U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Tim’s Light Reading (2-9-2012): History as Philosophical Method, the Philosophy of History, Defending the Liberal Arts, and New Research of Interest

1 (of 7). The History of Philosophy?

The history of philosophy is, strangely to historians, both a subject and a method. As historians (i.e. USIH folks) we only engage the first. Philosophy and philosophers are objects of study, especially to the non-history of ideas crowd in the general category of intellectual history. I’ve noticed that history of ideas folks are more willing to see themselves as philosophers, at least those who work closest to the Lovejovian tradition. A great many philosophers, however, use history as a means toward understanding present-day philosophical problems. This is particularly prominent in the Aristotelian and Thomistic traditions. Points 2 and 4 of this recent NEW APPS post by Eric Schliesser go toward my point about history-of-philosophy as method. Here’s a reaction to Schliesser from Mohan Matthen.

2. The Philosophy of History

Speaking of philosophy, we should all examine this entry for the “Philosophy of History” in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP). I was intrigued by its posing the distinction between an Anglo-American and European philosophy of history. Since we’ve referred to the SEP here a number of times, we ought to return the favor by offering criticisms of their entry. Perhaps this should be another entry? In any case, here’s the opening paragraph as a teaser:

The concept of history plays a fundamental role in human thought. It invokes notions of human agency, change, the role of material circumstances in human affairs, and the putative meaning of historical events. It raises the possibility of “learning from history.” And it suggests the possibility of better understanding ourselves in the present, by understanding the forces, choices, and circumstances that brought us to our current situation. It is therefore unsurprising that philosophers have sometimes turned their attention to efforts to examine history itself and the nature of historical knowledge. These reflections can be grouped together into a body of work called “philosophy of history.” This work is heterogeneous, comprising analyses and arguments of idealists, positivists, logicians, theologians, and others, and moving back and forth over the divides between European and Anglo-American philosophy, and between hermeneutics and positivism.

3. Defending the Liberal Arts for the 21st Century

I know that defenses of the liberal arts are a dime a dozen, but I liked this one by Nannerl Keohane [right] that appeared recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Keohane provides five answers to this question: “How do we defend liberal education against the skeptics—parents, potential students, the media, the marketplace, even some trustees and students?” And then the author provides three ways that “college presidents today [can] best go about making the case for the liberal arts.” Keohane forgot the liberal arts sometimes have to be defended from college presidents—tinker toy presidents more interested in buildings that human capital.

4. More on the Alinsky-Obama-Newt Triangle

Two weeks ago I wrote on a new iteration of the culture wars involving Alinsky, Obama, and Newt. This is already old news. But just a few days ago I discovered that two other historians had written on the topic: Michael Kazin one day before me for The New Republic, as well as Thomas Sugrue [right] on February 7 for Salon.com. I appended both of these to my post, but I want to say I was surprised at myself after reading both. Kazin and Sugrue underscored the point about subsidiarity that I should’ve caught. Shame on me. It takes a village, I guess, to get the history right.

5. America in France

A few days ago Andrew Hartman asked us about the literature on, or histories of, the reception of various foreign intellectuals in the United States. This “Five Books Interview” at The Browser turns the question around and broadens it out. In the piece Richard Kuisel [right], a Georgetown University professor who specializes in Franco-American relations, is asked to list five works that enlighten us on French attitudes toward America. We could probably use a book on this topic for every country in the world, but certain countries stand out presently: Russia, Iran, Pakistan, China, etc. And not only do we need more studies on this, but every world history curriculum in U.S. institutions should have a class covering the topic.

6. Things I Want to Read

From the new Journal of the History of Ideas (73, no. 1):

a. Review-Essay: Learn This Forward but Understand It Backward

…Who is this “Neil Jumonville” character? 😉

b. Identity and Diversity in the History of Ideas: A Reply to Brian Tierney

…I think I’m going to need to read Tierney to get this one, though I’m intrigued by the title.

7. New Research of Interest–From My JAH-RSO Feed

These are things I _might_ want to read, but am not sure yet (except for one, noted below).

a. McVicar, Michael J., “Reconstructing America: Religion, American Conservatism, and the Political Theology of Rousas John Rushdoony” (PhD Diss, Ohio State University, 2010).

…Is this the definitive work on Rushdoony?

b. Porter, Patrick, “Beyond the American Century: Walter Lippmann and American Grand Strategy, 1943-1950,” Diplomacy and Statecraft, 22 (no. 4, 2011), 557-77.

…For you Lippmann fans

c. Sizemore, Michelle R., “National Enchantment: Sovereignty, History, and the Making of U.S. Imperialism, 1790-1850” (PhD Diss, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 2010).

…I wonder who directed this? Cronon?

d. Creed, J. Bradley, “The Education Demanded by the People of the United States: Francis Wayland and the Future of American Higher Education,” Baptist History & Heritage, 46 (Summer 2011), 7-22.

…Intriguing title, though I can’t imagine Wayland philosophizing about higher education in a way that is inclusive of all U.S. citizens.

e. Loss, Christopher P., Between Citizens and the State: The Politics of American Higher Education in the 20th Century (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012).

…This looks like a must read/must review for USIH folks.

f. Maxwell, Donald William, “Unguarded Border: The Movement of People and Ideas between the United States and Canada during the Vietnam War Era” (PhD Diss, Indiana University, 2010).

…Having recently taught a course on the transnational American Midwest, wherein Canada (esp. via the Great Lakes) figured prominently, this is really intriguing to me.


What do you think of making a separate post of the SEP entry? – TL

7 Thoughts on this Post

  1. Tim: Thanks for the “light” reading material. I just found out about the Gavin Loss book. Definitely must reading for me. I’d review it if I weren’t in manuscript writing mode. We must find a reviewer for it.

  2. Re: Michelle Sizemore. Her Ph.D. is in English lit, not history. Her dissertation was directed by someone called Russ Castronovo. Cronon could have been on her committee, though; I couldn’t find that information. She’s in the English department at UK now.

    I might say something about the philosophy/history stuff later. It’s too early right now for heavy stuff like that.

  3. Speaking as a recovering philosopher: philosophers are interested in the history of their subject because they need to explain how everybody else could have been so wrong.

  4. @Varad: It looks like Sizemore was maybe engaging in a “usable past” kind of thing. Then again, I don’t know that historicism has ever really gone out of fashion in literature departments.

    @Jim: Touche!

    @LD: What conference? I’d be intrigued to see what you write. …FYI: I discuss with all my students (first years to seniors), every term, the philosophy of history in relation to how they answer the perennial “What is history?” question. We discuss philosophy and practice. I consider these discussions a necessary “life skills in history” kind of thing that should never be dodged. – TL

  5. @Tim: You have managed to show me the way forward! I have been fretting over what to post for the weekend. Now I have a topic: I will blog about what’s in the hopper for my paper and/or the conference at which I will be presenting it. Or, I’ll blog about something totally random and completely different. ‘Cause that’s how I roll.

    I will say this much now: if I had known going in how completely transformative my training as a historian would be, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have dared it. Not even I am that bold. As William James noted, we all do our best to get by with the least possible disruption to our epistemic commitments. Becoming a historian has been — is still — the most astonishing, unexpected, unbelievably illuminating experience of my life. I mean, seriously: who knew!

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