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American Philosophy: The Film
August 30, 2007 8:41 AM   Subscribe

Interviews and segments from the film American Philosopher by Phillip McReynolds.
posted by anotherpanacea (16 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's fantastic.
posted by creasy boy at 8:56 AM on August 30, 2007


Shit. I meant to say "that's fantastic" about the TS Eliot post. But this post is also good.
posted by creasy boy at 9:06 AM on August 30, 2007


Neat. I haven't heard of this movie before, and I'm having trouble finding information about it. The director's faculty website doesn't seem to make any mention of it. I guess these are preview clips for a film that hasn't been completed yet.

I can't watch the videos right now, but I look forward to doing so when I get home. Do they mention what the focus of the movie will be? Is it on pragmatism, or on the state of philosophy in America, or...?
posted by painquale at 10:13 AM on August 30, 2007


Right so here's my positive contribution to this thread: the first video seems to be framing the question of whether or not there is an American philosophy, with the suggestion that America's pragmatic mentality might (or might not) uniquely inform the philosophy produced there.
I find film a strange medium for philosophical discussion, since you can't really liven up philosophy with cuts to different talking heads -- you just edit the philosophy out. For example, I think Rorty makes the truest point when he says that American philosophy isn't a useful category; but from this montage of quotes you get no useful understanding of why. I think this is true, based on my familiarity with philosophy, but I have no idea why Rorty thinks this is true. Really it would more useful to just point the camera at Rorty and listen to him arguing this rather than cutting to someone disagreeing with him.
Another segment about the Putnam-Rorty debate seems to be going into more detail about the revival of American pragmatism -- and pragmatism was largely American in the first place, the first wave happening with Dewey, James and Peirce. So the first segment might function as more of an overture, introducing the broader themes, and not the real substance of the film.
posted by creasy boy at 10:25 AM on August 30, 2007


Just have to say . . . I bought a hard drive and a scanner from Phillip, way back in the day. And he's the person who first introduced me to the internet, saying something about downloading this free version of unix from finland or norway . . . great work Phil! Glad you're still doing philosophy.
posted by yesster at 11:10 AM on August 30, 2007


Pragmatism, as mentioned above, is an American philosophy, and as such it drew some ire from Russell and others. That aside, this movie seems not to focus on Pragmatism (or Pragmaticism, if one will,) but on American Philosophers.

It seems that current academic philosophy is so fractured into specialties that finding a commonality will prove difficult, much less anything that can convincingly labeled as "american." Current philosophy has become a study of various minutiae, with the hope of someday putting it all back together. Whether that day will come, is another question.
posted by elwoodwiles at 11:29 AM on August 30, 2007


That aside, this movie seems not to focus on Pragmatism (or Pragmaticism, if one will,) but on American Philosophers.

Yeah well and all the little biographical tidbits basically saying: "yeah my dad was a lumberjack and when I told him I was gonna be a philosopher, he didn't know what the fuck it was", with the implication: it's hard to be a philosopher in pragmatic America, I found a real stretch. Because I think in France your dad would say the same thing.

In the video on Putnam vs. Rorty and pragmatism they had a lot of footage of people building bridges. There would be a lot of interesting things to say about parallels between the work of building and the work of philosophy and how philosophy in the 20th century more explicitly adopts this parallel and focuses on thought as a lived, embodied interaction with the practical world. But of course this would point you straight to Wittgenstein & Heidegger and not just to American philosophers: Wittgenstein with Lebenswelten and putting the lived context back into our examination of concepts, Heidegger with a model of knowledge based largely on hammering, it seems (why was he obsessed with hammers?) and later with his emphasis on scientific knowledge not as truths but as tools used for certain practical ends.
posted by creasy boy at 11:52 AM on August 30, 2007


how philosophy in the 20th century more explicitly adopts this parallel and focuses on thought as a lived, embodied interaction with the practical world.

