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

THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY

George Boas*

It may seem surprising that in a country where the relations between philosophy, politics, education, and religion have been particularly intimate, there should have been so little interest in the history of philosophy. But that is only one of the many puzzles which confront the man who would try to understand the growth of civilization in the United States. For whereas jurists from Marshall to Holmes seem to have been impelled to indicate, though sometimes too briefly, the philosophic standpoint from which they made their decisions, the scientists on the whole seem to have been singularly uninterested in the problems of scientific method or of epistemology. Again the history of education in this country shows a steady awareness of the necessity of a philosophic basis for a pedagogical program; the history of art and of criticism shows, almost none. If Americans from the start had been philosophic conservatives., the problem of how their ideas arose would naturally never have occurred to them. For they would have felt that their ideas had always been held by everyone, or at least all intelligent human beings. But even before the days of Jonathan Edwards, Americans who wrote books were radicals, innovators, schismatics, revolutionaries. An interest in the history of philosophy might have served to justify their new ideas, if only as the final discovery of a truth which for long ages had remained hidden. For it is one of the most familiar devices of the innovator to point out how after centuries of obscurantism the truth has finally burst forth in his brain.

But though the works of Stanley and Brucker were in existence before 1750 and were very well known in Europe, and that of Tennemann was completed before 1819, they do not seem to have been read in this country. None of these names occur in the index to the CommonplaceBook

____________________
*
Born in 1891. Studied at Brown, Harvard, and Columbia; Ph.D. University of California, 1917. Professor of the History of Philosophy, Johns Hopkins University. Author of French Philosophies of the Romantic Period ( 1925), The Happy Beast in French Thought of the Seventeenth Century ( 1933), "Essays in Primitivism and Related Ideas in the Middle Ages" ( 1948).

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