American Thought: A Critical Sketch

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What constitutes American thought is obviously too elusive to be encompassed by any one writer or group of writers. The best that any attempt at intellectual history can achieve is to indicate some of its traces in written records. This volume represents the efforts of one of America's leading philosophers to do just that. He is uniquely qualified to do so, as his contemporary Sidney Hook well understood. As Cohen noted, most of what people say and write is dominated by linguistic forms or habits. Thus the dominance of the traditions and habits that make up the English language has been the strongest single influence in fashioning American thought as very largely a province of British thought-despite the Declaration of Independence and two wars. Cohen describes how American thought developed from its British roots. It deals with reflective thought, i.e. with thought that is conscious of its problems, of its methods and of the widest general bearings of the results obtained so far. The diverse subjects discussed range from religious thinking to the scientific, and from the legal tradition to literary criticism. Among the important figures Cohen assesses are Dewey, Santayana, Holmes, Brandeis, Whitehead, James, and Royce as well as those of men less well-known but sometimes equally influential. In its scope and insight, this book takes its own unique and important place in American thought.