John William Miller's actualism: A metaphysics of democracy

Michael James McGandy, Fordham University


This work is a systematic articulation of John William Miller's thought interpreted in light of Walt Whitman's challenge, announced in Democratic Vistas, to forge a metaphysics of democracy. As such, this dissertation reads Miller in terms of the question of autonomy and proposes that this question is critical for coming to terms with the ontological, epistemological, and axiological implications of his comprehensive philosophy, actualism. Each of the four chapters corresponds to one of four major actualist concepts—i.e., action, symbol, history, and democracy. The first three chapters develop the structure of Miller's metaphysics centered around the concept of the act. The act and the existential requirement to establish local-control have ontological primacy as the necessary condition of disclosure—i.e., the revelation and articulation of one's self and world. This pragmatic basis is then developed in the direction of the symbolic embodiment and historical career of actions. History describes the larger process of the genesis, maintenance, revision, and decay of actual conditions of disclosure which transpires in the region of embodied actions that Miller refers to as the midworld. This work argues that the concept of democracy is both an outgrowth and a fundamental principle of this metaphysical schema. Insofar as Miller is concerned with action, actualism is a philosophy in which persons are understood as legislators whose words and deeds have ontological import. The participatory note which distinguishes the political idea of autonomy is necessarily a feature of such a pragmatic and historically-oriented metaphysics. Formal democratic institutions are read as not only embodying these philosophical insights but also contributing to a philosophical life in which persons take responsibility for the conditions of their own endeavors. Democratic politics, understood as an activity in which each person is equal, self-conscious, and responsible as agent, is thus the practice which captures and activates the metaphysical insights described in terms of the concepts of action, symbol, and history.

Subject Area

Philosophy|History|Political science

Recommended Citation

McGandy, Michael James, "John William Miller's actualism: A metaphysics of democracy" (2000). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9981406.