"A Fine Literary Feast of Dietary Samplings",
a review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star,
March 31 1963,
of a book:
PHILOSOPHY IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY,
by William Barrett and Henry D. Aiken.
New York: Random House, 1963
"A Fine Literary Feast of Dietary Samplings"
PHILOSOPHY IN THE TWENTIETH CENTURY edited by William Barrett and Henry D.
Random House, 4 volumes, boxed; $16.95.
Six years ago, Simon & Schuster published "The World of
Mathematics" in four volumes, edited by our Chevy Chase neighbor, James R.
Newman. Since then, in original, book club, and paperback versions, about a
quarter million sets of that wonderful book have been sold. Undoubtedly many of
these stand in unread neglect on their owners' shelves, but they were sold, and
publishers, for five years, have made unsuccessful efforts to find some similar
work in another field. In this boxed, four volume "Philosophy in the Twentieth
Century," edited by William Barrett of New York University and Henry D. Aiken of
Harvard University, Random House offers a candidate, not to replace Newman, but
to balance the other end of that book shelf.
Here, in four attractive volumes, are 91 selections from
twenty-seven philosophers of the last seventy years, introduced by commentary
from the two editors. Ten of these thinkers are represented by a single
selection; these range from a 64 page extract from Wittgenstein's "Blue Book" to
22 page selections from Royce, Bradley, Quine, Buber, Gilson and the French trio
of Marcel, Sartre, and Camus. The longest selection is the Wittgenstein, while
the shortest (3 pages) is from Santayana. The latter also has the largest number
of selections (15), William James coming next with seven.
These 91 selections are organized into six parts, demonstrating
pragmatism, analytical philosophy, positivism, phenomenology and existentialism,
philosophy of history, and neo-orthodoxy. The first two of these have a volume
each, while the last four have half as much each.
The commentary consists of eight passages, totaling 205 pages,
almost three-tenths of the whole. This whole of only 719 pages, is rather slim
fare for binding into four volumes, but this is undoubtedly one case where
quality is dominant over quantity.
There are no commentaries for individual selections; this is
different from Newman and is probably a drawback. The introductions to the six
sections seek to define each of the major movements and to place each writer in
the appropriate movement by giving some biographical information and an
indication of his salient characteristics. The selections don not always
demonstrate these characteristics, which the editors admit in most such cases.
As a whole, this is smorgasbord, but inevitably so; Newman, in his
“World of Mathematics” had a double advantage over Barrett and Aiken.
Mathematicians are in general agreement on most of their subject so that it has
objective, accepted features which can be presented to a student.
Moreover, portions of mathematics, especially proofs, can be
presented in brief and elegant fragments which have significance as isolated
entities. Philosophy lacks both of these features.
Philosophers agree on almost nothing significant, and each
philosopher’s “system” is a boundless and subjective whole from which no brief
fragments can be detached without violating the spirit of the whole.
This personal and subjective nature of a man’s “philosophy” is so
true that each of the present editors had to write his own introduction to the
work as a whole. They could agree on the introductions to the six parts but
could not see eye to eye on the 20th century as a whole since this could be
judged only in terms of the total outlook of each editor. Ergo: two general
Approached in this way, as smorgasbord -- that is samples of styles
and attitudes which do not attempt to present the "philosophy" of the writers
selected -- a work such as this has its function. Like a feast with dietary
samplings from all parts of the world, it creates impressions of varied
intensity and duration and may arouse interest in a people or area without
pretending to present the cuisine of any people as a whole.
In such a philosophic smorgasbord a concise and accurate guide to
the menu is needed. This is provided here in the editorial commentary, or, on a
lesser scale, in Professor Aiken's paperback rehearsal for these volumes called
"The Age of Ideology" (Mentor).
-- Carroll Quigley
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