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U.S. Midcentury Philosophy, Part II

Image result for arthur koestler

Restating yesterday's list:

The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt, 1951.
Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis, 1952.
Philosophical Investigations, Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1953.
The Doors of Perception, Aldous Huxley, 1954
Eros and Civilization, Herbert Marcuse, 1955 
The White Negro, Norman Mailer, 1956
Anatomy of Criticism, Northrop Frye, 1957
Verbal Behavior, BF Skinner, 1958
Some Notes on H.P. Lovecraft, August Derleth, 1959
The Lotus and the Robot, Arthur Koestler, 1960.
A Study of History, Arnold Toynbee; 1961; 
The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn, 1962

Can we break these down at all in thematic classification? There are three that don't help much with classification. They don't fit with each other or any of the other nine: that is, they constitute a natural "other" group. The "other" is usually listed last,. Here, in a transgressive spirit, I list it first. These three are: a work of Christian apologetics, one of idiosyncratic though brilliant literary theory with aesthetic implications, and one offering a behavioral theory of language, with consequences for the mind-body problem and much else. That is: Lewis, Frye, Skinner.

Two others that we can readily join together are epistemological -- we may so categorize both Wittgenstein's anti-foundationalism and Kuhn's philosophizing on pregnant moments in the history of science.

The list also includes three self-conscious efforts to build or reinforce a counter-culture, against what in this period was considered the stifling conformity of the "gray flannel suit." I have in mind specifically here the works by Huxley, Mailer, and Derleth.  

The remainder, four books, a healthy one third of the whole, indicative surely on my own biases but also perhaps of something in the air at the time, falls easily into the category, "philosophy of history" or, more specifically, meta-history.  I refer to the works by Arendt, Marcuse, Koestler, and of course Toynbee.

The term "philosophy of history" is ambiguous, since "history" in English has two distinct meanings. We might understand "history" generally as the human past, stretching from the first ape-like creatures who attempted bipedal locomotion, to the bumbling of the day before yesterday. Or we can understand "history" as the organized inquiry into the human past. So that the "philosophy of history" in one sense is akin to the "philosophy of nature" whereas the "philosophy of history" in the other sense is akin to the "philosophy of science."

Koestler, Arendt, Marcuse, and Toynbee in these books were all attempting the first of those, a look at the human past, taking a Big Picture view.  The philosophy of the human past. At some point, a historian's canvas becomes large enough that he or she ceases to be a historian and becomes a Philosopher of History, or a meta-historian, and each of these three thinkers goes to or beyond that point. I salute them all.  

The illustration is of Koestler, just for the heck of it.




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