SCIENCE AND SENTIMENT IN AMERICA: Philosophical Thought from Jonathan Edwards to John Dewey by Morton White

SCIENCE AND SENTIMENT IN AMERICA: Philosophical Thought from Jonathan Edwards to John Dewey

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White begins with John Locke as preceptor of colonial philosophy, accurately emphasizing the rationalistic aspect of Locke's conception of knowledge; he proceeds to use Locke as a touchstone in assaying the thought of major American philosophers, especially their conceptions of reason in science and ethics. Locke is succeeded by a warmer Jonathan Edwards and the looser Wilson and Jefferson; the Transcendentalists soar off altogether; the earthy little Chauncey Wright is followed by Peirce with one eye on the microscope, the other on God, and by James, Royce, Santayana, and most of all Dewey, trying to uncross various dualisms. To discuss Edwards, Wilson, the Transcendentalists, etc. in terms of their deviations from Locke is, however, a backhanded way of placing philosophers in the Anglo-American empiricist tradition; Wright is treated quite straightforwardly, and it is piquant to review James' Lockean aspects, but it is rather sophomoric to harp on James' divergences from Locke instead of forcefully baring his own radical empiricism. In a true spirit of American pluralism White evinces only the mildest criticisms of each thinker, pointing to evasions and inconsistencies but never major deficiencies. The evaluation of epistemological theories is pallid; epistemology is emphasized at the expense of substantive ethical views which are left unrelated to the social, political, technological, and scientific history of the periods in question. Even on its own self-contained terms, the book makes insufficient reference to Western philosophy at large: not only empiricism but post-Kantian critical philosophy is given short shrift (White refuses to directly relate Royce to Hegel, for example.) He aims at a middle course between portentous unrigor and squinty-minded analytic philosophy; the book is an agreeable tour of old friends and family portraits, but in its comfortable politeness ends up denying its subjects serious consideration as thinkers, and hence he joins the analytic school in relegating them to the attic.

Pub Date: March 9th, 1972
Publisher: Oxford