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

TOWARD AN ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY

Morton G. White*

The philosophy of history has almost disappeared from the list of subjects in which most American philosophers are interested. Indeed, it has never been very actively pursued in America. William James wrote a little on subjects closely allied to it;1 Santayana has an interesting chapter on history in one of his early works;2 Dewey occasionally writes about historical method.3 By and large, however, American philosophers have avoided the subject. A similar lethargy with regard to it characterizes twentieth century British philosophy.4 Broad, Moore, Russell,5 and Wittgenstein show little or no concern with the philosophy of history and even contemporary British idealists offer little that is exciting or original. If the phenomenon were restricted to America, we might try to explain it in terms of America's lack of interest in the past and its lack of a past long enough to stimulate historical speculation.

____________________
*
Born in 1917. Ph.D., Columbia University, 1942. Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Harvard University. Author of: The Origin of Dewey's Instrumentalism ( 1943), "The Revolt Against Formalism in American Social Thought of the Twentieth Century," Social Thought in America ( 1949), and contributions to philosophical publications.
1
"Great Men and Their Environment" and "The Importance of Individuals," The Will To Believe ( New York, 1917), pp. 216-254 and 255-262.
2
Reason in Science ( New York, 1906), chap. ii.
3
Logic: The Theory of Inquiry ( New York, 1938), pp. 230-244.
4
A change of attitude may be indicated by the appearance of the late Morris R. Cohen's The Meaning of Human History ( La Salle, Ill., 1947) in America and K. R. Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies ( London, 1945) in England. Both authors are distinguished methodologists of science who have turned to problems of history in a spirit of analysis and clarification, although in Popper's case a political purpose is also explicit. Cohen's work is the published version of the sixth in the series of Paul Carus lectures; it is the first in that series on the philosophy of history. Professor Cohen was one of the few philosophers of his generation in America who systematically studied the subject. Popper's work, I believe, is one of the most vigorous and stimulating books in the philosophy of history to appear in many years -- an opinion which I hold in spite of sharp differences with him on certain philosophical matters.
5
Sidney Hook, "Bertrand Russell's Philosophy of History," The Philosophy of Bertrand Russell, ed. P. Schilpp ( Chicago, 1944), pp. 643-678; also see Russell reply in the same volume, pp. 734-741.

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