Who was Sagoewatha?

Sagoewatha, or Chief Red Jacket (1757-1839), gave many speeches on the problems posed by diverse populations with different appearances and religions sharing the same country. In this sense, he anticipated twentieth century American concerns about racial difference and immigration.

What was the most striking Native American contribution to American philosophy?

There is growing recognition of the influence of Native American thought on eighteenth and nineteenth century Euro-American ideas, as well as later on in history. Contemporary pragmatist scholars have traced contemporary concerns with community well-being in a pluralistic society to early Native American attempts to negotiate with Euro-Americans. Others have identified deeper mainstream American cultural debts to indigenous peoples.

Robert Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974), in his second book, Lila (1991), draws a fascinating and neglected comparison between what was to become the distinctly direct and plain American style of speech (if not always writing) and speeches in English made by Native American Great Plains leaders. Pirsig quotes Ten Bears, speaking in 1867 to other Native Americans and representatives from Washington:

I was born on the prairie, where the wind blew free, and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures, and where everything drew a free breath. I want to die there and not within walls.... I lived like my father before me, and like them I lived happily.

While pragmatists such as John Dewey (1859-1952) were often prolix, their writing was nevertheless direct and innocent of the high style of European abstraction and unnecessary embellishment. Their ideas were not unnecessarily complicated. The same can be said of much New England transcendentalist writing, although maybe not of the St. Louis Hegelians, of the more idealist pragmatists such as Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914) and Josiah Royce (1855-1916), or the process philosophers Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and his follower Charles Hartshorne (1897-2000).

St. Louis Hegelians

Who were the St. Louis Hegelians?

They were a group of philosophers and teachers who founded The Saint Louis Philosophical Society in 1866 and began to publish The Journal of Speculative Philosophy in 1867. The founding members were Henry C. Brokmeyer (1826-1906), William T. Harris (1835-1909), and Denton Jacques Snider (1841-1925). Brokmeyer was a Prussian immigrant who had come to the United States in 1844, attended Brown University, plied several trades, and lived in a hut (like Henry David Thoreau [1817-1862]). Harris was a Yale dropout who came to St. Louis to teach Pittman shorthand. Brokmeyer and Harris undertook the project of translating Hegel's Science of Logic (1812) into English. Snider, who had graduated from Oberlin College, came to St. Louis in 1865 to teach at Christian Brothers College.

How did the St. Louis Hegelians apply their philosophy?

The St. Louis Hegelians tried to apply their philosophy directly to current events. They were very proud of St. Louis, in contrast to Chicago. Due to an error in the 1870 census, the St. Louis Hegelians, along with other residents of the city, were thrilled by the statistic that the population of St. Louis was greater than that of Chicago. On October 8, 1871, the day of the great Chicago fire (believed to have been started by a kick to a lamp from Mrs. O'Leary's cow, although overall conditions were extremely dry and inflammable), Snider asked Brokmeyer what he thought of this disaster. Brokmeyer's reply (note: Snider spelled Brokmeyer's name as "Brockmeyer"), according to Snider, was:

Chicago was the completely negative city of our West and indeed of our time, and now she has carried out her principle of negation to its final universal consequence; she has simply negated herself. The positive result of that negative is bound to arrive, but not over there in the same place again, but here, here in our St. Louis.

But Alas, the 1880 census put the population of St. Louis below that of Chicago. The Saint Louis Philosophical Society hired a mathematician from Washington University to check the census figures. He told them that the 1870 census had been in error and that the population of St. Louis really was 350,000 compared to 503,000 in Chicago!

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