In terms of Rorty, I agree. But Rorty backed away from academic philosophy because many did not share this focus. Many contemporary American philosophers seem to follow the Scott Soames model - specialization. One finds people working on very specific problems (direct reference, rigid designation, counter-factuals, slingshots &c.) This approach reminds me of Russell's program more than Rorty's, and is in many ways quite far from pragmatism, though some claim the title.

And: Rorty is from a very american strain of analytic philosophy, with Lewis, Quine and Davidson as his precursors. Later he studies both the earlier American Pragmatic writings and the work of continentalist philosophers. His more important work is a synthesis of all three strains.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:21 PM on August 30, 2007


Yeah I've seen this specialization you're talking about, although I couldn't name so many names. For me even Davidson reflects this kind of specialization: thought he writes about a lot of stuff, he always writes one essay about one small aspect of a narrowly defined problem. This seems to me the style in Anglo-American philosophy nowadays and this seems to be considered a more useful method than, say, the broad strokes of Hegel -- they seem to imagine that they're really solving stuff, bit by bit. So I imagine these philosophers see themselves as more pragmatic than the "continental" tradition even if they're not pragmatists, i.e. they don't hold to any sense of truth as practicability. And Russel also struck me as someone who sees philosophy as engineering, as solving certain problems quickly. In this sense maybe Anglo-American philosophy in general could be called pragmatic if not pragmatist in its self-conception? -- whereas Heidegger is much closer to being a pragmatist but is not at all pragmatic. And Anglo-American philosophy generally also seems much more liable to buy Humean assumptions than, say, Kantian: for example, that mind can explained materialistically, that practical rationality is largely limited to questioning how to do things and not why, etc. Since this is considered more "empirical", this could be another way that Anglo-American philosophy generally claims to be more practical and pragmatic.
posted by creasy boy at 1:00 PM on August 30, 2007


Yeah... As much as I enjoy the idea of philosophers being accessible mass figures, I'm not sure how illuminating this approach is. I've only watched one of the segments (the one linked) but it seems to be mostly interviews in the hotel lobby during the APA. Academic philosophers for the most part are a very careful group -- careful about what they say -- so you don't get people who are willing to make sweeping assertions about the history and nature of philosophy in America. You get people who will make carefully-circumscribed claims about parts of it, at best. So you have to edit them to make it remotely interesting to non-philosophers, and even then you end up with them not really saying a whole lot.

To get a fun spontaneous interview -- which these look like, to me (APA lobby, stolen moments during a conference) -- you need to have an interview subject who is willing to just go for it, expand on a subject where s/he's not a clear authority, without giving a rip about whether what they're saying is quite right. But the way our profession is nowadays tends to breed that out (IME). The older guys like Rorty will do this some, but the younger people won't (on the record, anyway).
posted by LobsterMitten at 7:24 PM on August 30, 2007


our profession

Aha! Knew it.
posted by gleuschk at 2:20 PM on August 31, 2007


I didn't think it was a secret; in fact I've gotten in a few lame-o fights here over it (with at least one user who thinks it's pretentious to call contemporary academic philosophers "philosophers").
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:37 PM on August 31, 2007


It occurs to me to ask: how many Mefites will be at Eastern APA in Baltimore this year? Would a meetup be completely weird in that context?
posted by anotherpanacea at 12:37 PM on September 2, 2007


Woooooooooo.... that is tempting and, weirdly, scary. I will probably be there. Will you? Who else is in the junta - ontic, oddman, mdn, painquale, advil (?), Kwine (?), ...?
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:39 PM on September 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


that is tempting and, weirdly, scary.

Exactly. I'll be there, though.
posted by anotherpanacea at 7:17 AM on September 3, 2007


I've considered asking about an APA meetup before. It's definitely a weirdly scary venue, but on the other hand, all the philosophy Mefites would be in the same place! I'd definitely be down with meeting you guys. But that's a moot point for now... I'm not going this year.
posted by painquale at 7:27 AM on September 3, 2007


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