Philosophic Thought in France and the United States:
Essays Representing Major Trends in
Contemporary French and American Philosophy

(2nd edition)

Edited by Marvin Farber


The publication of a second edition of Philosophic Thought in France and the United States provides a suitable occasion for recalling the role played by the first edition, which appeared in 1950. It was evident that the essays making up the volume met a long-felt need, as shown by the warm reception and the continuing interest in them. There had been all too little knowledge of French philosophy in America, and even less knowledge of American philosophy in France. It was to be expected that the philosophical confrontation of scholars from two countries in which there had been such enormous cultural vitality and intellectual change would meet with much interest.

For practical reasons, but also because of personal difficulties and even misfortunes on the part of invited contributors, there were unavoidable omissions. The richness of the content nevertheless amply justified the publication, and its timeliness made up for the elements of incompleteness. The contributors to the volume are truly representative of the major trends in their respective countries, but it is by no means implied that they constitute an exhaustive list of the significant contemporary philosophers, and it is obvious that any selection would entail important omissions. The various contributors are sufficiently representative to illustrate the lack of unity of philosophy in each country. There is no unified “French philosophy”; and similarly, there is no “American philosophy.” The issues raised by existentialism in its various forms, in the arguments of its defenders and attackers, play a prominent role in French thought. For America, on the other hand, one may point to the sustained interest in the construction of a philosophy conditioned by logic and the special sciences in opposition to the tradition of spiritualism. The careful reader will not fail to discern elements of resemblance and mutual relevance, and will seek special explanations — socioeconomic, historical, or scientific — for the most striking differences.

Special acknowledgment of indebtedness is due to the Division of Humanities of the Rockefeller Foundation for its generous and thoughtful support of the project. As originally planned, the book was also published in French, in two volumes, by the Presses Universitaires de France (Paris, 1950), under the title L’activité philosophique contemporaine en France et aux Etats-Unis.

The major changes and developments which have occurred since 1950 serve to emphasize the relevance of the publication. The upsurge of the new literature devoted to phenomenology and existential philosophy in both countries is especially noteworthy. Formerly regarded as primarily European, it has now been recognized as also grounded in an American tradition including Peirce, James, and Royce. The receptivity of some American philosophers to an “existential” type of phenomenology is historically significant in connection with the tradition of idealism, which had gradually all but disappeared from the philosophic scene. Also noteworthy is the tremendous expansion of interest in analytic and linguistic philosophy, as well as the philosophy of science. The formation of the Society for the Philosophical Study of Dialectical Materialism and the recent increase of the scholarly literature devoted to the subject by such writers as Somerville, Hodges, and Parsons, along with the publication of the periodical Soviet Studies in Philosophy, are an indication of the development of an interest that had been relatively more prominent in France in 1950. The rapid growth of institutions of higher learning has made possible a substantial increase in the number of professional philosophers deriving influences from numerous countries. This has resulted in the establishment of several new journals and the encouragement of interest in Eastern philosophy. Thus, although the judgment will still stand that there is no unified French or American philosophy, the philosophers of the two countries tend to display comparable spreads from “conservative” to “radical.” As in the case of the French literature, where writers such as Merleau-Ponty and Sartre reacted to Marxist motives, prominently represented by Lefebvre, Garaudy, Cornu, and Wallon, American philosophers may be expected to react from within to a greater extent than heretofore. This also applies to phenomenology and the philosophy of existence, which must eventually be subsumed under a more general pluralistic conception of methods of inquiry, allowing for the relative autonomy of special procedures. The ultimate unity of philosophy in any or all countries, if it is to be achieved, must be a collective type of unity, allowing for a diversity of problems, methods, and selective subject matters. This has been set forth by the present writer in recent publications, including Phenomenology and Existence (New York: Harper & Row, 1967) and the third edition of The Foundation of Phenomenology (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1967). The striking development of philosophy in France since 1950 is indicated by Professor Gilbert Varet’s bibliography, included as a supplement in the present new edition.

Marvin Farber

Buffalo, New York
November 27, 1967

SOURCE: Farber, Marvin. Foreword (1967) to Philosophic Thought in France and the United States: Essays Representing Major Trends in Contemporary French and American Philosophy, 2nd ed., edited by Marvin Farber (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1968), pp. vii-viii. For whole book see (1st ed., 1950).

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