​​David Sprintzen

For far too long philosophy has been hobbled by irrelevance. That discipline, historically committed to an intelligent search for wisdom in human affairs, seems to have been reduced to an arid academic specialty, cut off from the impassioned concern of daily life. Philosophers have even come to pride themselves on being specialists in a technical discipline with a complex jargon of its own, an attitude which has often produced quite elaborate theoretical systems. This has served only to widen the chasm separating them from the pervasive human concerns. Thus we have suffered a double loss. While professional philosophy suffers the loss of that rich and significant content which comes from passionate involvement in the unfolding drama of a people, the culture at large loses the insights that imaginative critical thinking can offer in the suggestion of possibilities and the clarification of decisions essential to the creative enhancement of human living.

It is this assessment of our contemporary situation that guides the work that follows. Addressing myself to the two-fold problem of the nature of philosophical activity and the cultural tasks of the philosophical profession, I have sought to develop the outlines of a critical reappraisal of the nature and place of philosophy in human experience. I seek to locate traditional philosophical concerns within the wider dramatic contours of personal and cultural living in order to contribute to the revitalization of serious dialogue within our culture on matters of ultimate human concern. This work therefore attempts a very difficult two-fold task: to speak philosophically about philosophy in ways accessible to the ordinary intelligent person, while maintaining a level of theoretical sophistication sufficient to justify the serious attention of professional philosophers. It is my hope and belief that significant philosophical thinking can be made less technical and esoteric, thus opening the way to an invigorating and fruitful dialogue between professional philosophers and the wider intelligent public. The present work is offered as an example of and a two-fold invitation to such a collective inquiry.

In the development of this work I have taken as my theoretical point of departure basic insights drawn from the works of the Existentialists, the Pragmatists, the Marxists, and from certain philosophers of science. To be more precise, this work is rooted in the metaphysics and the theory of inquiry of John Dewey. From that perspective it seeks to represent some seminal insights concerning social theory and ideology drawn from Karl Marx, as they may be reformulated in the light of the thought of Thomas Kuhn in the philosophy of science. This endeavor is to be rooted physically by means of insights generated through the phenomenological approaches offered primarily by Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre. It should be emphasized, however, that my aim is not to present an eclectic amalgam of various positions, juxtaposed in an ad-hoc fashion, but rather to offer an integrated philosophical perspective based on John Dewey’s vision of metaphysics, in the words of John McDermott, an "an esthetic ecology,” and developed in accord with Dewey's analysis of "the method of intelligence." 

To these ends the work begins by seeking to locate philosophy within the wider contours of daily living. It is suggested that ordinary human activity is pervaded by philosophical concerns, which tend to come to our explicit attention only when the pressure of events makes such reflection unavoidable. From a consideration of the emergence of explicit philosophical reflection from within the drama of cultural living I move to an analysis of the nature of that reflection. This investigation takes as its point of departure the analogy of ideas with tools, paying special attention to one special kind of tool, the map. I discuss the origin and function of ideas, the importance of conceptual distinctions, the nature of intelligence, and the meaning of "truth." Employing the metaphors of "conceptual mapping" and of "mental lenses," I consider the problems of objectivity and of relativism, developing a notion of the "mindscape" as the horizon for our understanding of "the Real." It is this notion of the mindscape that allows me to join phenomenological insights concerning the "Lebenswelt" and human "being-in-the-world" with the Kuhnian notion of "paradigms," or "conceptual matrices," and the Marxian theory of ideology.

The entire analysis remains rooted in a Deweyian empirical naturalism, in which intelligence is seen as a developing capacity of the human organism by which the latter’s transactions with its natural and social are practically facilitated and qualitatively enhanced. This work concludes with an outline of a transformed conception of philosophy that, in demystifying an elitist academicism, seeks to chart the path for a return of philosophy to its crucial cultural vocation as an imaginative critic of encrusted traditions and vested interests.

A few further words concerning the personal roots of the thinking here developed are now in order. My deeply held personal belief is that while individuals may write books they rarely author ideas. Rather, their thinking -- even at its most creative levels -- is an emergent reformulation from within vitalizing encounters with thoughtful others. This has clearly been the case in my life. What is here being offered -- and for which, no doubt, I must ultimately final responsibility -- is a stage in a personal journey that has been sustained, encouraged, enriched, and dramatically reconstituted by the numerous, and varied collective inquiries in which I have had the good fortune to take part. At the origin of this personal philosophical journey and a continual source of inspiration ever since looms the person of John McDermott. Meager as this work may be, it should be taken as a grateful offering to him for his sustaining gifts to me. More directly with respect to this work, the careful critical responses offered by my friends Peter Manicas and Arthur Lothstein have been invaluable. So also has been the contribution of the students in my senior seminar at C. W. Post College in the Spring of 1976, many of whom gave to an earlier draft of this work very constructive critical responses, leading to theoretical modifications as well as to important changes in the manner of presentation. Two of them, Kathy O'Donnell and Thomas Fortino, deserve special mention, as does Professor Jose Reissig. Further, the careful editing of the entire manuscript by my colleague, Professor Richard Griffith, has been much appreciated, as has been the typing and proof reading of Ms. Claudia Rubin. 

In a somewhat more general sense -- though not any less significant -- I feel that the thinking here presented owes much both to my colleagues in the department of philosophy at C. W. Post College -- a department distinguished as much by the quality of its personnel relations as by the vitality of its sustained philosophical dialogue -- and to the philosophical friends with whom I have met regularly over the last four years in what I have fancifully called "The Long Island Metaphysical Society." In the latter group are included, in addition to McDermott and Manicas from Queens College and Lothstein from C. W. Post, Darryl Taylor from Queens College, Alan Skelly from C.W. Post, Jim Edwards from Nassau Community College, Pat Hill from Stony Brook University, and Robert Gurland from New York University. Having involved myself in these diversely vitalizing communities of inquiry, my thinking has gained a dimension and a sensitivity that it simply could not have had otherwise. The results, however, remain to be seen, and are now offered to you as an invitation to dialogue.

David Sprintzen
Syosset, New York
Spring, 1976