The Primal Roots of American Philosophy

Pragmatism, Phenomenology, and Native American Thought

By (author) Bruce Wilshire

Paperback - £27.95

Publication date:

15 September 2000

Length of book:

256 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271020266

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.

“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