American Philosophy on Film: Pragmatism, Richard Rorty and More

In his online bio, Penn State lecturer Phillip McReynolds confesses his “unhealthy fascination with movies.”  McReynolds channels that obsession to healthy effect in his documentary “American Philosopher.” The film — which is really a series of 8 shorts — features interviews with Richard Rorty, Hilary Putnam, Joseph Margolis, Crispin Sartwell, Richard Bernstein, and many other prominent philosophers. The conversation generally turns around pragmatism, the national character, and the central question: Is there such a thing as a native American Philosophy?

Our favorite section is probably Part 6, “Progress:” It features a lively 2002 debate between Rorty and Putnam which (the film argues) was largely responsible for the revival of pragmatism as a viable school of thought.

(Not surprisingly, Mr. McReynolds did his dissertation on John Dewey.)

Sheerly Avni is a San Francisco-based arts and culture writer. Her work has appeared in Salon, LA Weekly, Mother Jones, and many other publications. You can follow her on twitter at @sheerly.

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Comments (5)
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  • Rebecca says:

    Can I just make a technical comment? At times the background music is so loud that I can’t hear what they’re saying.

  • Jaycer17 says:

    First off, excellent video as always. I put your blog at the top of my reading (hearing? viewing?) list every morning. If you ever intend on doing a Spanish version, I’m at your service for translation duties.

    Secondly, a bit of sad news I’m sure you’re aware of, but just in case: Google Video is shutting down, as reported from ReadWriteWeb ( Many of the movies from your Online Movie Collection is hosted there (and I’ve already found two, like IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE, already unavailabel). You might want to revise said links soon.

  • Kavoit says:

    I think this video is an important contribution to American Studies, Art and Sociology in the 21st century. I think one of the issues confronted in this century is how we will interact with the institutions formed in the last century. I noted the average age of the philosphers in the video and wonder if the form philosophyof the past  will be comensurate with the fashion of american culture in the future. I wonder if it germain to discuss espistimology of ‘ America’ but rather what can be done in America.

  • Stephen Daly says:

    This isn’t the place to go to learn about pragmatism, even in overview. The coverage of the enduring components of pragmatism, it’s anti-essentialism/anti-foundationalism is glossed over and should have been featured/highlighted.
    There is a good clip of Rorty at the beginning and the end but a few in the middle that were not very representative of his views. For example, his response to the idea of an American Philosophy. He has written at length about the continental, analytic divide and in fact had much to do with bringing down that divide in recent decades. That could have been highlighted.

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