In the eighteenth century, philosophy as we know it did not exist in America as an independent pursuit. As we have seen, clergymen and theologians incorporated its modes of reasoning into their work in varying degrees. As a study in its own right, philosophy got its start as the Princeton divines struggled to free themselves from New Divinity, and examined epistemology as means to support their ideas of religious virtue. By the early nineteenth century a growing number of colleges in the United States—paralleling the proliferation of seminaries—afforded a venue in which thinkers might pursue speculative topics in relative independence from religion. The old colleges in the east remained dominant but schools in the South and Midwest joined their ranks, and a professoriate emerged to deliver instruction in an array of subjects. The philosophers at these colleges provided their pupils with a moral sense of their place in the world. The endeavor was socially justified but intellectually thin because the first responsibility of academics was not understanding the cosmos but coaching schoolboys in small provincial academies. Philosophy was written not for the learned but for students, and the standard production was the student textbook.
On the contrary, the theologians disdained writing textbooks. The closest they came to this genre were treatises of systematic theology. If these efforts were in a measure directed at aspiring ministers, in larger measure they innovatively contributed to the science of the deity. More frequently, the theologians engaged in original polemic. Theologians and not philosophers waged the pamphlet wars in both the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Divines and not metaphysicians wrote the scholarly monographic literature of the nineteenth century. The work of the philosophers remained at an intellectual level below that of the theologians. At the same time, unlike the theologians, whose intricate dialogue and indigenous tradition made them less concerned with what happened overseas, the philosophers depended on European thought. They were bound up with developments in Britain, and later Germany. The college philosophers only