|I like both its style and substance, how the book is written and what it says. The term 'inquiry' in the subtitle is well chosen, for throughout the work one gets the sense of probing, one experiences what Whitehead called the 'adventure of ideas.' Having read Allan's The Importances of the Past, I am also impressed by both the parallels between Importances and Realizations and the way the latter breaks new and important ground. Vincent Colapietro, Fordham University
The topic of this book is whether and how praxis can give rise to socially and personally justifiable values that might provide meaning, value, and guidance to life. The first seven chapters, of eight, develop an extraordinary dialectic from simple hedonism of the moment through an ethics of satisfaction and realization, of the development of virtues, of the virtuous then autonomous self, of historical meaningfulness, and of a transcendent meaning for history. Allan weaves a story of question, answer, critique, more questions, diverse answers, diverse critiques, and so on. As the reader perceives the inadequacy of the easy answers given at first, the issues become doubly interesting because the later subtle answers have to be framed in light of earlier critiques.
The dialectic is never given in terms of abstract positions but in the terms of major thinkers of the Western tradition. Among those included are Hannah Arendt, Aristotle, Augustine, Bentham, Dewey, John Fiske, Erich Fromm, Erroll Harris, Charles Hartshorne, Hegel, Ibn Khaldun, William James, Joachim Fiore, Kant, Kierkegaard, Langer, Lessing, Loomer, Lyotard, Machiavelli, Mill, Oakeshott, Royce, Santayana, Sartre, Charles Taylor, Teilhard, Toynbee, Whitehead, and Wieman. Hegel is presented as the culmination of history, but set in the context of loosening the totalizing ideal of overarching history, a loosening that leads to American pragmatism.
The eighth chapter dissolves the dialectic of overarching meaning in history as well as in individual fulfillment. In a wonderful back and forth between Lyotard, who advocates destruction of all overarching principles in favor of the autonomy of the local, and Toynbee, who warns that direction will lead to tyranny, Allan shows the folly of the dialectic of praxis as a route to stable, justifiable values.
It is important to understand the significance of Allan’s accomplishment in the current intellectual environment. Fifteen years ago or more Richard Bernstein published a book called Praxis in Action in which he argued that Marxism, existentialism, analytic philosophy, and pragmatism had all come to the agreement that the foundations of our moral and political life must come from action rather than theory or other kinds of thinking. Since then, Richard Rorty has argued that the entire Western tradition of philosophy has come down to the praxis of speaking. And the French literary left has argued that the praxis of writing shows that the very attempt to ground human values is a kind of intellectual imperialism. Allan has undermined this whole enterprise. He has shown that praxis, for all its strength as an orientation connecting thinking with life, is no source for what these recent thinkers have sought. Not only is the pretentious reduction of philosophy to praxis misguided, but that orientation has been an Achilles heel of the tradition from the beginning. Robert C. Neville, Boston University
George Allan is Professor of Philosophy and senior academic officer at Dickinson College.