There are a few paragraphs that I wanted to keep from the above review of a book that argues that American does "philosophy" well:
...Romano seems to think that there is, and that America’s distinctive winning formula is mainly a down-to-earth approach to life, though the place’s diversity also plays a role. This brings us to his refashioning of the concept of philosophy, a stratagem that yields the curious result (among others) that Americans are by nature splendid “philosophers.”
Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are not the founders and titans of philosophy, according to Romano; rather, they hijacked it. The notion of philosophia was fluid in Plato’s time, and Romano wishes that the usage and practice of the less famous Isocrates, a rhetorician and educationalist, had caught on instead of that of his slightly younger contemporary. Isocrates (“A Man, Not a Typo,” as Romano headlines him) wrote that “it is far superior to have decent judgments about useful matters than to have precise knowledge about useless things.” For him, philosophy was the imprecise art of public deliberation about important matters, not a logic-chopping attempt to excavate objective truths. Isocrates, Romano says, “incarnates the contradictions, pragmatism, ambition, bent for problem solving and getting things done that mark Americans,” and his conception of philosophy “jibes with American pragmatism and philosophical practice far more than Socrates’ view.” Romano writes sorely of “the triumph of Plato and Aristotle in excluding Isocrates from the philosophical tradition” and announces that “Isocrates should be as famous as Socrates.”
My first thought about this claim was that it is simply nuts, which is also my considered view. Romano offers no explanation of how Plato and Aristotle managed to achieve the nefarious feat of obliterating the wonderful Isocrates. The only demonstrable sense in which they excluded him from the philosophical tradition is that their work eclipsed his, just as the music of Johann Sebastian Bach eclipsed that of his older brother Johann Jacob. Puzzled by Romano’s high estimation of the relevance of Isocrates, even to the broadest conception of philosophy, I reread some of his discourses and emerged none the wiser, though I did remember why I had so quickly forgotten him the first time around. Where are Isocrates’ penetrating treatments of the soul, virtue, justice, knowledge, truth, art, perception, psychology, logic, mathematics, action, space or time? And if philosophy would be better off not trying to talk about such things, what exactly should it be talking about? Romano endorses the aims of Richard Rorty, a maverick American thinker who died in 2007. Rorty had urged philosophers to abandon their intellectual hubris and instead content themselves with interminably swapping enlightening tales from diverse perspectives. It was never quite clear why anyone would want to listen to such stories without endings.
What of the idea that Americans are inherently practical? Many of the country’s best-known intellectuals have certainly liked to think of themselves that way. America’s principal homegrown school of philosophy is, after all, the pragmatism of C. S. Peirce, William James and John Dewey, which was born at Harvard in the 1870s. According to pragmatism, our theories should be judged by their practical value rather than by their accuracy in representing the world. The ultimate fate of this idea was neatly put by a great American philosophical wit, Sidney Morgenbesser, who said it was all very well in theory, but didn’t work in practice. He meant that pragmatism sounds like a good ruse, but it emerges as either trivial or incoherent when you try to flesh it out. There are weaker strains of philosophical pragmatism, which investigate the meaning of our concepts by looking at how we use them. But this idea is mainly the property of Wittgenstein, who may have been gay but was certainly not American.