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

CRITICAL REALISM AND MODERN MATERIALISM

Roy Wood Sellars*

For the purpose of this book which is the promotion of a better understanding, on the part of French and American thinkers, of trends of thought in the two countries, it may be simplest to sketch a general outline of my own position, indicating, in passing, its setting in American philosophy. Where possible I shall, likewise point to possible continuities with French eighteenth-century thought, such as that which appeared in the writings of Cabanis and De Tracy and which affected Thomas Cooper, and even John Adams. Let me confess that I have always been an admirer of the blending of science and philosophy in eighteenth-century thought.

There is this historical thread of continuity in the acceptance of the scientific view of man and the universe in which he finds himself. But the idealogues were quickly pushed to one side in France; and the materialistic naturalism of Cooper did not secure much of a hearing in the United States. Since then, the theory of evolution and the tremendous growth of the biological and the social sciences, as well as the series of revolutions in physics, itself, have introduced new possibilities and given plasticity to empirical thought. In general, these changes are manifested in terms of such principles as those of emergence and levels. I would also point to the increasing emphasis upon symbols in connection with thought, something which takes us away from sensations and images per se, Concepts and symbols are functional.

The materialism I represent stresses, then, emergent novelty as against the kind of reductionism associated with classical, mechanical principles. It seeks to do justice to levels of causality in nature and thus to treat human personality and its associated categories empirically and with respect. In a certain sense, therefore, it recognizes the past motivations of idealism and Kantianism while arguing that historical idealism took the easy way

____________________
*
Born in 1880. Ph.D., University of Michigan, 1908. Professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan. President of the American Philosophical Association, 1923. Author of works cited in bibliography, and of many articles in philosophical publications.

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