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De Groot, Jean, Editor. Nature in American Philosophy.

DE GROOT, Jean, Editor. Nature in American Philosophy. Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy, vol. 42. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2004. xx + 204 pp. Cloth, $54.95--This exceptional monograph, comprised of ten essays (which were presented originally by an international contingent of scholars in the Fall 2000 lecture series at The Catholic University of America) investigates the theme of nature in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American philosophy. Whereas the concept of nature is based in an illustrious tradition which can be traced to classical Greek philosophy, this work is unique in its examination of nature from a particularly American perspective. The essays emphasize the innovations of American philosophers in their keen awareness of the communal dimensions of nature, whereby society is understood to be a mediator between the whole of nature and the particular individuals within. Stimulated both by their inherited European tradition and by their personal experiences in the frontier, American thinkers envisioned nature in terms of common human goals. The work unfolds kaleidoscopically with some essays illuminating the intellectual background which inspired the American philosophers and other articles focusing upon their specific theoretic insights and contributions.

The first essay, Russell B. Goodman's "The Colors of the Spirit: Emerson and Thoreau on Nature and the Self," illustrates the manner in which American philosophy incorporated German idealism and emphasizes the transcendental aspect of nature, which for Emerson and Thoreau, continually is both mediated by and immersed with the human person.

In the second essay, "The World Beyond Our Mountains: Nature in the Philosophy of Josiah Royce," John Clendenning contends that Royce's desire to comprehend a reality which is transcendent of materialism results in his understanding of each person as being a part of the community of the cosmos wherein one's knowledge of nature is dependent upon social consciousness.

In the third essay, "Sense-Critical Realism: A Transcendental-Pragmatic Interpretation of C. S. Peirce's Theory of Reality and Truth," Karl-Otto Apel elucidates Peirce's unique philosophical contribution that emphasizes the need of a consensus of a scientific community which functions as the final determinant of the truth of propositions; such an "ultimate opinion" has the possibility of retaining a theory of truth without resorting to noumenal realities.

In the fourth essay, "Homegrown Positivism: Charles Darwin and Chauncey Wright," the author and editor of the book as a whole, Jean De Groot, explores the twin factors of Darwinism and scientific positivism which eventually succeeded idealism in American thought, particularly in the work of Wright, who following the European principles of scientific positivism and utilitarianism, vigorously affirmed the import of minimalist scientific accounts while retaining certain aspects of Aristotelian induction and teleology.

The fifth essay, "William James and German Naturalism" by Stefano Poggi, discloses James's contributions in developing the burgeoning field of modern psychology in terms of the reciprocal tensions existing between the scientific empiricism and the romantic idealism which were latent within German ideology.

In the sixth essay, "C. S. Peirce's Reclamation of Teleology," Vincent Colapietro demonstrates Peirce's objective to refute scientific materialism by attempting to reconcile elements of idealism and evolution. Pierce recognized evolutionary growth, conjectured the existence of temporally developing natural forms, and considered Nature itself to be an ordered whole which came into being from chaos.

The seventh essay, Harvey C. Mansfield's "Nature and Fact in Tocqueville's Democracy in America," contrasts the Tocquevillian conception of nature, which is grounded in spontaneity, with the classical Aristotelian view of nature as a teleological principle of motion. While not necessarily ideal, democracy is deemed to be "providential fact" which aims at an impossibly realized state of tranquility.

In the eighth essay, "Holmes on Natural Law," Robert P. George discusses the philosophic deficiencies of Oliver Wendell Holmes's moral skepticism, which regarded ethical values as being the product of psychological and sociological conventions, by contrasting the former Supreme Court Justice's potentially self-refuting account with the far more cogent position of St. Thomas Aquinas.

The ninth essay, Joseph Margolis's "Dewey's Metaphysics of Existence," asserts that Dewey's philosophy represents the authoritative form of pragmatism, which recognizes biological aspects of experience and maintains that all knowledge is relative to human purposes; Dewey's pragmatism maintains that nature is in a continuous state of fluxion and that all metaphysical and epistemological issues must be relativized accordingly.

In the tenth and final essay, "Perspectives on Nature in American Thought" (which is illustrated with examples of American art), Nicholas Rescher categorizes divergent American conceptions of nature, delineating the relationships of nature to both technology and the soul, and he advances the possibility of a pragmatically based, spiritual perspective in which nature and art coalesce into a harmonic unity.

In its illumination of the strengths and deficiencies of the metaphysical foundations which underlie the conception of nature and human nature in Anglo-American philosophy, this remarkable anthology helps remedy a conspicuous void in the continuing research of classical American philosophy and, with its comprehensive listing of bibliographic resources, invites further investigation concerning the contemporary understanding of the role of nature and its relationship to human community.--Douglas Commodore Fortner, Xavier University.
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Title Annotation:Nature in American Philosophy: Studies in Philosophy and the History of Philosophy, vol. 42
Author:Fortner, Douglas Commodore
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2006
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