A History of Philosophy in America, 1720-2000

By Bruce Kuklick | Go to book overview

12 Europe's Impact on the United States, 1928-1964

Philosophy in the American University

By the 1930s a young man who realistically thought of himself as becoming a philosopher was contemplating graduate school in philosophy. There he learned of the strife of American systems—where idealism, realism, instrumentalism, pragmatism, and naturalism vied for clients.

Harvard had hired Bertrand Russell's senior collaborator, Alfred North Whitehead, in 1924 to advance itself further in logic, but in Cambridge he ironically pursued an audacious program in metaphysics. When Whitehead arrived there at the age of 63, he seemed at the end of a striking but not dazzling scholarly life in which work in what would be called 'the philosophy of science' had capped his earlier interest in mathematical logic. An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Natural Knowledge (1919); The Concept of Nature (1920); and The Principle of Relativity (1922) tried to show how scientific objects could be connected to the world of everyday experience without mind's imposing its categories on nature. In the United States, however, Whitehead dropped the assumption that mind and nature were distinct, that 'nature is closed to mind'. In a synthetic metaphysical volume of daunting complexity, Process and Reality (1929), and other writing he made process a key notion, urging that acquaintance with reality grew literally as something akin to drops or beads of perception, teleological structures of activity. Whitehead's philosophy, which had an explicit role for God, attracted students and led in the late 1920s and 1930s to a reinvigoration of metaphysics, varied forms of idealism, and a school of Process Philosophers who looked to Whitehead's work as foundational. The logical tradition in Cambridge became associated with C. I. Lewis. In both empirical and metaphysical thought Harvard continued to be the place to obtain advanced training, although other institutions remained credibly independent in their approaches.

Unlike Royce and James, Dewey had not established an effective institutional tradition in either Chicago or New York. At Columbia mediocre

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