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Emeritus, Retired, and Deceased Faculty

Jim Bennett

Retired Associate Professor
808 McClung Tower
Knoxville, TN 37996-0480

Phone: 865-974-7206
Fax: 865-974-3509


Areas of Specialization

    American Pragmatism, Existentialism

Ph.D., Tulane University, 1972

I am particularly interested in the nature of personal existence and its relation to philosophic activity. I am presently attempting to expand and integrate some material in previous papers into a book, to be titled "Experience, Philosophy, and Personal Existence." I view those three items (experience, philosophy, and personal existence) as aspects of an on-going process involving their continuous, reciprocal interaction. In my discussion, I offer theoretical accounts of the nature of each.

Central to my view of philosophy is the distinction between what might be termed its collective (or impersonal) dimension and its individual (or personal) dimension. Academic philosophy is of course philosophy in the former sense -- an on-going discipline demanding specialization and expertise. But philosophical activity for the individual as such demands a more comprehensive and integrated approach. There are existential needs that simply cannot be satisfied by philosophy as a technical discipline. This perspective is grounded in my reading of Karl Jaspers, and is discussed in my paper, "Karl Jaspers and Scientific Philosophy," Journal of the History of Philosophy (Summer 1993).

My understanding of the nature of experience is largely based on my reading of the American pragmatists, including Peirce, James, Dewey, Mead, and Lewis. From Dewey in particular, I have taken the idea of experience as "funded," and this leads toward an appreciation of what might be termed "the qualitative dimension" of experience. The latter phrase has reference to the fact that individuals may vary in what they are able to get out of a given situation (e.g., a book, a film, a conversation). This general point is considered in my paper, "The Meaning of Life: A Qualitative Perspective," Canadian Journal of Philosophy (Winter 1984). Also, the interplay between a subject's input and objective features of the environment -- especially with reference to experiences of value and meaningfulness -- is the subject of my paper, "Beyond Good and Evil: A Critique of Taylor's 'Moral Voluntarism'," The Journal of Value Inquiry (Summer 1978).

My views on the nature of personal existence draw from both the existentialist and pragmatic traditions. I find the existentialists offering a process-view of personal existence, in contrast to entity-based views in which personal existence is tied to what Heidegger termed a "self-thing." This point is explored in my paper, "Selves and Personal Existence in the Existentialist Tradition," The Journal of the History of Philosophy (January 1999). From the pragmatic tradition, I draw on themes in Peirce, James, and Dewey in fashioning my conception of "the durational whole": the on-going, total body of experience/understanding that constitutes the matrix out of which persons think and enter upon new experience.

Finally, it may be noted that my interest in the nature and significance of process goes beyond the realm of personal existence, to the world in general. (Also, my interest in the nature of process extends beyond the pragmatic tradition, to thinkers such as Bergson and Whitehead.) The general emphasis on process found in the pragmatic tradition stands in contrast to outlooks such as Hume's, in which continuity is replaced by discreteness, and the constant conjunction of recurring event types precludes any form of creative emergence in the flow of events. Dewey's explicit rejection of the Humean view, and the alternative he offers, is the subject of my paper, "Dewey on Causality and Novelty," Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society (Summer 1980). My account of the interplay between experience, philosophy, and personal existence, is enhanced by appreciation of the pragmatic view of process as an alternative to the Humean perspective.

Recent, representative publications

Undergraduate courses in introductory philosophy, logic, existentialism, and pragmatism graduate courses in existentialism and pragmatism

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