Anthony Gottlieb*1”The Best of All Possible Worlds” http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/01/books/review/america-the-philosophical-by-carlin-romano.htm
Carlin Romano氏*2の新著America the Philosophicalの書評。この本は”today’s America is the best place to do philosophy that there has ever been, surpassing even the Athens of those ingenious and polite men Socrates, Plato and Aristotle”ということを主張しているという。
More than half of “America the Philosophical” is an encyclopedic survey of the life of the mind in the United States, in which Romano usefully draws on decades of cultural journalism and some 190 interviews conducted over the years. There are sections on, among many other things, literary critics, political theorists, mathematicians, broadcasters, science writers and purveyors of unhelpfully vapid self-help. (Romano does not emphasize the fact that these last two categories are starting to overlap.) As an illustration of the futuristic thrust of America’s cultural milieu, Romano also reports on a battery of what he calls “cyberphilosophers.” Many of these are the excitable folk who inhabit the world of Wired magazine, that sunny upland where it is always tomorrow. But more sober observers of technology are here, too. We learn that William Gibson, the sci-fi novelist who coined the term “cyberspace,” does not much like computers.
The formerly marginalized groups of African-Americans, women, Native Americans and gays have a chapter each; two-thirds of this space is devoted to the chapter on women, one of the richest in the book, which features Ayn Rand, Hannah Arendt, Susan Sontag, Camille Paglia, Martha Nussbaum and a host of lesser-known thinkers. The chapter titled “Gays” is padded out with Ludwig Wittgenstein, even though he made just two brief visits to America, and Romano has virtually nothing to say about the bearing of his sexuality on his work. Everyone is included, and so, sometimes, is a little too much journalistic color. The exceptional modesty of John Rawls, America’s greatest political philosopher, was worth recording: he once declined an interview with Romano because “I wouldn’t want to be seen as promoting my book.” But do we need to know the model number of Sontag’s stereo amplifier? Such a detail might have been more at home in the pages about Hugh Hefner.
Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are not the founders and titans of philosophy, according to Romano; rather, they hijacked it. The notion of philosophia was fluid in Plato’s time, and Romano wishes that the usage and practice of the less famous Isocrates, a rhetorician and educationalist, had caught on instead of that of his slightly younger contemporary. Isocrates (“A Man, Not a Typo,” as Romano headlines him) wrote that “it is far superior to have decent judgments about useful matters than to have precise knowledge about useless things.” For him, philosophy was the imprecise art of public deliberation about important matters, not a logic-chopping attempt to excavate objective truths. Isocrates, Romano says, “incarnates the contradictions, pragmatism, ambition, bent for problem solving and getting things done that mark Americans,” and his conception of philosophy “jibes with American pragmatism and philosophical practice far more than Socrates’ view.” Romano writes sorely of “the triumph of Plato and Aristotle in excluding Isocrates from the philosophical tradition” and announces that “Isocrates should be as famous as Socrates.”
Puzzled by Romano’s high estimation of the relevance of Isocrates, even to the broadest conception of philosophy, I reread some of his discourses and emerged none the wiser, though I did remember why I had so quickly forgotten him the first time around. Where are Isocrates’ penetrating treatments of the soul, virtue, justice, knowledge, truth, art, perception, psychology, logic, mathematics, action, space or time? And if philosophy would be better off not trying to talk about such things, what exactly should it be talking about?
America’s principal homegrown school of philosophy is, after all, the pragmatism of C. S. Peirce, William James and John Dewey, which was born at Harvard in the 1870s. According to pragmatism, our theories should be judged by their practical value rather than by their accuracy in representing the world. The ultimate fate of this idea was neatly put by a great American philosophical wit, Sidney Morgenbesser*4, who said it was all very well in theory, but didn’t work in practice. He meant that pragmatism sounds like a good ruse, but it emerges as either trivial or incoherent when you try to flesh it out. There are weaker strains of philosophical pragmatism, which investigate the meaning of our concepts by looking at how we use them. But this idea is mainly the property of Wittgenstein, who may have been gay but was certainly not American.
*1:See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Gottlieb also http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20081012/1223830581
*2:See eg. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carlin_Romano http://www.ursinus.edu/netcommunity/page.aspx?pid=628
*3:最近の『ガーディアン』の社説も参照されたい。http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jun/04/editorial-philosophy-big-thinking Mentioned in http://d.hatena.ne.jp/sumita-m/20120605/1338911826
*4:See eg. Andrew Gumbel “Professor Sidney Morgenbesser: Philosopher celebrated for his withering New York Jewish humour” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/professor-sidney-morgenbesser-6164166.html http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sidney_Morgenbesser