Ethics and Philosophical Critique in William James
The naïve picture of academics as solitary figures silently composing their books while secluded in their offices and workrooms dominated my imagination as a reader and my way of reading for quite some time, eventually turning into a sheer falsity – both theoretically and practically – when I engaged in writing one myself. This book is in fact the result of intimate strivings and grappling with ethics and metaphilosophy as well as of the most unexpected encounters and disparate exchanges with those who variously instigated those efforts in the first place and assisted me in their critical handling. The struggle with the subtle complexity of such issues took on the form of a series of private monologues and boisterous conversations with my peers on the difficulty of finding one’s philosophical voice to properly address them. My hope is that each page of this work will tell the story of such situated and extensive efforts.
To discipline myself to think took me years of attention, adjustments, and conversions of various kinds. I have now just started to learn that to be a writer takes even greater concentration, composure, and selfgovernment: countless nights and days sat at my desk made me realize that a book requires one to endure and outlive an extended intellectual commitment, as well as close self-examination. However, this activity would have been an arid experiment in self-discipline if not for the enrichment that my engagement with some valuable individuals brought to it and, in its turn, was shaped by it. I would not, in fact, have even begun to think that I might have something to say if not for the methodical and sometimes painstaking care and encouragement of some remarkable persons I have been involved with and of the organizations I took part in. Wishing to be judged by the outcomes spurred by these openings and provocations alone, I cannot but be thankful for the path covered in their tentative achievement, which gave sense to the whole journey.
A journey begun in the classes of Eugenio Lecaldano and Tito Magri at Sapienza Università di Roma, and continued in those of Akeel Bilgrami at Columbia University and Dick Bernstein at The New School for Social Research. One of the driving forces of the past ten years of my philosophical thinking has been my desire to demonstrate that I treasured their teachings and that it was worth spending some time arguing with me about their work and mine. I am also much obliged to Rosa Calcaterra and Giancarlo Marchetti, who I came to encounter only at a later stage of this path, for their insightful criticism of my most recent work and a number of collaborations.
Piergiorgio Donatelli, my Doktorvater , played a crucial role in my philosophical formation and coming to maturity, a project of self-cultivation still ongoing. I simply cannot think of the several critical moments, both joyful and grim, of my thinking and writing without his presence instructing and engaging me, for which I am deeply grateful. Maria Baghramian, my postdoctoral mentor, provided me with her sharp insights, steady directions, and tireless support at a crucial crossroad of my life and career. Her strength is my confidence, and her dedication my guide.
I had the good fortune to share my college years, which extended much beyond seminar rooms and library stacks, with some exquisite friends. I need to thank Farid Al Aflak for bygone but eternally returning conversations in Trastevere on hope, despair, and the possibility of redemption; Guido Baggio for discussing literature, films, and the fine art of self-deception; and Marco Nani for savvy exchanges on intellectual history, the allure of books, and the contingency of authorship. Michele Spanò and Alessio Vaccari have been in different ways ongoing sources of challenge and inspiration, besides providers of confidence and comfort. The encounter with Stefano Di Brisco has been a delightful and enriching event, and our bond survives all kinds of practical adversities. I am wholeheartedly thankful to Matteo Falomi for sharing his unique talent with me and for a much beloved friendship. I have the good fortune to keep learning from him about life and philosophy, and about how beautiful and rewarding comradeship can be.
To my Team Americana I owe the invaluable gift of their partnership in a wonderful intellectual adventure, from which I have learned a lot about my needs and about those of an academic life. Heartfelt thanks to Áine Mahon and Fergal McHugh for brisk conversations, rewarding collaborations, and good laughs. The Pragma group, an impressive ensemble of keen and engaged pragmatists, represented a source of constant stimulus and amusement. I owe much to its gifted members, and in particular to Anna Boncompagni, Roberto Frega, and Roberto Gronda for their fine work and the enjoyable shared activities. I am most thankful to Alan Rosenberg for a wonderful experiment in philosophical friendship, and for his sincere Beckettian encouragement “to go on.” His wisdom is only matched by his devotedness to the examined life.
I have also accumulated a wealth of debts during many enlightening conferences, gripping seminars, congenial workshops, and enriching research trips across three continents, where I had the great fortune to meet and learn from some most admired thinkers. Francesca Bordogna, Jim Conant, Alice Crary, Paul Croce, Arnold Davidson, Ramón Del Castillo, Cora Diamond, Alexis Dianda, Richard Gale, Judith Green, Logi Gunnarsson, Sandra Laugier, John McDowell, Stephane Madelrieux, Cheryl Misak, Naoko Saito, Jim O’Shea, and Sami Pihlström, all played a great role in shaping and challenging my views. I am thankful to all and each of them for time spent discussing what I variously found compelling, perplexing, and even deceiving about James, ethics, and philosophical critique.
A very special thanks goes to Russell Goodman, who since our first encounter a half dozen years ago relentlessly inspired and enlightened my work. He is such a good philosopher because, borrowing Wittgenstein’s memorable remark on James, he is a real human being. A major spur for putting the book together came from Colin Koopman, who generously gave me the opportunity to present its overall blueprint in a congenial book-in-progress session he organized within the 2012 Summer Institute in American Philosophy. Discussing the book with him and wandering along the West Coast have been genuinely rewarding experiences that did very good to me at a critical stage of its elaboration.
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