Ralph Barton Perry

Who was Ralph Barton Perry?

Ralph Barton Perry (1876-1957) is best known for his theory of value and his realist views. But he received a 1936 Pulitzer Prize for his biography of his mentor and colleague, The Thought and Character of William James (1935).

Perry received his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1899 and taught there from 1902 to 1946. His main publications include a 1925 revision of Alfred Weber's History of Philosophy, The New Realism (1912), General Theory of Value (1926), Puritanism and Democracy (1944), The Realms of Value (1954), and The Humanity of Man (1956).

What was Ralph Barton Perry's theory of value?

Perry wrote that value worked like a target: any object becomes valuable or acquires value when interest is taken in it. The moral good is the promotion of "harmonious happiness," which is achieved when all interests are harmonized and fulfilled.

What was Ralph Barton Perry's realism?

Perry wrote The New Realism: Cooperative Studies in Philosophy (1912) with five others: Edwin B. Holt, Walter T. Marvin, William Pepperell Montague, Walter Boughton Pitkin, and Edward Gleason Spaulding. They were in revolt against both idealism and dualism, holding that what we perceive and remember are what they appear to be, as we are conscious of them. Their conclusions were similar to those of G.E. Moore's (1873-1958) common sense attack on idealism.

C.I. Lewis

Who was C.I. Lewis?

C.I. Lewis (1883-1964) was the most Kantian of all the pragmatists, although he did not become a pragmatist until he read Charles Sanders Peirce's (1839-1914) papers, when he was given an office in the library room where they were stored at Harvard.

Lewis was born in Stoneharn, Massachusetts. His father was a shoe maker who became barred from employment due to union activism. Lewis attended Harvard as an undergraduate and returned to get his Ph.D. there after teaching in Colorado. He then went through the tenure process at the University of California and became well known for his work in symbolic logic. But he gave up his position as associate professor there to be an assistant professor in the Harvard department of philosophy in 1920, where he remained until 1953, serving twice as chair.

Lewis was the most famous philosopher of his generation during the 1940s, but he had become obscure by the 1960s, largely due to the success of his student W.V.O. Quine (1908-2000). Quine's success was largely based on the widespread acceptance of his refutation of the analytic/synthetic distinction, which was the cornerstone of Lewis' entire philosophical edifice. Lewis' main works are A Survey of Symbolic Logic (1918); Symbolic Logic (1932), which was written with C.H. Lanford; Mind and the World Order (1929); An Analysis of Knowledge and Valuation (1946); and The Ground and Nature of the Right (1965).

What was the analytic/synthetic distinction and why did C.I. Lewis need it?

"Analytic" truths are true by definition and tell us nothing about the world. "Synthetic" truths are about the world, but they can turn out to be false. Along with this distinction is the a priori/a posteriori distinction: a priori knowledge is known without, or before, experience, whereas a posteriori knowledge can only be known after, or as a result of, experience.

Empiricist philosophers traditionally hold that there are no a priori synthetic truths, and they have tended to assume that what is analytic is also a priori, and what is synthetic is a posteriori.

Lewis' main philosophical tool, in accounting for both ordinary experience and scientific knowledge, was to distinguish between the a priori and what he called "the given." Quite simply, he thought that our knowledge and experience was the result of the interplay between the a priori and the given. There is something "brute" in our experience that we have no control over, but we make sense of it by projecting a priori principles and categories onto it.

What was C.I. Lewis' form of pragmatism?

Lewis believed that all knowledge about the world, even simple perceptual truths, is hypothetical, taking the form of "If I do X, then Y will result." For example, to say that the wall is hard, means that I will have a certain sensation if I bang my head against it, just as the claim that the peach is ripe means that if I bite into it, I will experience certain expected flavors.

In ethics, Lewis believed that value judgments are appraisals of the consequences of action. Aesthetic valuation, however, involves an apprehension of an objective qualitative mode of experience. Lewis, like John Dewey (1859-1952), believed that values are in the world, as objective qualities, and not the result of human preferences or judgments. According to Lewis, every experience has both a value dimension, according to where it is on a scale from good to bad, and an aesthetic dimension from pleasing to unpleasant, or of high to low aesthetic quality. In both ethics and aesthetics, some things can be seen to be intrinsically good, upon reflection. And in ethics, the aim and purpose of action is often what is intrinsically good.

Who was Alain Locke?

Alain LeRoy Locke (1885-1954) was the first African American Rhodes scholar. He wrote a dissertation in philosophy at Harvard University in 1918, but was told that he would not be hired to teach philosophy, except at a black institution. Locke's dissertation was The Problem of Classification in the Theory of Value. Ralph Barton Perry (1876-1957) was his adviser.

In 1921 Locke returned to Howard University, where he had previously taught English, to chair the philosophy department; he held that position until 1953. Locke has been primarily remembered for his work in the creation and support of the Harlem Renaissance, and for his writings on black art and music. However, he also developed his studies in pragmatism and applied them to issues of racism and racial identity in complex ways that were only first recovered in the late-twentieth century. Locke's principle pragmatic philosophical work was When Peoples Meet: A Study in Race and Culture Contacts (1942). Locke's other philosophical writings have since been edited and re-interpreted by Leonard Harris (1948-) and others.

Although Americans are taught that their country is a wonderful

Although Americans are taught that their country is a wonderful "melting pot" of races, race relations and cultural pluralism prove to be complex issues. Alain Locke was well known for studying their dynamics (iStock).

How did Alain Locke apply pragmatism to issues of race and culture?

Locke was interested in values and valuation, cultural pluralism, and race relations. He argued that each cultural group has a distinct identity, which should not conflict with the citizenship of its members in a wider whole. Thus, African Americans could have the cultural identity(ies) supported by the Harlem Renaissance and remain Americans. This model of identity was the intellectual foundation of Locke's efforts in promoting black culture. But some now view it as an applied pragmatic strategy.

Locke believed that black identity was largely the result of economic and political forces and not biology. However, his pragmatic strategy was not to argue this belief directly, but to promote an understanding of race as culture—within a broader society that emphasized false biological notions of race—toward the goal of eventual "racial" equality.

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