Philosophic Thought in France and the United States: Essays Representing Major Trends in Contemporary French and American Philosophy

By Marvin Farber | Go to book overview

PHILOSOPHY IN AMERICA BETWEEN TWO WARS

A. Cornelius Benjamin*

When one attempts, for the purpose of analysis and description, to extract a segment from the on-going historical process, he is certain to be faced with two important difficulties. In the first place, neither time nor history proceeds by waves or pulsations; there are no fences or signals indicating the beginning or the end of an era. All demarcation of periods, therefore, is more or less arbitrary. In the second place, the closer the historian is to the period which he is examining the more arbitrary his selection will be. Perspective is gained neither from within nor from a close vantage point.

Both these difficulties are apparent in the attempt to carry out the task of this essay. The great wars did not in any obvious way constitute turning points in American philosophy; nothing happened in either case which could be said to have produced the death or the birth of a movement, or to have given philosophical ideas a significant change in direction. The effect was rather on the philosophers than on the philosophies. Students disappeared from classrooms, and money disappeared from budgets; and, as a consequence, many teachers of philosophy, either voluntarily or by the pressure of circumstances, changed their activity to government service in one form or another. This produced in their philosophical outlooks nothing more striking than an increased sense of insecurity, enforced, perhaps, by a clearer recognition of the importance of the problem of evil in an adequate philosophy of life. But rarely was there a fundamental change in metaphysical outlook or in the conception of the task of philosophy. Even pragmatism, which may properly be said to have its roots in the social situation, was little affected by the war since it was already a strong and growing movement by 1917. Such an attitude of aloofness is possible, I presume, only in a country like the Unit

____________________
*
Born n 1897. Ph.D., University of Michigan, 1924. Formerly at the Universities of Illinois and Chicago. Professor of Philosophy and chairman of the department, University of Missouri. Guggenheim Fellow, 1930-31; president, Western Division, American Philosophical Association, 1947-48. Author of Logical Structure of Science ( 1936) and Introduction to the Philosophy of Science ( 1937).

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