Thinking From the Gut
America the What?
by M.G. PIETY
Carlin Romano’s book America the Philosophical (Knopf, 2012) opens with an acknowledgement that American culture is not widely perceived, even by Americans, to be very philosophical. He quotes Alexis de Tocqueville’s observation that “in no country in the civilized world is less attention paid to philosophy than in the United States” (p. 5) as well as Richard Hofstadter’s observation in Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (Knopf, 1963) that “[i]n the United States the play of the mind is perhaps the only form of play that is not looked upon with the most tender indulgence” (p. 3). Romano observes that while in England philosophers “write regularly for the newspapers” and that in France philosophers appear regularly on television, “[i]n the world of broader American publishing, literature, art and culture, serious references to philosophy, in either highbrow or mass-market material barely register” (p. 11). Yet despite these facts Romano boldly asserts that the U.S. “plainly outstrips any rival as the paramount philosophical culture” (p. 15).
An interesting thesis, but probably false: America isn’t particularly philosophical at all. The standard ought to be the really philosophical culture of Germany in the period from Kant to Schopenhauer/Hegel. That period was one of the most creative in world history, but it echoes the generation of Socrates, then Plato, who first sensed the distinction of phenomenal and noumenal that was revived in Kant. This kind of philosophy is anathema now, as the hidden influence of scientism makes philosophical tear everything down. But nothing makes sense in current philosophy.
You thus have a hint at to the real history of philosophy, the seminal line, which always dies out, of the thing in itself and representation, to use Schopenhauer’s terms. It even wanes as soon as Hegel, who is escoriated by Schopenhauer for that reason. By the time of Nietzsche it is gone, and the latter’s philosophy is a dangerous mix of crypto-nihilist elements. This early glimpse of ‘transcendental idealism’, used to describe Kant’s innovation of Plato’s intuitions, was the real birth of philosophy, bringing philosophy into existence in the wake of Socrates.
It is important to recall this peak, because it made sense of ethics, and free will in the context of physics.
Current philosophy hasn’t a clue anymore of the hidden legacy and all we get is philosophizing ad infinitum.