By Taylor Rodriguez
Dr. Jacob L. Goodson, associate professor of philosophy at Southwestern College, has finished his very first co-authored book, “Introducing Prophetic Pragmatism: A Dialogue on Hope, the Philosophy of Race, and the Spiritual Blues.”
The start of the 2019 fall semester marks Dr. Goodson’s 7th year as a part of Southwestern’s Social Science Division. For the past two years of his time here, Dr. Goodson has been co-writing this book in tandem with Dr. Brad Elliott Stone, professor of philosophy at Loyola Marymount University.
I, among others, might believe it would be difficult to compose a book alongside another person. It may double in difficulty when you consider that philosophical ideas are the focal point of their book. However, contrary to what may be assumed, Dr. Goodson had a wonderful response to my prompt.
Taylor: What do you think are some interesting points about co-writing a book? From what I can tell, this book was written like a back and forth critique/dialogue of each other’s ideas about prophetic pragmatism and other topics. Were there any negatives you discovered during your time working on it? Any pluses?
Goodson: “Yes, you are right that it is written as a back-and-forth dialogue of how we understand the phrase, ‘prophetic pragmatism.’ Co-authoring is much more pleasurable than writing a book by myself because I had an immediate and interested reader as soon as I would finish a chapter.
Because of this immediacy, however, I was also committed to arguments I made in my initial drafts—more so than writing a book by myself, which allows me to change my mind as often as needed up until the copyediting stage.
By saying that I was committed to them, I mean that once Dr. Stone would read a chapter I wrote he began to formulate his response(s) to the arguments in that chapter so for me to change my mind meant that I might be altering a point that he thought worthy of critique or reiteration.
Since Dr. Stone came to Winfield for us to complete the manuscript, wewere able to enjoy a constant give-and-take through both conversation and writing. SC alum Melissa Connell joined us for our official meetings about the book (at the time, Melissa was a Philosophy & Religion major and was helping us with the book), and she helped clarify our disagreements.
I found, though, that we could not ‘turn it off’ so even our social gatherings became unofficial meetings about the book. We argued so much that semester! Of course, when philosophers argue they are playing with ideas; for philosophers, argument does not have the negative connotations that it does for most people.”
From his explanation, it seemed like the two academics had many fruitful discussions that blossomed into a new book. However, what exactly is this book about?
T: For non-philosophy majors, a freshman taking any of your courses, or anyone wanting a thought-provoking read, could you explain what prophetic pragmatism is? I know I am a little curious about what it all means after skimming through a few chapters of yours and Dr. Stone’s book between classes.
G: “On the one hand, prophetic pragmatism simply is the systematic theory behind the American philosopher and public intellectual Cornel West’s claim ‘justice is what love looks like in public.’
As a public intellectual, West oftentimes can be seen being interviewed on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and PBS. This is the Cornel West that most people know.
As a philosopher, West has developed his own “ism”—called prophetic pragmatism—and Dr. Stone and I wanted to write the definitive book introducing this complex and deep “ism.” Hence the title of the book, Introducing Prophetic Pragmatism.”
Dr. Goodson continues his explanation, further discussing the other side of this two-part definition.
G: “On the other hand, the complexity and depth of prophetic pragmatism means that prophetic pragmatism is much more than simply what stands behind the claim ‘justice is what love looks like in public.’
Prophetic pragmatism attempts to ask what it looks like to turn to biblical wisdom—namely from the Hebrew Prophets, the Gospels, and 1 Corinthians 13—into particular actions and practices within the American context.
The ‘prophetic’ part concerns the biblical wisdom, and the ‘pragmatist’ part involves what it looks like to prioritize action and practices over theoretical reasoning (in Greek, pragma means action and often gets translated as ‘practice’).
In the book, we focus a lot on how the tradition of African-American Christianity already embodies and performs prophetic actions and practices.”
Dr. Goodson and Dr. Stone both discuss and argue about their takes on various subject matters that are important in 2019’s society. Here is what he had to say about these topics and why he believes it’s important to discuss such topics readily.
T: Do you believe it’s important for others/students to openly discuss the topics (hope, race, democracy and spirituality) regarded in your book? Why or why not?
G: “Yes, very much so. I think talking about and thinking through issues relating to hope and race have become some of the most important questions in the 2019 American context.
I hope my chapter on hope and race in the book—entitled ‘Hope against Hope’—provides a framework for getting that conversation started on SC’s campus.”
Dr. Goodson continues on, addressing his encounters with Dr. Stone about examining the spirituality of African-American Christian tradition.
G: “As far as spirituality goes, Dr. Stone does a masterful job of defending and explaining how music and spirituality go together within the African-American Christian tradition—which, as I admitted in the book, was a real blindspot for me. (In fact, my favorite sentence of the whole book is when Dr. Stone calls out my ‘blindness’ and claims ‘Goodson seems to not find value in the blues.’ Wow, what a critique!)
I learned so much from reading Dr. Stone’s chapters on the African-American Christian tradition, and I remain in awe about his insights and philosophical moves.
I worry that ‘spirituality’ has become so individualized and ‘private,’ and one of the arguments made over and over by Cornel West is how American Christians need to move to a more communal understanding of ‘spirituality.’ I think we could have that conversation at SC as well.”
I cannot imagine how much learning occurred during the time these two prolific professors presented their opinions. Dr. Goodson had more insight into the issues that disrupt modern society.
G: “Democracy seems trickier to me. I teach Cornel West’s Democracy Matters in PHIL 221: History of Philosophy. In that book, West argues that there are three factors in American society that prevent us from becoming a country that actually practices democracy: allowing authoritarianism in our politics and political processes, giving too much money and power to the military, and treating free-market capitalism as above and beyond any type of critique or questioning.
I begin with West’s observations about democracy in our country because it demonstrates the ‘trick’ referenced in the first sentence of this paragraph: to really talk about democracy is to talk about the very topics that have become so politically divisive in the 21st century.
So, yes, I absolutely think that we should be talking about democracy; talking about democracy, however, means that people will have to accept difference, disagreement, and discomfort.”
All in all, the discussions rage on. Dr. Goodson had a wonderful time co-authoring this fascinating collection of ideas and opinions with Dr. Stone. If there is anything to gain from his book, Dr. Goodson prefers it to be this.
G: “I want readers, and especially my students, to read and learn that there is a philosophical theory that addresses and speaks to the problems of despair, dogmatism, and oppression.
I imagine that most SC students face one of these problems in their own lives—despair, feeling the pressure of the dogmatism of others (those in authority or power), or worrying about the oppression and suffering of others (those with no power)—and prophetic pragmatism addresses each of these and offers wisdom for responding to them.
Perhaps the last sentence of the book, which I wrote, sums it up best: ‘those who share in the prophetic pragmatist vision ought to display prudence in applying prophetic pragmatism to the oppression and suffering that they encounter in their own lives.'”
Dr. Goodson and Dr. Stone’s book is now available for purchase online from Amazon.com.