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On Knowing--The Social Sciences

As a philosopher, Richard McKeon spent his career developing Pragmatism in a new key, specifically by tracing the ways in which philosophic problems arise in fields other than philosophy—across the natural and social sciences and aesthetics—and showed the ways in which any problem, pushed back to its beginning or taken to its end, is a philosophic problem. The roots of this book, On Knowing—The Social Sciences, are traced to McKeon’s classes where he blended philosophy with physics, ethics, politics, history, and aesthetics.

This volume—the second in a series—leaves behind natural science themes to embrace freedom, power, and history, which, McKeon argues, lay out the whole field of human action. The authors McKeon considers—Hobbes, Machiavelli, Spinoza, Kant, and J. S. Mill—show brilliantly how philosophic methods work in action, via analyses that do not merely reduce or deconstruct meaning, but enhance those texts by reconnecting them to the active history of philosophy and to problems of ethics, politics, and history. The waves of modernism and post-modernism are receding. Philosophic pluralism is now available, fully formulated, in McKeon’s work, spreading from the humanities to the social sciences.

480 pages | 65 line drawings, 34 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2017

History: History of Ideas

Philosophy: American Philosophy, History and Classic Works, Philosophy of Society

Political Science: Political and Social Theory


“McKeon had a philosophy. Once more, it was a pluralistic and tolerant one, made so by his embrace of ambiguity
as a concept vital for philosophic dialogue. In both form and content, these aspects of McKeon’s thought are on full display. . .On Knowing: The Social Sciences is centered around the analysis of three key concepts: freedom, power, and history. As in many of his published works, McKeon traces the permutations of meaning each idea
has through the works of other philosophers. . . .On Knowing draws subtle and often overlooked connections between the thinkers it analyzes.”

The Review of Metaphysics

“McKeon opens a further means of retaking up historical narratives in a manner that is directed at encouraging historical inquiry and reflection. It is precisely in moments of pausing, of hesitation, of confusion that such clarity contributes to opening a discussion of time past, of accounts of times past, and of orientation to the future. This book makes possible for others an entry into a world of disciplined thinking.”

Paul Rabinow, University of California, Berkeley

“A complex text from the height of philosophical modernism that is simultaneously pragmatist in feel, these lectures now read as both a historical document of the development of the American academy and as an articulation of a pluralist philosophical position that avoids the trap of relativism. As the latter, they can serve an important role in the reinvention of the philosophy of social science in the twenty-first century. As the former, they will be especially valuable as a historical reference point for the ongoing debate about the humanities—and the humanistic social sciences—in the academy today.”

Isaac Ariail Reed, University of Virginia

“McKeon was a philosopher of and for a pluralistic world. This valuable and carefully edited work provides a rich window into his remarkably fertile mind and the system of philosophical semantics he developed to organize and investigate competing philosophies and ways of knowing. Among much else, the lectures advance and apply McKeon’s fundamentally rhetorical method of inquiry, underscoring his place as one of the last century’s most important philosophers of rhetoric.”

Peter Simonson, University of Colorado Boulder

Table of Contents

List of Figures and Tables
Lecture 1 Philosophic Problems in the Social Sciences
Lecture 2 Freedom: Method
Discussion. Hobbes
Part 1 Leviathan, Part I, Chapter XIV
Part 2 Leviathan, Part I, Chapter XIV; Part II, Chapter XXI; Philosophical Rudiments Concerning Government and Society, Chapter XIV
Lecture 3 Freedom: Interpretation
Lecture 4 Freedom: Principle
Discussion. Spinoza
Part 1 Ethics, Books I–IV
Part 2 Ethics, Book V
Part 3 Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Chapter IV
Part 4 Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, Chapter XVI
Lecture 5 Freedom: Selection
Lecture 6 Freedom: Selection (Part 2)
Discussion. Kant
Part 1 Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, Preface
Part 2 Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, First Section
Part 3 Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, First Section; Second Section
Part 4 Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, Second Section; Third Section
Lecture 7 Power: Selection and Interpretation
Lecture 8 Power: Interpretation (Part 2) and Method
Discussion. Mill, On Liberty
Part 1 On Liberty, Chapter I
Part 2 On Liberty, Chapter II
Part 3 On Liberty, Chapter II
Part 4 On Liberty, Chapters III–IV
Lecture 9 Power: Method (Part 2)
Lecture 10 Power: Principle; and History: Interpretation
Discussion. Machiavelli
Part 1 The Prince
Part 2 Discourses on the First Ten Books of Titus Livius
Lecture 11 History: Method and Principle; and Conclusion
Discussion. Review
Appendix A: Class Schedule
Appendix B: List of Names
Appendix C: One Alternate Introduction to the Course
Appendix D: Schema of Philosophic Semantics
Appendix E: Reading Selections from Hobbes’s Leviathan and Philosophical Rudiments Concerning Government and Society
Appendix F: Kant, Fundamental Principles: Three Editions with Major Sections’ Pagination
Appendix G: Mill, On Liberty: Four Editions with Major Sections’ Pagination
Appendix H: McKeon Notes on Freedom and History
Appendix I: Final Examination
Appendix J: Semantic Profiles of Selected Western Thinkers
Appendix K: Alternative Definitions of Freedom, Power, and History

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