The American Evasion of Philosophy Critical Essays

Cornel West


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The American Evasion of Philosophy is organized chronologically and offers a coherent, if highly selective, historical narrative of the development of American pragmatism from its origins in the first half of the nineteenth century to the late twentieth century. West’s expositions of the writings of the key figures in this development are, on the whole, clear and reliable. For some readers, in fact, the main value of The American Evasion of Philosophy may be found in treating it as an introduction to some important American thinkers and to the relationships among them.

Providing such an introduction is far from West’s primary intention, however, and readers who come to the book with little or no prior knowledge of American philosophy may find it too advanced for their needs. In fact, as many critics have noted, for better or worse, West, who is quite capable of communicating with a general audience both in print and from the platform, seems to be writing in this text for an audience made up primarily of fellow academics. He assumes at least a moderate familiarity with the subject matter and writes in an academic rather than a popular style.

West’s goal is not simply to tell the story of American pragmatism but to discover the possibilities in it for significant action in the contemporary world. The common denominator of American pragmatism, he says, is a future-ordered instrumentalism; that is, for the pragmatist, ideas are instruments for influencing, perhaps even for creating, a more desirable future. A common thread throughout the history of pragmatism is the determination to deploy thought as a weapon to enable more effective action.


(The entire section is 694 words.)