An Analysis of Conclusions American Philosophy

Conclusions American philosophy, then, may still not have climbed out of the ditch into which the McCarthy Era plunged it. This is not to say that the defensive posture it adopted after World War II had no good results. Once philosophy had been removed from concrete questions, it gained a certain sort of freedom. It was, for example, only after the McCarthy Era, with its obvious anti-Semitism, that Jews were really free to pursue careers in American philosophy departments. One wonders how soon that would have happened if philosophy had continued to be the sort of value-bound enterprise it tended to be earlier–bound in part, inevitably, to the higher wisdoms of the small-minded America of which Bertrand Russell–and not only he had run afoul.

The McCarthy Era also brought universities some practical benefits. The dominance of a single paradigm meant that philosophy departments could be small and cheap, as befitted a possibly subversive frill in a country whose chosen mission was the preservation of global free enterprise.

Genuine and fecund pluralism, were it ever to arrive in the New World, would require far larger and more expensive departments, and there is no evidence that American universities are ready to support them. 20 The result, as Reiner Schrmann has written, is that the long awaited dialogue between analytical and Continental philosophy is taking place in Europe, not in America [321]. It seems possible, in other words, that the choices it made in the fifties enabled American philosophy to survive the McCarthy Era.

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But they may have allowed it to survive only as a reduced and reticent discipline, able to see just a few stars in an intellectual firmament that was once much wider and more interesting. Whether these advantages from forty years ago justify perpetuating the present situation much longer is not easy to decide. What is certain is that philosophers cannot even hope to decide it unless they discuss it. That they do not discuss it suggests that American philosophy continues, even today, to perpetuate at least one structure of Allen’s McCarthyite logic: his stricture against the kind of passionate, yet always tentative, debate that inquiry into one’s own historical roots must bring. Why do philosophers not talk of the battles of those days? Is it because investigating them would produce no timeless truth?

Would the critical reflection required be somehow unscientific? That philosophy was so much a target of the McCarthyites should be a badge of honor; why is it not worn? What really happened to American philosophy during and after the McCarthy Era? We do not have even a rough idea. My efforts here, for example, are confined to the currently available written record. A final historical judgment must await supplementation (or, if possible, correction) of the unpleasant information assembled here. And that can only come when philosophers who lived through the McCarthy Era break their strange silence on the subject. Such discussion, whatever its result, can be argued to be absolutely [End Page 47] necessary if American philosophers, analytic and other, are to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their own traditions–and if they, and intellectuals in general, are to enjoy intellectual freedom today. True intellectual freedom must be fought for, not presumed, and part of the fight must be exactly what American philosophy so studiously avoids.

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An Analysis of Conclusions American Philosophy. (2022, May 14). Retrieved from

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