Monday, September 19, 2011

Beiser, Frederick. Review of Daniel Conway, et al., eds. NINETEENTH CENTURY PHILOSOPHY. NDPR (August 2011).

Schrift, Alan D., and Daniel Conway, eds.  Nineteenth Century Philosophy: Revolutionary Responses to the Existing Order.  Vol. 2 of The History of Continental Philosophy.  8 Vols.  Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2011.

Volume 2 of the new eight-volume series The History of Continental Philosophy, which is edited by Alan Schrift and Daniel Conway, is devoted to nineteenth-century philosophy between 1840 and 1900. This volume, like others in the series, is aimed at both specialists and beginners who need an overview and introduction to a specific topic. There can be no question that the volume succeeds, at least to some extent, at its prescribed task. Most of the essays in this volume, especially those by Terrell Carver, F.C.T. Moore, Alastair Hannay and Alan Sica, provide useful introductions to particular thinkers and developments in nineteenth-century philosophy.

Yet it must also be said that the success of this volume is very limited. It provides introductions and surveys only for someone who works within the standard curriculum of nineteenth-century philosophy, i.e., for what is now taught in Anglophone universities and what is now discussed in academic journals. But it does not even begin to supply an accurate or adequate knowledge of philosophy in the nineteenth century. The problem here has nothing to do with the editors themselves, still less with the authors who have written for them, but it has everything to do with the standard curriculum, which adopts assumptions about what is of historical and philosophical significance about the period (1840-1900) that cannot survive serious scrutiny. If our curricula are to be true to history -- if they are to preserve what is actually of greatest historical and philosophical significance in this period -- they stand in need of drastic revision.

All would have been well if Conway and Schrift had self-consciously intended to follow the standard curriculum and if they were quite clear about this in the beginning. They would be above criticism if they made no pretense to provide knowledge of nineteenth-century philosophy itself. Unfortunately, this is not the case. In his introduction to this volume Conway writes that it "charts the most influential trends and developments of European philosophy in the tumultuous period 1840 to 1900" (p. 1). It is just this claim that is problematic. If we take a broad historical perspective of this period, and if we focus especially on German philosophy, which was decisive for the century as a whole, then "the most influential trends and developments" were the following: the materialism controversy, the rise of historicism, and the emergence of neo-Kantianism, especially the formation of the Southwestern and Marburg schools. None of these developments are even mentioned in this volume. . . .

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