Dewey opens Art and Experience with not one but two chapters on “The Live Creature.” Life and the distinctive experiences that connect to life were prominent philosophical themes in the first decades of the 20th century, especially in the writings of the philosophers collected together as the Lebensphilosophen, the Philosophers of Life. Dewey’s writings have never been properly connected to that tradition. By doing so we can realize how central life and Erlebnisse—life-experiences—are to his aesthetic theory. And by mapping out these connections we can appreciate that Allan Kaprow, the chief architect of the Happenings movement in the 1960, had a point when he invoked Dewey and claimed that “the line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible.” Kaprow’s most iconic happening was YARD, a courtyard full of tires that could be interacted with however one liked. Naturally this raises the question: When art becomes life does it stop being art?
The key difference between the history of ideas and the history of philosophy is that philosophers always consider their historical studies as potentially contributing to contemporary philosophical practice. Such presentism risks anachronistic readings of texts, but a too narrow focus on the historical context of the text risks limiting its ability to contribute to contemporary philosophizing. The current discussion of the history of philosophy focus entirely on how to understand, and what we can learn from, a philosopher’s claims and arguments. Hans-Georg Gadamer offers a different focus, arguing instead that it is the questions that the text answers that generate insights for contemporary philosophical practice. His focus on questions cuts across the standard ways of thinking about the relation between the history of philosophy and the history of ideas and provides novel answers to some central issues in the philosophy of history, for example how to best articulate a principle of charity.