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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