A History of Philosophy in America, 1720-2000

By Bruce Kuklick | Go to book overview

7 The Consensus on Idealism, 1870-1900

From the Civil War until almost World War I idealism dominated the emerging profession of philosophy. As the old generation of college thinkers more or less committed to Scottish thought passed from the scene, younger men, whose loyalties were German, took their places.

The occupants of the first philosophical positions in a university setting were diverse. The influence and ability of nine men epitomized professional speculation in this period: Borden Parker Bowne taught at Boston University; Jacob Gould Schurman and J. E. Creighton at Cornell; G. S. Fullerton at Pennsylvania and Columbia; George Holmes Howison at California, Berkeley; George Ladd at Yale; and G. S. Morris at Michigan. A Scot, James Seth, was at Brown only from 1892 till 1898 but wrote his most important book, A Study of Ethical Principles (1894) while in the United States; and Elisha Mulford held no academic position until the end of his career, when he taught at the Episcopal Theological School in Massachusetts from 1881 to 1885.

Five of them—Fullerton, Howison, Ladd, Morris, and Mulford—had advanced training in theological seminaries where their mentors were renegades from orthodox Calvinism. Five studied in Germany—Bowne, Howison, Morris, Schurman, and Mulford. Three wrote book-length essays attacking the empiricist tradition in Britain and modifying it with idealist insights. Morris's British Thought and Thinkers appeared in 1880, and Seth's English Philosophers and Schools of Philosophy in 1912. In 1887 Ladd wrote the first text in what was known as the 'new' psychology, Elements of Physiological Psychology. It rejected the British tradition, which consisted in introspection of the mind's powers or faculties; instead Ladd combined experimentalism and Hegelianism in a mixture that was for a time conventional. Mind was construed as an activity, immanent spirituality that could be studied by examining how the human organism behaved.

Only one—Creighton, a student of Schurman's at Cornell—had an advanced degree in philosophy. Yet many were part of the professionalizing

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