He' sure got a lot of gall / to be so useless and all / muttering small talk at the wall . . . [Dylan]
Metaphysical Club (Preface)
Menand makes the point that for the generation that came of age in the middle of the 19th century, the Civil War was the same sort of traumatic experience as WWI & Vietnam were for later generations.
Those experiences shook up the settled conventions that James, Peirce, & the other post-transcendentalists might have been expected to adopt had the war not come along to "tear a hole" in their lives. Menand says they were not so much alternative thinkers as men of their time who confronted a crisis of history.
Philosophy emerges from the lives these people lived; it was not adopted as an abstract system. So much is obvious & well-known, but building a philosophy from the experience of one's life is not a simple matter. "Visions and revisions."
For this group of thinkers, ideas are always contextual & are to be valued not for their immutability but for their adaptability to different situations, and for their impermanence.
Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.
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