Monday, September 19, 2011

Kelly, Michael R. Review of Keith Ansell-Pearson, et al., eds. THE NEW CENTURY. NDPR (September 2011).

Schrift, Alan D., and Keith Ansell-Pearson, eds.  The New Century: Bergsonism, Phenomenology, and Responses to Modern Science. Vol. 3 of The History of Continental Philosophy.  8 Vols.  Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2010.

The New Century is the third of an eight volume set on the history of continental philosophy. It is aptly titled, capturing the innovative spirit of the early twentieth century, even in philosophy, with a nod toward one of its forgotten idols -- Henri Bergson -- and his emphasis on genesis, novelty, and creativity. For both those new to and those steeped in continental philosophy, it provides useful overviews of most of the most significant thinkers, issues, and movements of the continental tradition from (roughly) the 1890s to the 1930s (ix). Its selection of essays on central and marginal figures, movements, and themes of significance for early continental philosophy is complemented by a generous and helpful (twenty page) timeline of philosophical, cultural, and political events from the seventeenth century to the present (381-400). The contributions, generally of very high quality, are written, by and large, by leading scholars. For any given topic, the extensive (but not tedious) bibliographic information and footnotes should facilitate further research. It is a largely accessible, reliable, and thus recommendable collection that often combines the range of an encyclopedia and the substance of an article.

Like the series as a whole, the volume presents the methods of continental thought and its representative thinkers and issues in the context of "figures and developments outside philosophy (in the sciences, social sciences, mathematics, art, politics and culture)" as well as "philosophers not usually associated with continental philosophy" (viii) rather than "a chronologically organized series of 'great thinker' essays". The editors frame the volume according to the spirit of the times understood as a set of varied responses to nineteenth-century positivism and scientism more specifically (5). As Keith Ansell-Pearson notes in his detailed introduction, 'continental' thinkers at the turn of the 'new century' – thinkers as diverse as its inaugurators, Nietzsche, Bergson, and Husserl -- pursued a unified 'vocation' of regaining philosophy's independence and reasserting culture's future "faith in the human as the being in search of truth and rational modes of being" (4). These thinkers respected the regional inquiries of the sciences while developing the conviction "that the 'true being' is not a possession the human has, like the self-evidence of the 'I am', but . . . echoing Nietzsche, a task" (3). For these thinkers, who one could call the 'founders' of continental philosophy, the task was one of creating anew (in Bergson's case) or renewing (in Husserl's case) philosophy's "own sources of knowledge" rather than "imitating developments in the method of science" (6). . . .

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