There are many distinctly European elements to this book: the very format of the literary conversation; its belief in the existence of a person-philosopher behind every theory; the recurrence of concepts such as the origin of ideas, the migration of intellectual trends, and their cross-fertilization; and, finally, the reasons for the selection, from the labyrinthine American scene, of these specific nine dialogues.
When I was confronted with the prospect of an English translation, I asked myself whether these conversations were not rather foreign to American cultural sensibility. But going again over the pages of Ralph Waldo Emerson reassured me that the attempt to explore the identity of the American scholar (or philosopher), though rare, is not foreign, and is certainly still worthwhile.
In addition to renewing my gratitude to the nine philosophers included in the volume, I wish to thank Jennifer Church for her comments and precious friendship, Michael Murray for believing so generously in my work, and all of my former colleagues at Vassar College for providing me with a warm and stimulating environment. I am particularly grateful to Rosette T. Uniacke, also from Vassar, for her dedicated help with the tapes. Finally, I would like to express my debt to T. David Brent, of the University of Chicago Press, for his patience and determination in converting this project from an idea into a reality.
New York, September 1993