The Primal Roots of American Philosophy: Pragmatism, Phenomenology, and Native American Thought / Edition 1

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Continuing his quest to bring American philosophy back to its roots, Bruce Wilshire connects the work of such thinkers as Thoreau, Emerson, Dewey, and James with Native American beliefs and practices. His search is not for exact parallels, but rather for fundamental affinities between the equally "organismic" thought systems of indigenous peoples and classic American philosophers.

Wilshire gives particular emphasis to the affinities between Black Elk’s view of the hoop of the world and Emerson’s notion of horizon, and also between a shaman’s healing practices and James’s ideas of pure experience, willingness to believe, and a pluralistic universe. As these connections come into focus, the book shows how European phenomenology was inspired and influenced by the classic American philosophers, whose own work reveals the inspiration and influence of indigenous thought.

Wilshire’s book also reveals how artificial are the walls that separate the sciences and the humanities in academia, and that separate Continental from Anglo-American thought within the single discipline of philosophy.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“Bruce Wilshire is an original. His perceptiveness and his passion combine in his writings to create a magical world of present grief and future possibility. This new book is a unique amalgam of scholarly reflection, private soliloquy, emotional release, and spiritual self-cleansing—a prayer offered up to what Wilshire calls ‘the female archetype of a decentralized, pluralistic, and noncontrolling ground of being.’ Contrary to much dull philosophy, these essays are written for the human voice; for full impact, they need to be spoken as the eyes take them in. . . . This is a very good book, though by no means what is nowadays considered a standard work in philosophy. I consider that a strength and not a failing, for it sets an exhilarating paradigm for what philosophers can do. Wilshire appeals to experience, not only argument; to feeling, not only reason; to insight, not only discursive understanding. He requires that in reading his work we do what he recommends and place ourselves in contact with the healing energies of a deeper universe.”
—John Lachs, Vanderbilt University

“Wilshire celebrates the heart of a revived American philosophical tradition construed as marking a way of life, a healing reabsorption in what Emerson called the ‘always circular power returning into itself.’ Philosophy as a path of wisdom, a way of life, links up to ‘existential’ ways of marking time and timelessness, of finding ecstatic experience, of finding one’s way with others. It aims to ‘re-enchant’ a distinctly ‘disenchanted’ world. . . . American philosophy and culture may not reform itself tomorrow, but it is not absurd to find hope for such reform in Wilshire’s book. In these straited times, it breathes fresh air into our lungs.”
—Edward F. Mooney, Journal of Speculative Philosophy

“In this book, Bruce Wilshire continues on a fearless path beyond traditional philosophical abstractions and what passes for ‘common sense’ in our culture, opening up new vistas on reality and the renewal of the spirit. He guides the reader step by step toward a new vision of existence that resonates with what he calls ‘primal philosophy,’ the mythic, and modern physics.”
—Glen A. Mazis, Parabola

Wilshire (philosophy, Rutgers U.) claims that classical pragmatism is an original and unfettered strain of American thought, and that it is original because it draws on Native American thought. He demonstrates that Native American elements are evident in the work of William James, Charles Peirce, and John Dewey, and calls on readers to deprofessionalize American philosophy and to reconnect it with the context of its own native land. Thinkers discussed include Black Elk, Henry David Thoreau, and Henry Bugbee. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780271020266
  • Publisher: Penn State University Press
  • Publication date: 8/28/2000
  • Series: American and European Philosophy
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.78 (w) x 8.78 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Bruce Wilshire is Professor of Philosophy at Rutgers University. Recent books include The Moral Collapse of The University: Professionalism, Purity, and Alienation (1990) and Wild Hunger: The Primal Roots of Modern Addictions (1998).

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Table of Contents

Foreword ix
I Reclaiming Sources and Possibilities
1 Looking Forward to the First Day 3
2 Black Elk, Thoreau, Emerson, and Their Aura 15
3 William James, Black Elk, and the Healing Act 33
4 James: "Wild Beasts of the Philosophic Desert" 45
5 James on Truth: The Preeminence of Body and World 67
II Further Reclamations
6 John Dewey: Philosopher and Poet of Nature 91
7 Body-Mind and Subconsciousness: Dewey and Tragedy 121
8 Passion for Meaning: William Ernest Hocking's Religious-Philosophical Views 137
9 Henry Bugbee: The Inward Morning 153
III Taking Stock
10 Ways of Knowing 163
11 Pragmatism, Neopragmatism, and Phenomenology: The Richard Rorty Phenomenon 175
12 William James's Prophetic Grasp of the Failures of Academic Professionalism 191
13 Charles Peirce on the Pre-Rational Ground of Reason 207
14 Shamanism, Love, Regeneration 219
Index 237
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