Social Reformers: Adam Smith to John Dewey

Social Reformers: Adam Smith to John Dewey

Social Reformers: Adam Smith to John Dewey

Social Reformers: Adam Smith to John Dewey

Excerpt

Mr. Mark Van Doren imagines a university in which the students have read only "the acknowledged masterpieces of the past. . . . None of them was read in an abridged edition. Neither was any of them approached through a digest or commentary." No one can find fault with the ideal here implied; it is certainly impossible to compress volumes into a few pages (although sometimes the only thing lost is repetitiousness). On the other hand, no matter how fertile in ideas a writer may have been, he is usually remembered for only a few of them, and if we happen to be interested less in the totality of his philosophy than in its impact on subsequent thought we are justified in making and using compendiums which keep that interest in view. The latter is the main purpose of this book, as its title indicates, and the reader will not look for an epitome of any writer's whole system of thought. Nor is it claimed that all important contributions to reformist theory have been included. Needless to say this would have required not one but many volumes.

There are a number of useful histories of reformist thought, but few collections of extracts from the original works themselves. Yet the homeopathic dose has at least one advantage over the predigested form--it is apt to retain more of the original flavor. And very often the way a thing is said largely accounts for its importance and popularity. But an inadequate impression of a writer's viewpoint is gained unless the quotations are long enough to give some idea of the range and sweep of the argument. This restricts the number of personages that can be dealt with in a single volume and makes the problem of selection a difficult one. Great figures choose themselves but the claims of others are a matter of opinion. In the present case, where claims seemed to be otherwise about equal, some weight has been given to geographical distribution and adaptability to quotation.

The biographical notes are intended to reveal something of the connection between personal experience and doctrinal tendency, and to indicate the sources and influence of doctrine.

Any method of grouping social theorists is properly subject to criticism. The one made use of here takes into account chronology, similarity of viewpoint, and the evolution of doctrine. But reformers . . .

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