Montaigne, Emerson’s acknowledged predecessor, and Theodor Adorno’s remarkable essay “The Essay as Form.”  Emerson’s essays exemplify his philosophy of shifting moods and viewpoints by their diachronic development, but they also set up synchronic structures that illustrate Adorno’s claim that the essay writer makes himself into “an arena for intellectual experience.”


Christopher Hookway – Pragmatism, Belief and Propositions

When Peirce first introduced his ‘pragmatic maxim’, he argued, first, that we clarify a proposition by identifying what would be involved in believing it, and by arguing that a belief was a ‘habit of action’.  He quickly became dissatisfied with his argument because the claim that ‘beliefs are habits of action’ was controversial. The paper follows a sort of narrative by which Peirce’s attempts to defend his pragmatism focused on a succession of different cognitive states. Rather than beliefs, he gave a primary role to (1) judgment (2) assertion (3) propositions. He also argued that we should focus primarily on understanding thoughts and propositions rather than accepting or believing them. The paper will explore these developments and some of the resources he employed for defending his position. In particular, he seemed to argue that we should reason from the claim that propositions determine habits of action should be used as a premise for arguing that beliefs are habits of action.


Sarin Marchetti – Style and/as Philosophy in James

Departing from some difficulties featuring the experience of reading James, I shall work on an intuition about the robust connection between his philosophical style and his reflections about style. What I hope to disclose is a distinctive way of understanding the tight bond existing between James’ views about what should, and possibly might, philosophy become and his conviction that talks breathe and books bleed as much as their authors do. In order to articulate such a prospect, I will focus my attention on a relatively small portion of James’ philosophical production –namely, a selection from his 1898, 1907 and 1909 writings on pragmatism and truth– as one crystalline example of such an intertwinement between style and reflection about style informing virtually all his work, early and late.


Áine Kelly - Achieving Their Country: Richard Rorty and Jonathan Franzen

Richard Rorty’s Achieving Our Country (1998) castigates a particular strain of contemporary American fiction. This literature, in the Rortyan schema, is more “knowing” than “inspirational”; its cynical complexity stymies related possibilities of moral improvement and patriotic hope. The democratic vision of an Upton Sinclair or a John Steinbeck, Rorty argues, is simply not met in the cultural output of contemporary America. This article brings Rorty’s theory to bear on Freedom, the 2010 novel of Jonathan Franzen. It is argued that Freedom troubles the strict oppositions of Rorty’s schema in two fundamental ways: (1) it offers a vision of America at once postmodernist and patriotically hopeful and (2) it is aesthetically complex and morally compelling.


Richard Eldridge – Cavell and the American Jeremiad

Drawing on Sacvan Bercovitch's important and well-known book, this paper sketches the stylistic features of the American jeremiad--a form present in early sermons and taken up in later secular

writings, prominently by Emerson and Thoreau--that joins pointed criticism of present modes of life with an effort to reanimate commitment to a fundamental religious errand. I then turn to how Cavell's writing, early and late, both takes up and revises jeremiad rhetorical style.


Matteo Falomi – The Availability of Moral Perfectionism

In this paper, I question Martha Nussbaum’s characterization of Stanley Cavell as providing “philosophical commentary” of a literary work. I argue that Cavell’s account of moral thinking (which is primarily articulated in his work on Moral Perfectionism) differs significantly from Nussbaum’s Aristotelian account of ethical inquiry. For this reason, Cavell cannot share Nussbaum’s conception of the moral significance of texts, nor, a fortiori, Nussbaum’s account of what it is to read a text. I propose an outline of Cavell’s alternative conception of reading, and I conclude by showing how this alternative conception presupposes an understanding of the relation between philosophy and literature utterly different from the one endorsed by Nussbaum.


Maria Baghramian – The Depths and Shallows of Putnam’s Pragmatism

Brand Blanchard on his famous 1953 paper on philosophical style approvingly cites two of Hilary Putnam’s intellectual heroes - Hans Reichenbach, his doctoral supervisor. and William James, a source of inspiration and much reflection in Putnam’s later writings - to argue for clarity as a key desideratum of philosophical style. Using Blanchard’s paper as my starting point, I distinguish between a shallow and deep sense of style. Blanchard’s exhortations to clarity focus on an important but shallow sense of philosophical style. The deep sense goes beyond a style of writing but engage, in Whitehead’s words,  with ‘the ultimate morality of the mind’. Here, a philosopher’s style not only demonstrates her philosophical methodology but also projects a philosophical persona or temperament. I argue that. in this deeper sense, long before he became identified with Neo-Pragmatism. Putnam has been doing philosophy in a pragmatist key.


Fergal McHugh – How to read Putnam: Argumentative Pluralism as an American Tradition

In the sense I use it here ‘argumentative pluralism’ describes the sustained development of multiple lines of argument with an emphasis on robust rather than systematic philosophy. Putnam, on my account, is committed to argumentative pluralism both methodologically and substantively. A key instrument of his pluralism is the essay form. I examine some ancestor versions of the Putnam essay. I attempt a description of the kind of philosophy that writing becomes in Putnam’s hands. My title stakes out my thesis: ‘Putnam Writing’ is argumentative, pluralist and American, in a way that requires us to see these strands as inextricably intertwined.  


Ramon del Castillo – The Hedgehog That Therefore He Was. On Rorty’s Style

Wild Orchids represented for Rorty a world of private fantasy. Probably his interest for birds also had to do with an individual realm inhabited by exotic objects of love. After all, observing birds keeping distance is not only a contribution to ornithological research, but an act of voyeurism. One of Rorty’s favourite writers, Nabokov, was an expert on butterflies, but also an extraordinary dreamy eye.

Orchids and birds, indeed, symbolized one of the most relevant traits of Rorty’s temperament: the will to be alone in communication with ineffable objects of desire. I will focus, however, in his “reservation” or “retraction” as a prominent trait of his style as a philosopher apparently opened to other minds’s ideas but ultimately fixated with his own ones. Using Archylocus’s epigram on the fox and the hedgehog (“The fox knows many things; the hedgehog one big thing”) I will try to explain why, in spite of his many dialogues and exchanges, Rorty preferred described himself as a self-defensive and relatively obsessive hedgehog in the quest of a single and important idea.

Some more questions will be considered: first, Why Rorty felt the need to use too simple and binary oppositions to characterize the American philosophical scene. Two, and more important, how philosophical hedgehogs (who know only but big thing) come to terms with the temptation of intellectual arrogance. After all, as Rorty warned: “the problem of the ironist theory… is how to overcome authority without claiming authority”[…] and “the ironist theorist, unlike the ironists novelist, is continually temped to try for sublimity, nut just beauty”.







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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